When I would visit relatives in the suburbs of Detroit, I couldn’t figure out why they didn’t have an alley behind their homes. “Where do they play?” I would ask myself. When I was a child, the alley behind our house on Candler Avenue was my favorite place to play.
The alleys in Highland Park were used by the residents to park their cars in their garages or in a lot behind their house. The alley was also used by the sanitation workers to pick up the garbage. Early in my life, Dad would put the garbage in a large oil drum that most people used for their garbage. I always had sympathy for the sanitation workers who had to lift those heavy drums and empty its contents into the truck. Later, the city passed a law against using those large oil drums. I am sure this was a relief to the sanitation workers in Highland Park, but my Dad wasn’t happy because he would complain about the smaller trash cans getting damaged.
For me, however, the alley was my playground while I grew up. It was a handy meeting place for all the children to meet, but more importantly it was a great place to play until the lights in the alley would come on at night and we would all have to go home.
We would play a variety of games in the alley. We would play softball in spite of the fact that a couple of garage windows fell victim to an errant softball. Of course, hitting the ball in a backyard was an automatic out. We discovered that kickball would be a safer choice.
Some other games that we played was touch football. I don’t know how we were able to play this in our narrow alley, but we did. In the winter, we also would play hockey on the iced over alley. We would use tennis shoes, but we felt like we were Gordie Howe with a hockey stick.
One of the most problematic games in the alley was basketball. One of the kids in the neighborhood had a backboard connected to their garage. This was great except the lady behind this house worked on the night shift. She would always complain about the noise though we were playing during the day. If we continued to play after her complaint, she would call the police. We didn’t scatter when the police would come down the alley. They understood our predicament; however we would be back playing basketball a few days later.
There were other games that we would play including hide n seek. This would be played in the alley as well as several yards where the owners surprisingly didn’t mind having a bunch of children running through their yards, as well as hiding in them. I wonder if this behavior would be acceptable today.
Another game that we would play in the alley was strikeout. This game was played by making strike zone on the garage across from my house. We had didn’t have a garage, so our parking lot would be the pitcher’s mound. This game would work out well until the owner of the garage would check out the damage on his garage from the rubber baseball constantly hitting his garage. The amazing thing is that he never really kept us from using his garage as a strike zone. If the batter hit the ball in my backyard, it would be a double. If he hit the house, it would be a triple. Over the house would be a home run. There were a few broken windows, but we still enjoyed playing like the Detroit Tigers.
One of the most terrifying times in my life came when I was about seven years old. I was at a friend’s house. A storm was coming so I started to go home through the alley on my little sixteen inch bicycle. The thunder, lightning and rain surrounded me. The alley had never seemed so dark to me as I sped home. I cried all the way. I still remember my Mom trying to stop all of my tears because I was much afraid.
As time went by, the alley would become silent. Many of my friends would move away. Those of us who were left would go in different directions. I soon found myself spending less and less time in my favorite playground. I had found other interests including playing tennis at Ford Park.
After all of these years, I still haven’t forgotten all the great times and all the friendships that I made in that little stretch of concrete that we called our alley.
P.S. Please visit my other blog: http://www.markjemilbooth.com. I have articles such as “God’s Waiting Room” and “Moving Beyond Fear to Courage”.