Boyhood Tales

My Very First Safari

By Bruce Zimmerman

I’m now just past my sixth birthday and permitted to cross the street all by myself. At last, I can be free. Aunt Lil was a newlywed of twenty-three. She had moved into an apartment building, up a ways and across Seaman Avenue from where we lived. They were called walk-up tenements, built at the turn of the century, and unlike today’s mid-rise buildings here, the higher your apartment, the cheaper the rent. The buildings were butted right next to each other, and unless you lived in the front, the window view was a blank wall of an alley. There were no elevators, just steep narrow unlit stairs. In case of fire, it was a long jump or a race down the outside fire escape.

Paul and I were playing stoopball, a kind of two-man baseball game without a bat. Just throw a ball into a decorative curb built on the side of an apartment building. There were street rules; otherwise, it was the same as major league baseball.

Bruce,” yells my mom from our front fourth floor window. “Your Aunt Lil wants your help.”

“OK. Just after we finish the game.”

“No, right now,” was the tart reply.

“Mom, can’t we finish the inning? I got men on first and third with only one out.”

“Go now and finish the game when you get done.”

“Can Paul come with me?”

“Yes, now get a move on!”

Paul was a few months older. I never really gave the situation any thought until we got to the corner spot where I was always told to cross the street. As I started my pre-crossing routine, Paul jabbered,

“I’m not allowed to cross the street by myself!”

I said, “Well, I am, and you’re with me!”

I grabbed his band and dashed for the other side. We raced up the five flights of steps, then banged on Aunt Lil’s apartment door. We heard her shout: “It’s open!” The apartment had a bedroom, kitchen and bath, and the front door opened directly into the living room. The only light on was in the kitchen. When we got there my big Aunt Lil was sitting on the breakfast table, with her arms holding her legs together, and her knees tucked under her chin. No hellos or how are you, just a scream,

“Bruce! Get the mouse!”

“Where?” I said.                      “Here!” She said.

It was a long time ago, but when I think about it again, even at age six, when I said “where” for a second time, I recognized the panic in her voice as she screeched, “here, in the kitchen!” Somewhere! Just go get it!”

Paul and I got out three tin cooking pots, the kind with handles. I gave one to Paul and banged the other two together under the sink cabinet. Out came this tiny mouse, zigzagging across the floor. Paul popped his pot over the mouse and put him in a paper bag. We each got a nickel, a kiss on the cheek and one of those “thank-you boys.” We thought about saving the savage beast for another day and another nickel, but the ball game was more important. Mickey got deposited down the storm sewer drain, and I lost the game 5 to 4 in extra innings.

Capture the Flag

by Doug Guido

Waiting for the bus that morning, I remember the day being bright and full with the promise of excitement. I was eight that summer, my first such outing by myself. I didn’t know the kids I would be with that day — they weren’t from my school class or cub scouts. All I knew was that we were headed somewhere for some kind of organized fun. My parents had probably told me, but I didn’t remember the details.

The yellow bus pulled up and I boarded — the front seats were taken, so I sat in the back. Once under way, I heard an older boy talking about a game we’d be playing that day.

“It’s pretty cool”, he explained. “It’ll be our team against theirs.”

“Who’s on our team?” one of the kids asked.

“I guess it’ll be our bus against theirs”. They looked around; I lowered my eyes.

“It doesn’t matter,” the older boy boasted. “I’ve played it before and I’m gonna win it for us!”

The other boys looked appropriately impressed.

“What’s it called?” one of them asked.

“Capture the flag.”

“How do play it?” asked another.

“It’s easy: you get their flag and don’t let them get ours!”

That sounded like fun — I wondered if I’d be any good at Capture the Flag.

We soon arrived at the park where we met up with another group of boys. The men in charge explained the rules of the game. It would be our group against their group, about 15 boys on each side. The men pointed out where our playing field would be — a large, wooded area with a parking lot at one end and a fence on the other.

Since there weren’t any sidelines, the men picked out big trees to show the boundaries of the field. Then they tied white ropes around a number of trees, roughly creating a straight line, dividing the field down the middle. Our team wore red vests, they wore blue. The Blue team went to the far side of the field and hung a blue towel from a tree near the back line; we hung a red towel from our tree. These flags became the object of the game: one team had to grab the other teams’ flag and get back to their side of the field without getting tagged by the other team. That seemed simple enough to do, maybe too simple.

One of the adults called our team together.

“Okay boys, let’s pick a captain, someone to keep us focused out there.” He looked around and the older boy from the bus spoke up.

“I’ll do it,” he announced.

“All right,” the man said. “Larry’s the captain. You guys listen to him and do what he says, okay?”

We nodded in solemn unison.

They lined us up along the dividing line and blew a whistle to start the game. Being big into games, I wasn’t sure I liked the looks of this one — how could you get back to their flag without getting caught? I soon found out; there was a commotion on their side of the field – two of our guys, including our captain Larry — had made a dash for their flag but had gotten tagged! Now they were in the Blue team’s jail, an area near the back of their side of the field, near where the Blue flag hung.

