Monday, December 03, 2007

On The Skids At The Holy Spirit Church...


In the neighborhood of my youth, we had two churches. One was shaped like a pyramid and said something about Lutheran on the sign out front. The other was a Catholic church called Holy Spirit, and I played CYO basketball for them in all my years of grade school.

Six years. Six teams. (I never once attended service at that church, as our family had left religion back in Southern-Baptist Jackson, Mississippi, many years and countries-lived-in previously.)

I had friends who went to Catechism at the Holy Spirit Church, who knew the “Fathers” that lived on the premises far out back behind fences and bushes from the church itself. (To me, these were mysterious men who walked with arms clasped behind their backs with silly smiles on their faces, and that was all.)

My neighborhood was as suburban as a station wagon. We were a bunch of middle-class white kids who felt safe on the streets. We stayed out after dark in the winter because it was still “early”. We ganged around and looked for innocent mischief to get ourselves into.

We had games we habitually played over and over. One of those was a game we called “Helper’s Tag”. I’m sure every kid out there (at least from my era) had a similar game. You were “it“. You had to tag people. When they were tagged, they became “it” too. You continued running around until everybody had been tagged by an “it”, and then you started over. The way we played, the last person finally tagged chose who was “it” for the next round.

Helper’s Tag needed venues to be played properly. You needed boundaries and things to hide under or over or behind. We were a gang of youth that were constantly on the look out for new venues to play our game of Helper’s Tag. We used construction sites (great when they were all covered in scaffolding). We used the school yard. Once, we planned and schemed and began to use the Holy Spirit church.

There were about ten of us…

The first thing we did, was plug one of the back doors on a Sunday with a small block of wood carved on a Saturday. When the door closed, it was supposed to automatically lock. We had Brad the Catechism boy put the sized block of wood in the hole in the jamb to keep this from happening. The door closed after service and the latch never fell into its hole. The locked church became a seemingly-locked church, and only we knew otherwise.

The next evening, ten of us fifth and sixth graders opened up the whole church just after dark. We opened all of the locked doors from the inside where we had gotten to as a result of our little block of wood. Once the doors were all opened and stops put in place to keep them from closing, we began our game of tag.

I wonder how many people know what black adobe looks like? It is a greasy sort of clay, as black as old motor oil, and very tacky and slippery. Midwinter, puddles of it rise and swallow all manner of bicycles and boys in Northern California. Right outside the door of this church, was a puddle lined with the nastiest adobe clay one would ever hope to not have stuck to the bottom of one’s tennis shoes.

Outside the double doors to the gymnasium of this church where I played basketball- tile floor over cement like a supermarket floor- was a puddle of this gooey substance, black, oozing, “dirty”…

And of course, playing tag, we got a little on our shoes…

It was not long before “Tag” became a game of “Slide”. The idea was to run through the muddy puddle and accumulate a layer of wet mud on the bottom of one’s sneakers, then launch into a sideways slide feet-on-floor across the slippery, waxed and polished gymnasium floor. The longest brown streak held the local record, and many attempts were made to successfully lengthen this pair of streaks far into the building. Forty foot slides were beginning to be our norm, and it got so one had trouble deciding which marks belonged to whom. The shiny, well waxed floor was no longer. “Mud was tracked in” was a bit of an understatement.

And as usually happens when kids are having too much fun being slightly destructive and very mischievous, a grown up arrived. It was one of the “Fathers”. He had come from the buildings out back and was red-faced and both very angry and very drunk.

“Fathers”… (I guess that whole celibacy thing really got to them?)

In these situations, we kids had a basic plan of evasion.

Scatter.

We scattered. I ran into the bathroom in the gymnasium and climbed up onto the partition wall between two toilets and tried to get out the window. The window would not open. So there I stayed, as high and as far back as I could get, hoping like heck that the adult man wouldn’t come in to the bathroom to look for boys.

He did. He came in, turned the light on, looked underneath everything and then went to the urinal to take a piss. I sat on the wall between the stalls curled in a small, quiet ball and watched his veiny face as it stared straight ahead and waited for his piss to come out. He seemed relieved (I couldn’t help that joke, sorry). He finished and zipped and turned. I was taking tiny breaths and was needing air and I too, was relieved when he turned out the light and left the bathroom.

I waited a few moments, then pulled my T-shirt up over my head and ran out of the bathroom, out of the church, and out into a cow field where I knew I had the advantage over all of those Fathers back there.

After a half an hour, we gathered at a friend’s house and swapped our stories.

10 comments:

Mushy said...

Some how, I know how much you enjoyed that night!

I enjoyed the story.

it's the little things... said...

These days, Scott, kids don't gather outside to run and play and get into innocent trouble.
They stay inside and play video games and watch sporting events on TV and watch MTV.
Reading your story reminds me that an innocent era has passed.
Sad, really....

meno said...

The best part is that the "father" was drunk. That, along with the cows, might have impaired his chase.

Jeannie said...

Large, mostly empty buildings are a kid magnet.
We lived next to a church growing up. My friend - an adventurous sort - would often go in and once made me go too - we wandered through and found the kitchen and ate their sugar cubes. Woo hoo. His younger brother wasn't nearly so subtle. When he got to the age of mischief, he pushed a piano down the stairs.

kario said...

Ahh, I love how your stories bring back memories! I recall the admissions building in college that somehow had a 20 foot fully-decorated Xmas tree shoved into the only elevator in the place. I remember breaking into the auditorium after hours and taking turns playing the grand piano to an imaginary packed house.

Never seen adobe mud, but I can only hope those were the only brown streaks y'all shared that night...

amusing said...

I find it fascinating that as a fifth or sixth grader you had the presence of mind to pull your shirt over your head so you couldn't be recognized or identified later..... It just suggests a familiarity with these sorts of situations....

Billy said...

Yeah, where are those innocent days when a kid could get himself into "regular" trouble? Yeah, I'm typing on a computer now, but surely something has been lost in the age of technology. Mischief was an art, not a cyber exercise. Great story.

liv said...

Thanks for this. That not knowing and anxiety that I felt as I read your post made me remember half a dozen childhood stories where I felt exhilarated, scared, and very, very free.

(made the jump from amusing)

Cheesy said...

Tag in a church with muddy feet... you are going to hell my friend. Save me a seat... I love your stories... keep um coming. I'm with "little things"... todays kids just DON'T play outside enough. What is the good of all these great new laundry detergents if moms dont get to actually test them out?

Tammie Jean said...

At least you always have luck on your side. Although I'm with Amusing - pulling your shirt over your head illustrates a level of mischief beyond your years... ;)