The Alley: My Favorite Playground

The alley between Candler and Ferris (West of Oakland Ave.)

The alley between Candler and Ferris (West of Oakland Ave.)

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.

A sample of the large oil drums that we used for garbage.

A sample of the large oil drums that we used for garbage.

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:  I have articles such as “God’s Waiting Room” and “Moving Beyond Fear to Courage”.


16 thoughts on “The Alley: My Favorite Playground

  1. Great piece…I remember when they paved the alleys in Highland Park, I use to take out the ashes from our old coal furnance, I remember the big old oil drums and the new cans everybody bought at sears; There was a basketball rim in every other alley, we learned to ride our bikes in these alleys, we made push cars, mini-bikes and a few go-carts, we played army, hide and seek and ate fruit from the many fruit trees and grape vines that were in every other yard…Great memories!

  2. These are very good memories of our alleys. I remember playing basketball,hide & seek,and just simply walking to the store(which was at Hamilton btw Pasadena and Ford). Thanks Mark for sharing!

  3. I remember playing in the alley. The garbage trucks taking our garbage, and I didnt know anyone in Hp who remembered the coal dropped off at the houses. Growing up on Connecticut Street,
    there was a room in our basement called THE COAL ROOM but it hadnt been used in years, I was too little to have a memory of it being used. I am humbled that you shared that part of the story.

    • Kimberly, I don’t remember the coal either. I remember we had a natural gas furnace that we seemed gigantic. It didn’t heat our house very well. Eventually, we got a “modern” furnace and our house still felt cold. Thanks for sharing your comments.

  4. I Remember The Alleys….I remember Me And Some others .. Like Allen Looney.. We Use To Eat .. Plums .. and other Fruits Off OF The Trees Of Neighbors Trees That Hung Over Into The Alley…We Lived On Mclean ..So We Were Between Mclean & Farran Park ….Kick Ball…. Four Squares… Running Bases…Mother May I… That Was The Life!!!!

  5. We lived on McLean just west of Brush. As Joann mentioned, there were a number of plum trees there. Every summer we would have “plum fights” in the alley. Sometimes it was the McLean kids versus the Farrand Park kids. The green plums were hard and it stung when you got hit. Ripe plums were sticky, and eventually they started to smell rotten and you would try really hard not to get hit.

    On summer evenings we played a game called Black Bear. I don’t remember the rules but it was similar to Hide & Seek. The game was based on the front porch, but the alley was in bounds, and probably the best place to hide.

  6. thanks ed you brought to mind some great memories
    Remember the mornings we use to walk to Henery Ford? I remember two times in particiular once when Mr Paterson came down and caut us smoking. i thought i got away with it cupping my cig and putting it in my pocket. Like he couldnt see the smoke?The other was when Emily Mesinakis got into a argument with janet wathel they didnt fight that moment cause u had to bring your pants. We had to ware skirts to school so fighting was always posponed but not ignored for sure. We played in those alleys and in the street. Remember tieing a line from the tree so a car wouldnt see it but here it pop and we smack the car like they hit us and we would roll out. Shaggin was another when it snowed. I was playing hide and seek and was running for homefree when i jumped the fence the top on the barrels was loose i ended up strattling the barrell ouch never forget that or Ford ice rink lots of crack the wip. so many fun times funny how we all end up working with the public mostly sales those alley were great times

  7. My friends (Michael Wyatt, Richie Ashby, Stephen Neale, Barron Pettway, etc.) and I would play basketball and baseball in the alleys. It was hard not to hit the ball in someone’s yard. We played with a rubber ball and played strikeouts. Even though we went to Barber, we would play strikeouts on Ferris’s playground. We played baseball on Barber’s playground and hit them on top of the Masonic Temple (the lower and the upper). Since I was a lefty at the bat, I hit them over to the yard beyond the right field fence. But sometimes I could hit to the opposite filed. We played football at Howard Johnson’s and we would play in the street on Waverly. We even went to this old closed-down school called Angell and played there.

    • Yes, strikeout was a great game to play. I don’t think kids play it anymore. Everything is so organized. Our baseball games were played at the “tree diamond” at Ford Field. I hope to write about it in the future.

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