In my old neighborhood

Posted: Jan 12, 2004 12:00 AM

In my old neighborhood there is a house on a corner about three blocks south of the one I lived in as a child. The owners of the house had a big dog in the back yard that used to scare me half to death when I walked back and forth to G.H. Whitcomb Elementary School. For nearly five years, getting by that dog was about my biggest worry. Those were the days.

Last week, I went back to my old neighborhood and parked in front of the old house where I used to live. My wife and I took a walk from there to the old Whitcomb schoolyard. Along the way, we stopped at that house on the corner and noticed that it was for sale. I thought it would be fun to see how much the houses in the old neighborhood were worth these days. When the houses were built in the late sixties, they cost about $25,000 on average.

The flyer that we took from the real estate sign said that the house was going for $109,000.  There were pictures of every room in the house, except for the family bathroom.  After we had been there for a few minutes, we realized that it was the house that was owned by the Yates family. The bathroom that was left off the flyer was the place where Andrea Yates had drowned her five children a couple of years ago. The dog that kept watch over that house had been gone for quite some time but the place seemed scarier than ever.

When we got down to the schoolyard, my old friend Scott Maxson was there with his four-year old son, who was riding his new scooter in the parking lot. Scott and I have been friends for 29 years. Later that afternoon, we went for a drive around town and then stopped to have lunch. Afterwards, we went down to Clear Lake where we used to watch speedboat races every summer. Scott showed me a nearby hotel parking lot where a woman killed her husband after running him over in her Mercedes four times. She said it was an accident. I remembered seeing something about it on TV.

Later that night, we went out for beers with another old friend from the neighborhood named Jim Duke. Jim and I have been friends for 31 years. We sat there all night talking about the good old days while two wives and a girlfriend sat and laughed at every story.

Our conversations reminded me of the way things used to be when we were growing up. In fact, it seemed like just yesterday when our moms were waiting at home for us after school. If we got lost on the way, there was a ?block mother? sign in someone?s window where we could go to get directions home. That came in handy once in the first grade.

When we got home from school, we were always torn between heading to the table to get our after-school snack and heading to the back yard to play with our dog. Back then, nobody owned a purebred. Every kid had a mutt that followed him everywhere.

At the end of the week, we got a dime for our allowance. That was enough for a pack of baseball cards. I remember the time the new cashier got confused and thought they only cost a nickel. We all rushed home that day to get a one-week advance on our allowance before we headed back to the 7-11.

We might have fought over a penny back then, but we?d resolve it by setting it on an old railroad track. It was fun to see one the size of a quarter, and we?d stop fighting after we knew we couldn?t spend it anymore.

When we went to the gas station back then, they would clean the windshield, check the oil, and pump the gas for free. Then they gave us trading stamps to take to Piggly Wiggly. If we saved enough on groceries, we got to eat at a real restaurant where other people cooked for us. But that was only every couple of weeks.

In those days, going to the principal?s office was a big deal if you were caught chewing gum or pulling some girl?s pigtails. We would give up a month of recess if the principal would promise not to call our parents. We couldn?t afford to be grounded during baseball season.

I remember that the mood ring was the only type of jewelry anyone ever wore to school. And the Ford and Chevy dealers were the only ones in town. We left our cars unlocked all the time but they were never stolen.

We used to sit on the ground for hours after school looking for four-leaf clovers when there weren?t enough kids around to play ball. One year, we even won the Little League Championship. Jim was the pitcher. I played first base.

We used to go trick-or-treating all alone back when no one had heard of a poisoned pixy stick. We played hide and go seek until just after dark.  Red light, Green light. Kick the can.  Dodge ball. We would even play Red Rover when someone was there who remembered the rules.

Running through the sprinkler in July was fun. So was drinking Kool-aid. But it wasn?t as fun as giving one of your three best friends a ride on your handlebars.
Nor was catching a lightning bug in a jar as fun as watching one after it was swallowed by a frog.

The first day of school was almost as exciting as chasing the ice cream truck or getting a new issue of Bananas magazine.

My first crush was on a girl named Paige Grubbs. I hoped she would notice when I wore my new Converse tennis shoes on the first day of school. I finally got the courage to tell her about my crush at our ten-year high school reunion. I only kept it to myself for 20 years.
In those days, justice was handled with a ?do over? or ?rock, scissors, paper.?

We used to worry about catching the cooties and whether we would ever be tall enough to ride the big roller coaster at Six Flags.  We waited for snow in Texas that never came. It was almost as disappointing as the time we heard they were going to build a Disneyland in Texas. But they never did.

Sometimes it was even warm enough to play with our Slip and Slides or go throwing water balloons in January. If we hit someone bigger than we were, we had to go running to our big brother. He would help us out, even if we had made him mad an hour before.

My deepest regret was trading a Nolan Ryan baseball card for Dennis Menke. Those were the days.

It was nice being in the old neighborhood again. No one remembered that I used to be a Little League Champ. They even forgot about the time Jim and Scott accidentally started a fire in the field behind Scott?s house. Everyone was talking about the Yates children. They all wondered what went wrong.

Things were different in my old neighborhood.  I?d been away a long time.

Mike Adams ( is an associate professor at UNC-Wilmington.