El Dorado, Kansas

A Very Kid-Centric Neighborhood

Maplewood Drive was a block long curving side street ending in a cul de sac. From the end where it emptied into Towanda Avenue uphill to the circle drive at the other end, it was probably less than two hundred yards. And around 1965, that two hundred yards of side street was home to approximately 20 to 25 kids under the age of 18. If you toss in Carr Avenue, Sunset Lane, and Reville Lane, which were all within a block of my house, you could add another dozen kids. It was so easy to throw together an evening game of work-up baseball or touch football or freeze tag or whatever you wanted. There were kids everywhere. In this era before the internet and video games, we were outdoors whenever the weather allowed and sometimes when it was marginal.

The neighborhood was full of trees and most of them were climbable. Across the street at our end of Maplewood was Skelly Elementary which had plenty of baseball diamonds, playground equipment, and lots of space to play. From the roof of Skelly Elementary you could sit on a warm summer evening and barely make out what was visible on the screen of the Star-Vu Drive-in theater up on Haverhill Road to the west. Since most of the neighborhood kids attended Skelly or had attended it in the past, it was a natural center for neighborhood activities.

We spent a lot of time in those days playing army. Terry Shropshire was an only child - a rarity in our neighborhood - and he had a lot more toys than most of us as a result. Terry was essentialy our neighborhood armaments dealer. While all of the male kids in those days had some toy weaponry, Terry had the best stuff. For instance, I had a James Bond style Walther PPK and a wooden M1 rifle replica. That was my entire arsenal. Another neighbor had a toy tommy gun that even made machine gun sounds when you pulled the trigger. Terry had all that and more. He had a bazooka that fired plastic rockets and he had an actual toy M16 which was new and modern and very cool for those of us stuck with leftover World War II era toy guns. So we all tried to borrow from Terry and like any good neighborhood super power, he rarely parted with his best stuff. We were kind of stuck with the obsolete and outdated toys.

I can remember warm summer evenings when the street and sidewalks were crowded with bicycles, roller skates, and hopscotchers. Kid voices were a constant along with the buzzing of cicadas, the white noise of the refinery, distant trains, and cars going past on Towanda.

My cousins - the Hickman girls - lived a block away across the street from Grandpa and Grandma Maus. So family events took place on Maplewood Drive back in those days. Picnics, holiday gatherings, and so on -- the canvas of small-town Kansas life rolled down Maplewood constantly. In time, kids grew up, families moved away, elders died, and the neighborhood seemed to grow quieter - more stagnant. Terry Shropshire who in high school was still a good friend of mine, was killed in a car accident. And the neighborhood was a little bit sadder every year, until I went off to college and it wasn't my neighborhood anymore. Even when I moved back in with my parents for a year or so, it still wasn't my neighborhood.

I wonder if those still exist - side streets harboring a rich vein of kids to make play a constant noisy thing surrounding our lives.