The Alley

In the downtown streets of my childhood, most of the blocks were divided into quarters by two alleys. Our block was no different. If people had a garage, cars pulled in from the alley.

In our case, we actually had a three car garage, but since we didn’t have a car, my parents rented out two of the garages and the third was storage for my father’s stuff (tools, wood, wheelbarrow, whatever). We also had two wide gates that met in the middle and would swing into our back yard; these gates had had to be closed each night, no matter what (that’s another story: the walk from the gates to our back door). Any trash that couldn’t be burned (that’s right, we burned all paper products back then) or added to the “compost” pile, was put out into the alley for trash pick up. Alleys were handy that way.

The best use of the alley in our neighborhood was kickball, softball (which I hated), tag, kick the can or hide and seek. It was a narrow playing field for kickball, but it worked well enough. Of course, there were dangers.

Opposite our garages were the ball-eater couple with their immaculate yard. Naturally, they had a fairly high chain link fence and gates but of course, not high enough to block a sailing kickball. When the ball did land in this yard, we would gather for a lengthy discussion and round of “one potato, two potato,” to determine who would scale the fence for the ball. Any kid discovered in the yard would receive 40 lashes or so we feared. Usually the adults would inevitably come out and simply confiscate the ball. I always wondered what they did with all those balls.

But the real danger, unbeknownst to me at the time, was the alley floor itself. On the other side of our property at the back was the machine shop. It was a small white concrete block building with a double wide door on the alley side, usually open, particularly on warm days. Along their back wall were a number of metal barrels which they filled with metal shavings and scraps. (The mother in me of today just cringes to think of it.) Our section of alley was littered with sharp shiny metal fragments among which we merrily played, and often in bare feet. Naturally, there were dramatic moments of blood and accidents, but it was never enough to keep us away. It was simply part of our world.

About Irmgarde Brown

Personal mission: inspire meaningful change, build faith in God and connect people with resources that make a difference in their lives.

Posted on July 20, 2011, in Meanderings, Memory. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. In the era before computer-controlled manufacturing, machined parts and dies were frequently made in small machine shops (often located in residential garages). The hazard they may have created for kids playing in the alley was nothing compared to the danger faced by machinists, who dodged flying metal scraps and sharp filings all day long. Not so bad in the winter, when they could be persuaded to wear protective gear, but in sweltering summers they not only sweated, but accumulated multiple scars.

  2. beautiful word pictures!

  3. Hello Irmgarde. May I ask permission to use the image of the metal shavings? It’s reminiscent of my father and my childhood. I’m starting a blog to explore my life in regard to my father who died 10 years ago by his own hand. If this isn’t your image, can you direct me to where I can request permission? Many thanks!

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