OK, to be honest, we didn’t have a sandlot so that is just a metaphor. What we had was the lot in back of the First Baptist Church. For some reason, I had a concentration of friends near there. Technically, there was no place in Oak Grove where we couldn’t walk if a few minutes, but these folks lived closer to our “athletic field” than I did. So who were these friends?
Just across the road in the curve was Doug Lawton. We all called him Little Doug. That was because his dad was Doug too and the Little Doug was to avoid confusion. I spent a lot of time in Doug’s home, particularly on cold or rainy days. Little Doug had access to a lot of drawing equipment because Big Doug was an architect. We would spend hours on the floor imagining and drawing space stations, rocket ships, robots and all sorts of wonderful fantasies. Doug left our little group before high school when they moved to Lake Providence.
A couple houses up the street to the east was Bish Lee. Bish had a great house with a 1950s era front porch. I think I recall some wrought iron posts holding up the roof and an aluminum awning. Bish had a couple trees in his front yard and we would play kick the can or hide and seek around there. That recalls another story that I’ll share momentarily. What I remember about Bish in those days is that he always looked neat. He always wore nice sport shirts and jeans or slacks. In high school, he had a motor scooter until he was 15 when he got a car. If I am remembering right, the car and maybe the scooter were red, but I later discovered I was color deficient and washed out of Army flight school for that unfortunate condition, so who knows what color they were.
Now a little further east on that street lived three of the most beautiful girls we knew in those days. The Kester sisters, Sandy, Jacquie (she goes by Jacqueline these days and is married to Bish, who now goes by Bishop, but I digress) and Johnny moved to Oak Grove from Colorado. Sandy was, if not perpetual, then my pretty steady date to the Boy Scout dances that we held each year at the VFW hut. Sandy, Jacquie, and their older sister Johnny were the offspring of my Scoutmaster, Mr. John Kester. Mr. Kester was a great reason why I persisted and earned my Eagle Scout award at age 14, a feat I am still very proud of. He made sure I had a date for the Boy Scout dances, by delegating Sandy to go with me. I always had fun, but in those days we pretty much separated at the dance with all the boys on one side of the VFW ballroom and all the girls on the other.
I’m getting to the athletics, but give me a minute more to digress. Others that would wander over to that area to play and hang out included Frank McCormick, Mickey Turner, Dennis Sanford (occasionally, I think) and Eric Yearby (again, I think occasionally). We would play kick the can, hide and seek, and other childhood games. On one particular occasion, we were playing kick the can and Jacquie was “It.” She was sitting on the front step of the Lee home and was counting with head down. I was running to find a place to hide and while watching Jacquie, to make sure she didn’t peek I am sure, I ran headlong into one of the trees. Knocked myself totally unconscious. Not sure how long I was out, but I did recover and the game went on. I had a huge knot and a lot of redness that day and it turned into a beautiful shiner by the next day. I took a lot of teasing about watching the pretty girl instead of where I was running, but hey.
Frank McCormick and I were friends for as long as I can remember. His mother was my Cub Scout Den Mother for the three years I was in the Cubs. That said, Frank and I had a fight in front of the Lee house about this time. I have no recollection what we fought about, but we did throw a few punches. I was bigger than Frank, but he was a scrapper. Anyway, we dealt with our own problems then. Fights were fought and forgotten. Maybe a bruise or split lip or two, but no big thing. Kind of wish we could go back to letting kids settle their own differences, but today someone would bring a gun. Frank and I are still friends, though it is mostly through FaceBook these days.
OK, so it is time to talk about the lot behind the church. This same group of miscreants would gather for baseball, softball, and football games. To be honest, I can’t actually recall any of the girls playing with us, though they may well have played softball with us. When we played football, it was pick-up and two kids would be designated to choose the teams. We didn’t have helmets or pads and we didn’t play flag or two hand touch football. This was smash mouth tackle football. The good news for me is that I grew early and was usually one of the bigger kids on the field until I hit 8th grade, then I stopped growing while everyone else caught up. I could pretty well run over most since we weren’t just grabbing flags or two hand touch. One thing we never played was SOCCER, in fact, I hadn’t even ever heard of soccer at this point of my life. I’ve played one game of soccer in my life and that was when the German citizens of Beibesheim, Germany challenged the Americans living in our high rise to a game during the German-American Friendship festivities. I pretty much just ran up and down the field and if the ball came near me, my job was to get it to the Army captain who had played at West Point.
I can truly say that I miss those friends and the fun we had. If any of you have anything to add or have any pictures of those days, please share.