Monday, September 8, 2008

Don't Stay in the Yard!

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 was that for self-esteem? The activity came with a required uniform and a number. I would quickly learn that conformity was the preferred way for the adult world to control children.

There was other “gear” to go with it, too. Shoes, hats, mitts. And then the 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 when.

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:

“Run!”

“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. 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 saddest of souls. In movies I rarely rooted for the cavalry and admired the simple way of life Native Americans lived, blending with Nature and being part of it. Self-sufficient.

I read everything I could about different tribes and emulated them in my play. My 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 folly, thought joining the Boy Scouts would be perfect since it was a club that did the things I already liked. It started with another uniform and name. This time, I was to be a “Cub.” There were meetings. And then rules and oaths. Things that had to be memorized.

Memorized? This was the 1950s and I attended a catholic school where the most despised book on the face of the planet was called The Baltimore Catechism. Innocent children were forced to memorize it word by word and to recite it back verbatim. Oh, it was cruel and wicked!

I didn’t last very long as a scout and one night my renegade friend Danny and myself disappeared into the darkness, climbed the chain link fence, and high-tailed it home.

There were threats and murmurs of other clubs and activities that might suit me. But for the most part I was left alone and fended quite well on my own tramping and exploring woods and Nature. Reading. Doing creative things independently and creating my own clubs that didn’t have uniforms.

It went well until seventh grade when the sin of not being an altar boy just about caused my excommunication. I had no choice. Again, there was a uniform. And memorization of prayers. In Latin! But you weren’t tested on them. So, kneeling before the altar and next to the priest, I mumbled gibberish except for the part that said “mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.” I always uttered that a bit loudly. If they caught on, I was never confronted.

It wasn’t too bad 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.

For mere safety concerns, the childhood I led would be impossible today. Technology 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 for personal discovery. And wonder. It’s a miracle I didn’t break my neck.