Monday, September 8, 2008

Uniforms and growing up!

By Gary T. Czerwinski

I lasted only a few weeks in little league baseball.

We were so little, in fact, we were given the uplifting team name of “Gnats.”

How is that for self-esteem?

The ball-and-bat activity required a uniform and a number. I would quickly learn that conformity was the preferred method for the adult world to control children ... into adulthood.

There was other “gear” to go with it, too. Shoes, hats, mitts. All were programmed to make the participant feel he was "original." Part of a "team."

And then their were "practices." I didn’t understand the logic.
I went to school. Adults told me what to do.
I came home. Adults told me what to do.
And now here was a “game” that was supposed to be fun and adults were telling me what to do.

And there was homework renamed "practices." I wanted none of it. Just let me ride my bike. Tramp the woods. Have some real fun.

And that is where the adult world lost me. I was not having "fun." At least, not on my own "turf" ... never mind so-called "bases" I had to run to appease "them."

I did not feel free. I felt constricted. 

I can still remember standing in the outfield and listening to adults in the bleachers yelling, s-c-r-e-a-m-i-n-g, at their kids:


“No, stay!”

“‘Atta boy!”

We were like pet dogs in training.

A few weeks later I attempted to catch a fly ball that instead exploded in my face and gave me an instant bloody nose. It hurt! I called it quits and hung up my glove for good. I still have the glove. But it holds a prize stone I found in the woods.

My heroes growing up were Native Americans, not sporting figures. I thought people like Geronimo, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull the bravest, most noble and of souls I utterly respected. In movies I rarely rooted for the cavalry but admired the simple way of life Native Americans lived, blending with Nature Self-sufficient. In play, I did my utmost to emulate that culture and life style.

I read everything I could about different tribes. My Schwinn bike was my horse and we traveled and scouted for miles. In the summers, because I returned home covered with dirt and grit and cuts and scratches, pockets full of rocks and debris, I was banished to the basement to bathe in the laundry tub. When I turned down the cuffs of my blue jeans, half the planet spilled out.

And, so, my parents, in their make-believe folly, thought the Boy Scouts would be perfect since it was a club that did the things I already liked. Silly grown ups! My father was a boy scout. He sat me down and told me how wonderful it was. All the great things they did outdoors that I already liked. It certainly sounded promising . . . Until it regressed into another uniform. And pejorative name. This time, I was christened “Cub.” There were meetings. And then followed the rules and oaths. How to tie your scarf. And then the dreaded scourge of childhood: Memorization. I was given a book!

Mind you, This was the 1950s and I attended a catholic school where the most despised book on the face of the planet and beyond was called The Baltimore Catechism. Innocent children were forced to memorize it word by word, week after week, and to recite it back verbatim lined up like prisoners to our jailers called nuns with male names. Oh, it was cruel and wicked!

Needless to say, I did not last very long as a scout. One night, my renegade friend Danny (who was wonderfully condemned to hell in my school because he smoked) and myself disappeared into the darkness. We climbed the chain link fence and high-tailed it home. My father, understandably, was disappointed. Me ... not so much so. I had regained my freedom and territory in the woods.

I'm not sure what happened to Danny. But I don't think his father cared . . . 

There were threats and murmurs of other clubs and activities that might suit me. Thankfully, for the most part, I was left alone and fended quite well on my own tramping and exploring woods and Nature. Reading. Creating independent projects and creating my own clubs that didn’t have uniforms. Or memorization.

It progressed well until we moved to a new town and a new school. I was in the seventh grade and my biggest sin was to about to be revealed. I was not an altar boy! It just about caused my excommunication. Pilgrims, I implore you. I had no choice! Again, there was the ubiquitous uniform. The memorization of prayers. In Latin! But, you weren’t tested. So, kneeling before the altar and next to the priest, I simply mumbled gibberish except for the part that said “mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.” I knew that part and so I always uttered that a bit loudly. If they caught on, I was never confronted.

It wasn’t too bad a "club." One, at least, gained access to parts of a church no one could see. And, one could actually make money from it serving at weddings and funerals. If kids received money instead of grades, we’d be a nation of geniuses.

As soon as I graduated eight grade, I also graduated being an altar boy. I was done.

For mere safety concerns, the childhood I led would be impossible today. Technology and politics makes it possible, even demands, that children stay indoors and close to home. I was fortunate to experience what I call an “organic” childhood mostly free from restraint that allowed personal discovery. Even injury. And wonder. It’s a miracle I didn’t break my neck. It's a miracle I survived on my own without a uniform. Instead of a childhood memorized, my childhood was, instead, blessed with memory of personal discovery and joy devoid of the threat of a big person's upper hand. 


Ellen said...

Some similarities - except that catholic thing.
I remember wanting to twirl a baton so my mom found a class. As I recall, I liked it until I found out there was to be a recital. Uh,no, I don't think so.
Did the Brownie thing but was an unsuccessful Girl Scout. Something about a knife and a pumpkin.

Anonymous said...

So many similarities Gary. I went to Catholic grade school, high school, and college. I thought my brothers' cub scouts meetings were much more fun than dumb Brownies. We were so much freer to roam through the neighborhood. We played outside most of the time. We had the biggest backyard in the neighborhood, big enough for baseball without breaking too many windows.

Anonymous said...

I was absolutely furious that my bratty little brother got to be an altar boy when I knew the Latin responses about ten times better than he did and was so much more well-behaved than he was. Richard could make money out of anything. Funerals and weddings paid well.