I patrolled along the dividing line, daring the Blue teamers to come across so I could capture them. After a while, I tired of chasing and being chased, sensing that there was no successful end in sight. I could see that frontal assaults wouldn’t work; they were too obvious. And while I was a pretty fast runner, I knew that I wasn’t fast enough to outrun their whole team. It seemed to me that to get to their flag, you had to do so undetected. And since I wasn’t invisible, that seemed impossible. Unless…, unless I got them to not pay attention to me.

It was hot and I was thirsty, so I went to the rest area the adults had set up and got a cold drink. An idea was beginning to take seed; I didn’t know to call it that then, but a strategy was gradually forming in my mind. I decided to try it.

“I quit!” I loudly proclaimed.

Two teammates drinking Kool-Aid at the picnic table looked at me quizzically.

“This is a stupid game!”

I made it clear with my gestures that I was disgusted with my teammates fumbling tactics and that I would no longer be part of such incompetence. I made sure that my ‘tantrum’ was obvious enough that the Blue team couldn’t help but notice. I stomped off and sat for a while on a tree stump in plain sight, with my back to the field, obviously no longer interested in their stupid game.

I sat there for about five minutes or so, an eternity to an eight-year-old. But even at that young age, I knew that for my plan to work, it had to look real, so I made myself sit still.

After a while, when I was forgotten about by all concerned, I discreetly sauntered off the field and out of sight, circling around the parking lot to the back fence line. After making sure no one had spotted me, I slowly worked my way along the fence line, behind the trees and through the brush, towards the Blue flag. As I neared, I could see three of our guys in jail, including captain Larry. But hanging from a branch in the tree next to them was the object of my attention: the Blue flag!

I slowly, carefully crawled on hands and knees to get closer, as the Blue team had a guard there to make sure the captives didn’t wander off and to, of course, protect the flag. He nervously paced around the area, looking out at the action in the center of the field. I stayed hidden, not sure what to do next. I couldn’t just run out and grab the flag — the guard would easily capture me. I realized that I needed some kind of distraction, something that would cause the guard to leave the area, just for a couple of seconds.

Eventually, I got my wish. There was a commotion — yelling and shouting as members of our team made a futile venture across the line. The guard, probably bored by the lack of activity, left to check it out. This was my chance!

I leapt from my hiding spot, much to the amazement of my imprisoned comrades and grabbed the flag. I had it! I quickly tagged my teammates, freeing them, and together we headed for our side of the forest.

The guard cried out as we ran past him: “They got our flag!”

Immediately, the entire Blue team turned to converge on our caravan as we beat feet for safety. Running as fast as I could, I spotted one Blue teamer out of the corner of my eye — he seemed to have an angle that would cause him to get to me before I could cross the line to safety. What to do?

Captain Larry, running beside and a little behind me, must’ve seen the same thing.

“Throw me the flag!” he screamed.

I didn’t know what to do — the line was maybe just ten steps ahead — but I could hear the Blue boys coming up fast!

Without breaking stride, I threw the flag over to my captain and crossed the line to safety. But when I looked over at Larry, I saw that it was a mistake: the Blue team boys had immediately converged on him and captured him, again.

I stood with my hands on my knees, trying to catch my breath as they led him back to jail, waving their flag at me, hurling taunts and insults.

“You tried to trick us, but it didn’t work!” they cackled, only partly right.

I had tricked them. I’d gotten their flag when no one from either team had even come close to doing so. But in a moment of indecision, I’d lost faith in my plan and threw it — and the flag — away in order to save myself from possible capture. And while I was momentarily exhilarated with what had happened, a feeling of disappointment settled in, that I had quit on myself and my idea. On the bus ride home, I wrestled with what had happened.

“I shouldn’t have thrown him the flag,” I thought.

“Yeah, but he’s the captain,” another voice said.

“Doesn’t matter, he didn’t make it but I could’ve.”

“Maybe, maybe not.”

“I could’ve made it,” I protested. “It was a great plan!”

I’ve thought about that decision on occasion ever since.

Bruce Zimmerman was born and raised in New York City during the depression years. After graduating from the University of Rhode Island, he served in the Korean War. In 1957 he and his family moved to Tampa, where he started his own construction company that remains in existence. Bruce began taking OLLI writing classes with “Writing your Life Story” and is a current member of the Imaginative Writing “crew.”

Originally from Detroit, Doug Guido graduated from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, after cramming a 4-year education into 6 years. Subsequently he set off on a ‘Siddartha’ journey through North America in a ’64 Corvair Greenbriar camper van, covering 20,000 miles in six months. After arriving in Houston Texas, he entered the homebuilding field in the roaring ’70’s and ended up in Tampa in 1981. He has written short stories over the past thirty years, reflecting on various incidents in his life that he hopes are entertaining.

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5 Replies to “Boyhood Tales”

  1. Very fun stories of youthful adventures!
    Well-told and evocative.
    Bruce, what did you get with your nickel?

  2. Loved both stories and they bring back memories of my childhood. Look forward to more, more, more.


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