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The Pit and The Pendulums

My dear online mum (dragonfly_sg1) just wrote about going back to a childhood home recently, and that reminded me of an experience I had once. As most of you know, I'm not "from here," meaning that where I l live now is not where I hail from, nor is it my "home" in the anecdotal meaning of that word. To be fair, I'm not sure what place does have that moniker, though I have my suspicions.

But that is not exactly what this post is about. See, dragonfly talked about going back and seeing things that once looked so big now appearing small, and about the childhood activity of swinging from tree vines. These two things struck a chord with me. See, I too swung from tree vines as a kid. A lot, in fact. The place where I did this was called "The Pit." Everyone called it that, though I'm not sure anyone knew why. I certainly didn't. I still don't, though again, I have my suspicions, which we'll get to later.

The neighborhood I lived for my first nine years was just that. A neighborhood. The houses all had large yards and it wasn't overly crowded like subdivisions are now, but it was a neighborhood.* You turned off the main road onto Parkway and that road split into three parts, like a three-pronged fork. Houses lined the handle and the prongs of the fork. And then, like forks do, the roads ended. I lived on the left prong of the fork (if you were stabbing yourself with it). My house was about halfway down the prong. Danny's house was three houses away and the last house on the prong. After that, there were no more houses. There was a field, and then there was The Pit.

The Pit was an expanse of woods. Little kids could play in the field, which was not tended in any way. The grass grew up to your waist by summer and to your chest just before it died in fall. It cut up your legs so that when you took a bath that night, the water stung like fire at first. Danny and I ran around in that field for hours on end, collecting bugs, figuring out what the little red worms in the mud puddles were (baby mosquitoes, folks, and lots of 'em), being grossed out by slugs, and climbing on the back sides of fences trying not to touch the lava ground. Heck, we even buried "treasure" out there. And we always thought it was funny that we couldn't go into the woods, since half the time we were crawling around and no one could see us in the field anyway, but that's parents for you, right?

But always...behind us, farther away from the houses, was The Pit. Big kids could play in The Pit. And sometimes, little kids could go if they had a big kid to go with them. Well, I have a significantly older brother, and unlike my sister when we were young, he was awesome. He'd take me back to The Pit to play sometimes. In The Pit, tree vines hung down from the canopy above to the ground. You could cut them and swing on them and yell to your heart's content, with no grownups around to say you were being too loud.** Because I was still a Little Kid, this was a big deal. I didn't get to go back there often in the summer, but when I did, it was always a blast. Now, the winter? That was a different story. We went back there a lot more then, and our parents often went with us, because that's where we went sledding. That's where we sustained all those childhood injuries that go with that activity, from chapped lips to toboggans hitting us in the heads. And that's where I think the name The Pit came from. There was this big basin in the ground back there. It formed nice slopes for us to sled on in a big circle. I don't know for sure if that's the reason for the name, but it makes sense to me.

I moved away from The Pit before I was a Big Kid, so I didn't get to hike all the way through it to reach I-90, which was the pinnacle of kid honor back then. (You'd walk until the woods ran out, then look out over the highway and, if you were really brave, spray paint your initials on the highway wall or hang a dummy over the wall on Halloween so that it looked like someone hanged themselves.)

But I went back there in 1997 or 1998. I'd been back a few other times, but it's that trip that sticks out in my memory.

I'd gone to Cleveland with a friend. We were in college and broke, but wanted to take a trip without our parents for once in our lives, so we went... to Cleveland. Knock it all you want, but I have a million places to stay there, so it was a cheap option for us. We did the things tourists do in Cleveland, such as they are, like go to Rock Hall and Cedar Point, and we saw the Tribe***, but we also did a few more personal things. We went out to my old stomping grounds, where I discovered that despite never driving there, I knew my way around just fine, and that my old neighborhood was much bigger then.

The handle of the fork of my road still exists. It was unchanged from when I knew it, except I think it was paved then (it was tar and gravel when I was a kid, and they tarred it every spring - oh, what a lovely smell that made, but it was fun to pop the tar bubbles in the street). However, the tines are much longer. Danny's house is now no longer the last house on the street. The field is gone. They built houses all over it. The street is much longer. So, The Pit, by definition, must be a much skinnier band of woods. But a band of woods is still there. It runs right up the houses, but it persists.

