Monday, February 19, 2018


      The Games We Played

I spent the first 13 years of my life growing up in the Shaw/Plymouth neighborhood of East Cleveland.  That neighborhood included a large group of friends and a variety of places in which to learn, invent and play games. A child’s life was quite different then.  I first noticed that when my own kids were young back in the 1970s and 80s and I’m sure it is true for today’s kids.  The major difference is that kids in the 1940s and 50s were more independent.  We didn’t need play groups organized by adults and we didn’t need to be taken to the places where games were played.  It all happened just outside our door in our neighborhood.

My neighborhood was a magical place which included a large field at the end of a dead end street. It also included the main line of the Nickel Plate railroad.  The railroad tracks were on a raised embankment which had been widened to make room for a siding, which was never built.  The field, the embankment and the dead end street provided the venue for our games. 

Aside from the organized and structured time I spent in Prospect Elementary School, my time was spent in activities I learned from my peers in my neighborhood.  No adult taught me how to play kick the can and the other games we played.  I don’t actually remember anyone teaching those things.  You just joined the game and learned as you played.  There were always slightly older kids who passed the rules along and from time to time we modified the rules as we played.

It was a different world back then. Our parents would send us out to play knowing where we were and who we were with.  They didn’t need to micromanage our lives.  All of the kids and their parents knew each other and we all sort of looked out for each other.  There wasn’t the same concern for child safety even though Cleveland had experienced the Beverly Potts disappearance in 1950.  Beverly had been kidnapped while attending an event at her neighborhood park.  She and I were the same age and her fate was the concern of the entire community.  Although we were concerned, it still seemed to be a rare and remote event.  We believed that East Cleveland was a safe community and we felt secure living there.  The general rule for me and my friends was that we should stay in the neighborhood with our friends and be home when the street lights come on.

Where We Played

The neighborhood provided many venues for our games and entertainment. The major locations included our own yard, front porch, basement, or attic; or those of our friends.  Another place to play was in the street, which was very safe, because it was a dead end with very little traffic,  If we wanted to travel a little farther from home, we could play in the field at the end of our street or on the railroad embankment.

Front Porch Games:
Most of the houses in our neighborhood were up and down duplexes with porches in the front.  A couple of the houses were two family side by side, also with a front porch.  In either case the front porch became a gathering place for groups of kids.  We would make up scenarios to play out on those porches.  One I remember playing on the Probst family front porch is a game based upon the TV show Tom Corbett Space Cadet.  That was a popular afternoon kid’s show at the time. We would set up two porch chairs facing the porch railing.  The chairs were the type which could spring backwards when we would push on the railing with our feet.  Depending upon how many kids were there we would assign roles to each of them based upon the characters in the TV show.  I remember that there were Tom Corbett, Captain Strong, Roger Manning, and Astro. If any girls were playing, they would be assigned the role of Dr. Joan Dale.  These games went on endlessly with frequent countdowns, blast offs and imaginary adventures in deep space.

I also remember spending whole summers playing countless games of Sorry on Margie O’Hare’s front porch.  When it wasn’t Sorry, we would be playing some other card game or board game.  And if we weren’t playing a game, the porch was a great place to just hang out.

Basements and Attics:
There were many opportunities to have parties at which kids from the neighborhood would gather.  I set up an area in my basement in which we could listen to records, dance and play games. I remember playing my first game of spin the bottle at one of those parties.  Another use of basements was building various projects such as soapbox racers. As a result we learned the use of basic hand tools and how to create things from found material.  By watching other kids and doing those things ourselves we became imaginative and self-reliant.
Some kids had access to the attic in their duplex in which we would have parties for birthdays and holidays such as Halloween.  One such party was held in the attic of Bruce Macmillan.  Bruce also had a second floor room above the garage of his house.  We used that room as a secret clubhouse which had a way to escape out of a back window.  The clubhouse was used to play cards and board games and just hanging out much the same as the front porches.

The Street:
Plymouth Place was a dead end street with nine duplex houses on each side. There was very little traffic and little or no parking on the street, because many people didn’t own cars and the driveways were adequate for those who did. 

