We apologize for not updating our website more recently. However, now that our world has righted itself somewhat, and because we are now back to having luncheons again, we will try to update the site more regularly.
Since we last did an update, we have lost one member of our committee, Joyce Ralston, and we have added three new committee members. They are Vicky Curry, Cathy Woolem and Monica Tallent and we are happy to welcome them! Vicky and Cathy are sisters who graduated in 1968 and 1971. Monica graduated in 1976 and we are happy to have younger Goldbugs take part in carrying on the traditions of our McKinley Goldbug Alumni group.
A large focus of my life between the ages of seven and thirteen was confined to the alley behind my house at 2641 Russell Blvd. The surface was poured concrete with about a 25 degree grade sloping west from near Jefferson Avenue to Ohio Street. I say near Jefferson because my alley teed into a brick one that ran from Allen Avenue to Russell about twenty yards short of Jefferson. That tee was home plate for some of the ball games we played in my alley. The bases were chalked into the concrete and the rules, though unwritten, were understood by all.
Some of those rules included the following: if a ball was hit into a retrievable yard it was a foul. But if it was hit into the second yard on the right it was an out. That was because that yard was patrolled by a vicious dog, whose owner might or might not throw the ball back into the alley later that night. We mostly played with a softball, but sometimes we used a regulation baseball or tennis ball if a softball wasn't available.
Usually there were three or more boys on a team - a pitcher, a catcher, and one or more fielders. The games were hotly contested. Some guys could hit the ball a mile and others would make remarkable defensive plays. One day I was pitching and the batter, one of the older boys, hit a screaming line drive right at me. I didn't have time to raise my glove or duck and the softball hit me smack in the middle of my forehead. A knot the size of a small egg developed in minutes. I staggered home where my mother put a bunch of raw onions and a silver dollar into a bandana. She wrapped and tied it around my head as tight as I could tolerate. The cool silver dollar pressed against that knot did the trick. By morning all that was left on my forehead was a small purplish bump.
An unusual game we played in the alley was bottle caps. In those days caps had a piece of cork in them to seal in the carbonation. This enabled a skilled pitcher to sail the cap sidearm with many peculiar gyrations. A broomstick was used as a bat to make the cap harder to hit. Once again the unwritten rules were clear and closely followed. A swing and a miss was an out if the catcher caught it; as well as a foul behind the plate. Anything hit in front of the plate was a single. A cap hit past a designated telephone pole on the fly was a home run. There was no base running, so as few as two guys could play a game. It was a glorious time.
Getting good, clean, not too badly dented bottle caps wasn't easy. Sometimes you could find them in alleys or gutters, but most were garnered from bars and delicatessens. Beer and soda were kept in big coolers with a bottle cap holder attached. You could get the most caps from a bar, but they were almost always mixed in with nasty cigarette butts. Therefore, caps from delicatessens were much preferred.
Another game that required just two players was ledge ball. This was played with a small solid rubber ball or a hollow rubber Spaldeen if one was available. Perfect ledges could be found at the base of ash pits or concrete stairs in my alley. A good player could throw the ball off the ledge at various speeds and angles so that it flew at different heights and trajectories. The defensive player could catch the ball in the air for an out or as it careened off the garage door behind him. Some of these garage doors were hung with a metal bar that ran at the top on the outside. There was a gap between that bar and the garage wall. Hard as it is to believe, a skilled player could bounce the ball off a ledge at the perfect trajectory to fall between that small gap. That was a well-deserved home run.
We played many other games in my alley -- games such as Indian ball and cork ball that as far as I know are played in no other city. So many that this article could go on forever. I'll finish with the story of how I learned to throw and catch a football in that alley with the help of a guy whose family owned a roofing company and lived on Jefferson. He would come out after work and throw footballs to a few of us in the early evening. I was always the last to leave. I was indefatigable. I would run out for pass after pass and throw the ball back from wherever I caught it. I owe a great deal of my football career, which helped me get a college degree, to that patient guy and my alley.
We learned a lot playing in that alley without adult supervision of any kind on those bright summer days. We learned teamwork, we learned to try to pick fair teams, and we learned to lose with some grace and to win without gloating. And best of all we had fun. We had the joy of playing outside, almost every day all summer long -- young and free.
Spiro may have launched a new literary genre with his story, "My Alley." Like him, as a kid in the old neighborhood, back alleys were my beat. My domain ran two blocks, from behind my house at 11th and Victor, north to Lami. Although my pals and I enjoyed the cork ball and bottlecap games Spiro described, I was partial to more freewheeling activities.
I learned to ride a two-wheeler in my alley. The brand new Schwinn I'd gotten one Christmas sat neglected in our basement until Spring cleaning, when my parents dragged it out and leaned it against a pole in the back yard. Whatever training exercise my father may have attempted earlier had proven unsuccessful. Instead, I learned to ride the bike by accident. I climbed aboard, held onto the pole and eased my bike back and forth. Harmless fun, until I pushed a little too far forward and had to let go of the pole.
I was riding, but now what? At the end of the yard I managed to execute a 180, headed out to Victor, down to my alley, then north. When I reached Barton, there was no traffic so I zipped right across to the next block. Everything was going great until I approached Lami. Picturing the steep hill beyond, which led to busy Shenandoah, I realized I had no idea how to stop this contraption. Like most kids, though, I was skilled at crude but effective innovation, rescuing myself from certain death by engineering a semi-controlled crash into the side of a garage. Not awful for a first-time cyclist.
Then there was the time my friends and I discovered a large snapping turtle on the vacant lot across from my house. For reasons known only to small boys, my buddy, Bryan felt the turtle would be much happier at his house. Among other things, it would confer upon him as Turtlemaster, a greatly enhanced stature in kiddom. The reluctant reptile was induced to go along with the plan in this way: Bryan would wave a broomstick handle in the turtle's face until the powerful jaws snapped on it, allowing Bryan to drag it two feet or so down the alley. It must have taken half an hour or more to navigate the two blocks to Bryan's house while a growing entourage of fascinated kids followed the slow parade. It was to prove an unhappy journey for the snapper. A few days later, I asked Bryan how his turtle was doing. "Aw," he said, "My old man made soup out of it"
It was a few years later when an alley was the scene of a scary but seductive pre-adolescent nighttime invitation to adventure. A friend and I had gone to the New Shenandoah (later the Apache) Theater on Broadway to see the lattest thriller, "The Creeper," a truly lame movie about a shadowy, threatening character who lurked in - of course, alleys. It was likely around 10 p.m. when, having left my friend at his house, I was walking home alone, a bit anxious about possible South St. Louis Creepers. As I passed the alley around 10th and Lami, I heard a girl's voice calling alluringly from the alley, "Hey," she said, "Wanna kiss?" Then there was some muted giggling and another girl called out, "Yeah, handsome, you wanna smooch?"
I admit I paused a second or two before silently walking on, fearful of some kind of Creeper trick. It was an adventure that was not to be. Had I seen a different movie, though, who knows?
The next McKinley Goldbug luncheon will be Wednesday, February 16th 2022. It is necessary to make a reservation to attend the great gathering of Goldbugs.
To learn more about our Luncheons, including directions to the Royale Orleans Banquet Center, please click "Luncheons" on our menu above. To print the required reservation form, please click on the photo to the right.