I grew up in a small, close-knit neighborhood in a suburb of Kalamazoo, Michigan. It wasn’t a wealthy neighborhood, or a neighborhood steeped in class or sophistication. In fact, it was the kind of place that made residents of other neighborhoods turn up their noses and sneer, making nasty comments about “Lexington Green.”
We never said we were from Lexington. To this day I still say that I am Lexington.
My sisters are not Lexington. The oldest was already in middle school by the time we moved in, and the middle sister only had a couple of years before moving up. They were Woodland girls, always associating themselves with the wealthier neighborhood we lived in before Lexington.
I have good memories of growing up in Lexington. We played in the streets and ran through each other’s houses whether their parents were home or not. I was forever falling into the creek and sneaking home to hide my muddy clothes; there were a few summers when I think I spent more time in tress than I spent on the ground. We had water fights and fist fights and came home filthy and exhausted, and went back for more the next day.
I remember twilight games of Red Light/Green Light and Red Rover in Lexington Circle. Playing Hide and Seek, TV Tag, and Sardines with no real boundaries or rules, and every one of us stormed home in tears at least once, vowing to never play with those jerks again.
We built a tree house in my back yard one summer, completing all the work in one long day. I’m sure there couldn’t possibly have been as many kids involved as I remember. The Macher kids, the Burlands, the Simons, the Crawfords, the Feutzes, the Penneys – all of them. Every kid from Lexington Avenue, with a few from Hanover Street as well. We built a huge fort far up in the branches of the monstrous Willow tree, and my mind still reels to think that we didn’t manage to kill at least one kid that day.
Someone hung a chicken-wire hammock from one of the highest branches, and poor Ricky Macher plunged to the ground while trying it out. He landed flat on his back and lay there gulping and gasping like a fish while we stepped over him and assumed he’d be all right.
He was. After a while.
As the afternoon waned, one of the neighborhood dads came stomping up the driveway. He collected three of his four children and shot a withering gaze around at the rest of us. “So,” he barked, after a moment. “Did any of you happen to notice when Ronnie left?”
Shrugs all around. A couple of boys volunteered that they thought they remembered seeing him walking home a few hours earlier.
“Did you notice anything strange about him?”
“I think he might have been crying,” someone offered.
“Would any of you like to know why he was crying?”
Well, sure. We were kids. We were nosy. A few of us had begun to get a vague feeling of impending doom, so yes, we wanted to know why Ronnie had gone home in tears.
“He had a hammer in his forehead!” the angry father exploded. “And none of you noticed? How do you not notice that a child has a hammer stuck to his face?”
Apparently, Ronnie had been enthusiastically pounding nails when the hammer bounced back and embedded the claw end in his forehead. Instead of howling for help like any other child would do in that situation, he simply walked across the street and went home. Alone.
With a hammer in his forehead.
Of course, he was just fine. He’s in his mid-forties now, and the tiny scar just makes him look rugged and manly.
I’ve been thinking about Lexington a lot lately. Facebook has allowed me to touch base with some of the old group, and I can’t help but make comparisons to the neighborhood I will be moving into in just under two weeks. The houses are just as close, and my kids will have friends living within walking distance. The older two will probably not notice much of a difference because they are practically grown now, but I shudder to think of the adventures that await my youngest.
He is six, only two years younger than I was when my family moved to Lexington. His buddy Hunter lives four houses away; the neighbor has seven-year-old twin boys. There are kids everywhere, possible playmates for my little man. He will no longer have to beg me to play catch with him because he will be surrounded by kids to play with.
His life will never be the same. And neither, I’m afraid, will mine.
He is going to have so much fun being part of a group, part of a neighborhood. It is going to be so hard for me to let him go outside and just play. I want him to play and have some of the same adventures I had, create some of the same kind of memories, but I don’t think I want to know about some of those adventures.
Not if he’s anything like I was as a child.
I’m going to have to teach him about traffic and crosswalks, and keeping his voice down because we have neighbors. He’ll have to learn that he can’t run outside in his underwear anymore, and there will definitely be no more peeing outside. No. Just no.
We will water the flowers with a garden hose, like civilized people.
I wonder what other lessons I will have to teach him to prepare for life in town. Is it safe to assume that he will understand that a hammer protruding from any part of the body is a good reason to call for help?