The street was used for ball games, depending upon the season. with mostly baseball in the summer and football in the fall.  That included games of catch as well as games of softball or touch football.  The sewer cover in the center of the street would be home plate, the fire plug would be first base and the street lamp would be third.  The street was also used by adults from time to time.  I have a clear memory of Chuck Heglaw, who was a coach at one of the schools, punting a football higher and farther than I had ever seen.  The younger kids learned a lot by watching the older kids and adults. 



There was another group of games which we played in the street.  Those included chase games such as hide and seek and kick the can.  Nobody taught us how to play these games.  They were quite intuitive.  Home base was usually the sewer cover in the center of the street.  An empty tin can was placed on the sewer cover.  The kid who was “it” stood near the can, covered his eyes and counted to 20 while all the other kids ran to hide,  The “it” kid then left the can to find one of the hiding kids.  When he saw one of the other kids, he ran back to the can, put his foot on the can and said, “I spy Bobby in Bruce’s driveway”.  He continued until he found every kid.  If any of the hiding kids were able to kick the can before “it” got back, that kid became “it”.  There was a lot of strategy involved as well as speed and agility.  While “it” is looking in one area another kid could make a dash for the can.  It then became an issue of who was the fastest and/or closest to the can. 

The Railroad Embankment:
The nine houses on the north side of Plymouth backed up upon the Nickel Plate Road main line.  The railroad tracks through East Cleveland had been built on an embankment which raised the tracks above all the streets.  There were no grade crossings in East Cleveland.  The embankment was about 20 feet above the street level.  In most areas the embankment was only wide enough to accommodate the tracks.  The tracks were laid before the Plymouth Place houses were built.  At that time they provided for a possible siding on the South side of the tracks resulting in a vacant plot of land about 50 feet wide between the tracks and the houses on Plymouth.  The embankment area contained small clumps of trees and areas of high grass.  It was an ideal place to play games of cowboys and indians, cops and robbers, or war.  

Sometimes these games extended over the bridge to the siding next to the East Cleveland Lumber Company.  The lumber company and the box car on the siding were great places to play.  I’m not sure whether our parents knew how much we played on the embankment and I don’t think we went out of our way to tell them about it.  It was a short step from playing on the embankment to playing on the tracks and bridges.  I remember playing games of chicken with the trains and putting pennies on the track.  This is one of the things which make me wonder how I survived my childhood. 


The Field:
The greatest thing about our neighborhood was the large field at the end of the dead end street.  The field was a plot of land behind the houses on Taylor Road and the houses on Euclid Avenue.  At that time there was no access from Taylor or Plymouth to develop the land.  Over the years it provided space for victory gardens and playing fields for neighborhood baseball and football games.  There was ample space for kids to build forts and to play games of war, cowboys and indians, and cops and robbers.  The field was bisected by a path which led from the end of Plymouth Place to a vacant lot on Taylor Road.  That path was a short cut used to get to the shopping area at Taylor and Euclid.  On the South side of the path some kids had built a backstop and a dirt baseball diamond. That was the place where we played our serious baseball games.  The outfield was also used for football.  Other field games included red rover, which involved two groups of kids lined up across from each other locking arms.  One team would yell “red rover, red rover let (name) come over”.  That person would then have to run and try to break through the line of linked arms.  


It was usually possible to leave my house at the corner of Shaw and Plymouth, walk down Plymouth and pick up a group to play before reaching the field.  We also built forts in parts of the field.  This was aided by the fact that we discovered stacks of old railroad ties on the embankment.  Those forts were built and rebuilt by succeeding generations of kids in our neighborhood.   We found a great way to disappear when we built a fort over a manhole cover.  We put a rug over the cover, lifted the cover and went into the sewer.  This is another reason to wonder how I survived my childhood.


Well I did survive my childhood.  After leaving the Shaw/Plymouth neighborhood, I moved to Nela View and made new friends and had new experiences.  I continued my education at Kirk and Shaw.  Since graduating from Shaw I have continued my formal education and gained life experience at several jobs.  It is difficult to say which experiences were most influential in making me the person I am today.  I personally believe that the friends I had and the games I played in my Shaw/Plymouth neighborhood provided the foundation upon which all my life experiences were built. That foundation has served me well.          

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