The Gallopin' Ghosts of the Old Neighborhood

Even after all these years, the faded football lines could still be seen in the street! One summer afternoon back in the 1980s, our little renegade band of neighbor kids got a brainy idea. We got some house paint from my Dad's garage and took to decorating the street with a football gridiron design. It was replete with hash marks, yard lines and of course, a giant "W" at midfield.

When you return to a place where you spent so much time as a kid, it is true that you can hear the echoes and sense the ghosts. This past Saturday, the cul-de-sac looked much smaller than it did while I was growing up. It was a dry, overcast early morning, and no one was around. I pulled up, emerged from my car and just leaned against the open door, looking around contemplatively.

This was the old neighborhood. I hadn't been back in quite some time. I had just dropped my Dad and Step Mom off at the airport. As I was feeling restless, I went for a drive, ultimately ending up here. It was halfway up a hill overlooking Lake Sammamish. The houses looked the same as before, but things now seemed overgrown, and unfamiliar cars graced the driveways of our old neighbors. The streets were deathly quiet. At the end of the cul-de-sac, where there used to be a thriving wooded area, there now stood shiny new houses.

As far as I know, while we were growing up, we never had any neighbors complain about us painting the street. Perhaps by that point, they were so jaded by our behavior, that it seemed pointless to put up a fight. After all, for the sake of playing football the way it should be played, we had (1) built goalposts, (2) brought wheelbarrows of dirt from the woods and dumped them into the street, so we could play tackle football instead of two-hand touch, (3) created a wooden scoreboard, and (4) periodically blared the Husky Marching Band record from my upstairs bedroom window-- so as to recreate the atmosphere of Husky Stadium. While all this was going on, I was pretending to be Jacque Robinson while on offense and Ronnie Holmes while on defense. Life was good.

Our friend Greg had a new computer, so we kept track of rushing and passing stats and then recorded them there for posterity. Then we put together a newspaper, and wrote articles about our games.

Simply put, we were psycho for football.

During this current holiday season, I was over at my sister's condo. Amid her billowing clouds of aromatic second-hand cigarette smoke, we reminisced... The "sports deal" we had struck as kids, was nothing short of wildly pathetic.

We talked about how I had once owned a "View Master Projector", which was plugged into the wall and created an effect like a movie theatre. My sister Jennifer loved this, so I made her a deal. Sometimes when the neighbors got together to play sports, we needed another player in order to have even numbers on each team. So I gave Jennifer the projector, if she agreed to become the so-called "Sports Slave". Thus, for the following couple of summers, whenever the neighborhood was playing basketball, baseball or football, she was contractually obligated to play. Then when the games were over, she had to serve me a cold glass of orange juice, while I slothfully kicked back in the La-Z-Boy recliner and watched reruns of Husky football games on the VCR.

As my sister recounted: "Derek, you were such a jackass! I hated that. But I did love playing sports sometimes, especially baseball."

Derek: "Well, at least it's good to hear that."

Jennifer: "Then you wanted your damn orange juice."

Derek: "Yes, that is true."

Jennifer: "Well, you know how you would sit there and always complain about all the pulp and bubbles in your orange juice?"

Derek: "Yes??" (Furrowed brow)

Jennifer: "I used to spit like hell into your orange juice."

It was certainly a magnificent display of passive-aggressive behavior.

We had some interesting characters in the neighborhood, such as Greg, who was analytical and at 10 years of age had the vocabulary of a forty-year old. Then there was Erik, who was a kamikaze and a fierce competitor (whenever he got upset, he would start crying and go diving headfirst into random nearby bushes). On top of all this, my sister had a crush on him… Also of note, ex-Sonic Johnny Johnson lived in our neighborhood for a couple of years, and his sons Chuck and Jeremy played with us one summer.

The quintessential moment from our neighborhood football games had occurred right where my car was currently parked-- smack dab in the "south end zone". It had been a rainy, wind-swept evening in October. It was getting dark and we had a chorus of parents shouting from various front doors that it was time for dinner. We had gone into something like five overtimes, trying to squeeze a winner out of this contest. Greg dropped back to pass and rolled a bit to his right. I was running a crossing route and had Erik with me stride for stride. Into the gloaming the ball arched and then descended and I snared it with both outstretched hands. I barely kept my feet in before I was out of bounds and slammed into the mailbox.

Game over! Covered with a mixture of sweat and bark I jumped right up and spiked the ball, and started dancing in the end zone with my teammates. Erik started fuming, and with a running start pitched himself headfirst into a nearby bush. My sister ran over to console him, and then was furious with me for what seemed to be rubbing it in.

It all happened there on that street, once upon a time. As Thoreau said, "things do not change, we change." That is very true, as the houses look all the same, but it's the neighbors who have all since moved away or passed away. I look up into my old living room window, but it is someone else's Christmas tree that sits there twinkling. It's the natural progression of things. The Holiday season always gives me pause for reflection, and it felt good to briefly set foot back into time, into another world I once inhabited.

I got back in my car and drove home to Edmonds.
Happy Holidays to Everybody! Derek Johnson can be reached at Top Stories