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The Ides of March
How Kids Whiled Away the Time in the 1930s

by Stanley Scislowski

I don’t know what other kids did for fun in the blustery March days during the 1930’s, but in the neighbourhood of Parent Avenue between Tecumseh Road and Hanna, weather was never a deterrent. Our skating rink, one of the best in the city, had melted, but we played street hockey using a ball for a puck and a couple of bricks about four feet apart as a goal.

In those days, there weren’t as many cars on the road. In fact traffic was so sparse, if a car came along every 15 minutes or so, we considered it a heavy traffic day.

When the vacant lot where we played ball was too muddy, we took to the streets to play bat and ball games, like "Hit the Bat," or "21." There were other games we played on the street — whatever our vivid imaginations could dream up.

Parent Avenue, with its long boulevard down the centre for streetcar tracks, made an ideal configuration for racing — and that’s just what we did. Hoop races, where we’d speed around the boulevards pushing buggy-wheels with sticks nailed together like drafting T-squares. There were no prizes for the winners; all was for fun.

Or, we’d have tire races — we’d race around the boulevard slapping at tires with the palm of our hands. Steering them around curves required dexterity to keep the tire from getting away or knocking over an unsuspecting pedestrian, who were more numerous than cars.

One of the strangest games we played was bowling with an iron ball. About the size of a regular lawn-bowling ball, it weighed about 12 pounds. Bowling it towards a group of kids standing by the next lamppost, they had to stop the ball from crossing a chalk-mark, serving as the goal line.

Some kids used garbage cans, thrown at the oncoming ball. Others used brooms, two-by-fours or cinder blocks as goaltending tools. But the ball’s force only caused the ball to deflect in any direction, causing kids to scramble for safety.

The garbage can was the best tool, but someone forgot that the ball’s force could carry the garbage can halfway down the street before coming to a stop. Or if someone was brave (or stupid) enough to hold the can, the ball crashed through, taking the bottom with it.

A much more dangerous variation of this game was when we substituted 6-inch diameter rings from engine blocks "borrowed" from Meretsky’s junkyard on Howard Avenue.

With a cross-section one-inch wide and about 1/16 of an inch thick, no one had presence of mind to figure out these rings were lethal projectiles that could inflict serious injury.

We’d throw these rings down the street, and one had to have a sharp eye because it was not easy to spot or dodge. Again, kids at the other end of the boulevard had to stop it from passing by.

The same "goaltending" devices were used. In hindsight, if a ring had careened off and flown sideways, a kid’s head could have been scalped. Youth is wasted on the young, I guess!

During one round of "ring toss," an elderly couple sat on their porch steps watching the action. Suddenly a ring spun out of control —straight at them. I’ve never seen two old people move so athletically and with such blinding speed to dodge that missile. After that close call, we decided to quit the game.

When street games became boring, we played basketball in the alley, using bushel baskets nailed to telephone poles and whatever we had on hand. Oftentimes we used a Carnation milk can wrapped with burlap sacking if no ball was available.

Another form of amusement was target practice, played in the alley behind our place. One of the kids owned a B-B- gun, and believe it or not we only had three B-Bs, as we couldn’t afford to buy any, and therefore, couldn’t afford to lose them.

We devised a way to ensure the BB’s recovery by nailing a magazine against the door of a little clubhouse On the front cover was a figure of a man as our target.

We played other games in our vacant lot, including French and English, Pump-Pump-Pullaway, Jimmy, Jimmy long tail. In the evenings, we played Kick the Can‚ or Release.

In short, there was neighbourhood activity for kids night and day. And if the sun did peek out and warm us up, we’d play shooters (marbles, as others kids called it) on packed clay in our vacant lot.

Never a moment wasted on Parent Avenue —unless our parents had chores for us. When the rains came we’d gather on the front porch for word games.

My house was the gathering place; I think my mother put up with the neighbourhood kids because she knew where her own kids were and didn’t have to worry about them — for once!

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