The arrival of the Dog Days of summer have gotten me thinking about my childhood – in particular, playing Kick the Can, a popular after-dinner pastime in my old neighborhood. Each night, kids who lived within a two-block radius of our house would slowly gather, like itinerant moths drawn by the first flickering flame of a Lone Star lightning bug display.
I grew up during the 1950s in far West Texas, about 30 miles from the New Mexico border, where it was crucial to wait until nightfall to start running around. In that area, daytime temperatures in summer typically reached as high as 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Nights would see the thermometer drop into the more temperate low-eighties.
As I recall, I was usually the only girl in the fray, and certainly one of the youngest players. There was Harold and his little brother, Leland, whose dad was our dentist. Then, we had two boys who lived on the next block, Marvin and Johnnie. Their parents ran the popular Modern Café. Finally, there was Charlie, who lived next door.
Night after night we would play in the street until it began to get too dark to see. Our game required an empty tin can, often a leftover container of green beans or spinach from dinner, or sometimes an empty paint can. The boundaries went from the block my brother and I lived on, including the front yards and the back yards, but the alleys were out of bounds.
We’d draw “straws” – actually bristles of a broom – to see who was “it” first. Drawing the shortest bristle meant you had to give chase first. The other kids would run off and hide while “it” counted to an agreed-upon number with his or her eyes closed tightly.
In our version of the game, once “it” counted to the appropriate number, he or she yelled out, “Here I come, ready or not.” Once “it” located a person, “it” had to call out the person’s name. Then the two would give wild chase toward the can, limbs akimbo, to be the first to kick it over. If person in hiding got there first, kicked the can and yelled, “I’m in,” he or she was able to remain in the game and ‘it” would have to begin the quest again. If “it” got to the can and kicked it first, then the other person became the next “it.” The game would continue until “it” got the first person out.
One night, we entirely forgot about Charlie. He was the youngest player and, that night, he was especially stealthily, remaining hidden until the rest of us had long gone home. Eventually we realized he hadn’t come in, and we began searching the neighborhood. Finally, as the darkness deepened, we finally found him curled up under a shrub fast asleep in his backyard.
About the only thing that caused us to quit playing Kick the Can, before it got dark and our parents called us inside, was the arrival of the DDT Truck. You must remember that disease-laden mosquitoes were heavy during those hot summer Texas evenings and DDT had been billed as the sure antidote. As I recall, we never even thought about whether exposure would be dangerous or not. So, without a care in our minds, the older kids would climb onto their bikes and give chase to the truck, while others would skate after it. Some would even follow it on foot. Now, in retrospect, I’m aghast at the thought of what we did but, at the time, of course, no one knew any better.
What are some of your favorite memories of summer nights from your childhood? Please share with the rest of us.
© Tyra Manning 2018