I stopped by my old house and was just lingering a bit in the car when the lady who lived there then saw me. She waved and asked if I needed anything. I said no, but that I'd used to live there. Then the oddest thing happened. She asked if I was Kelly. I gave her a look and said that was my sister's name. She smiled we got to chatting. I asked how she just spouted out that name. Turns out that we kids had written our names in the driveway when my dad poured it. See, we were one of the first houses on the street to have a concrete driveway (though Danny's house had blacktop). I remember it being a big deal. My dad was so happy to have his snowplowing made easier by that.

I got out of the car and we talked some more and the lady showed me the names in the drive, right by the flower bed my mom made. You could clearly read my brother's name, my foster brother's name, and my sister's name. And under them, in much shallower letters, you could make out mine if you tried. What can I say? I was a lot littler than they were, and I didn't press as hard. ;)

We chatted for a while longer and I went on my way. But during the chat, I said something about how much bigger the neighborhood was and about how when I lived there, we kids used to play in the woods a lot and how we'd called them The Pit. And she said the damndest thing. Turns out, they still called it that. Despite it having been downsized; despite only one person that I knew of still living on the street (and older retired man, who I oddly ran into at McDonald's later that day...) who lived there when I did, that childhood legend still existed. It had been passed on via verbal history, as such things so often are, and the lady couldn't tell me the why of it, either.

There are two ways to look at that. One, that that next generation of kids was just kidding themselves - that they were playing in a poor excuse for The Pit and therefore just pathetic. Or two, that despite the changes, those kids were still having adventures in a place that somehow managed to keep its identity though a generation of change.

I choose the latter. It makes me smile.


*A quick Google Map search tells me that this neighborhood is still a small one by current standards, and there's still a swath of trees of pretty good size between it and the Interstate. :)

**There were also wild grapes and blackberries back there, and we'd eat them like crazy. Oh, the horror! We might have gotten sick! (Then again, we also played in storm drainage systems once we figured out those ran under the street and dumped into the local creek and could take us anywhere we wanted without us being seen AND we used to get on the roof of a friend's house from a nearby tree!  Yes, I nearly fell out of that tree once and got cut up pretty good and my friend broke her arm once in it, too, but we lived. *grin*)

***The fact that I never call the Indians anything except The Tribe and that I cannot even think the words "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame" pretty  much answer that "home" question, no? As I have often said, I have a few cities of my heart, home is where my head lays, and when I say I'm homesick I currently mean that I miss Maine, but deep down... I'm from Cleveland, folks. Just how it is.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 31st, 2013 02:43 pm (UTC)
Wonderful story. Thank you for sharing!
Oct. 31st, 2013 06:43 pm (UTC)
Thank you for a very pleasant trip to your past! It also brought forth memories of my own in San Diego(how I hated when they put a concrete flood control channel over my beloved creek! Don't they know giant ants from "THEM!" live in those tunnels??). Our wild-oat-covered hillsides in late summer became giant slides, courtesy of old pieces of cardboard. If you had *waxed* cardboard, everyone suddenly was your friend! But as with sledding, our slides were laced with rocks and bare spots. I still have scars from several unfortunate events where I went downslope too fast, and hit a large rock hidden under the grass, or hit a dirt spot & flipped down the hill. Ow...ha ha ha! AGAIN!!!!

We're so lucky we have those kinds of memories.
Nov. 1st, 2013 04:34 am (UTC)
Oh! We had a refrigerator box once! What fun that was! I ruined my shirt, though, and my mom was mad. :(
Nov. 1st, 2013 06:27 pm (UTC)
This is still making me smile. Especially the similarities in our pasts :) Trees vines FTW! :D

I vaguely remember burying, or wanting to bury a time capsule between the "Split Rocks." I wonder if we actually did...and if we managed to leave it there and not dig it back up.

Nov. 2nd, 2013 03:03 am (UTC)
Indeed! Tarzan FTW! (And since I was a boy who just happened to biologically be a female of the species, I didn't lose my upper body strength until age fifteen or so [and oh how horrid that was!], so I did it a long time.)

Our "treasure" was left there. Who knows what became of it?
Nov. 2nd, 2013 03:20 am (UTC)
Go you!

I think I will be showing up at my dad's with a shovel tomorrow. I need to know. I NEED to.
Nov. 2nd, 2013 06:34 am (UTC)
Do eet! Do eet!
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )


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