Friday, September 09, 2005

Olly Olly All Out Are Free - Part of the Coming Up Chronicles

I couldn't sleep last night, stayed up until around 3:30 a.m. working on some writing, then finally I tried reading so I could fall asleep but to no avail. I had to take some CA poppy tincture to get to sleep. I can only take a few drops otherwise I wake up the next day foggy and with a headache. But it works well and on pain too. I really mean it when I say that this getting old stuff is not for the weak.

Today I went to the beach to take some offerings to Yemaya that we'd put up in the shrine special for my Ocha birthday and for her feast day which are back to back, the 6th and the 7th. I loved the way the watermelon kept rolling back up on to the shore I told Angel that it was her playing with it. The surf was kind of rough and the place was deserted, not like just a week ago when the last of the summer crowds still filled the beaches. But this week summer is over, it's back to school and vacations are officially over.

I used to love summers as a kid -  I still do, it's my favorite time of the year and even though I worked every one of them after I turned 15 there was something about this time of the year that was thrilling and I never wanted it to be over.

Chicago summer nights were great, I grew up on the southside - moved there when I was 2. When my mom first settled out of the migrant farm worker life, a few years after my dad got home from his tour in Korea we moved from Texas to Chicago and lived in an apartment on Cottage Grove, we then moved to some apartments on 63rd and Dorchester St., then one on Dante, then to a house on 73rd and Woodlawn. When I was 10, after my parents split up, we moved to the projects - my mom and us four kids. I have lots of stories about the southside and maybe someday I will get around to writing my favorites down.

Our time to do some serious playing in the neighborhood was after dinner dishes were washed and our mothers let us go out for a few hours before calling us in for the night. Chicago had a 10 pm curfew for people under 18 so that was usually around the time we all had to go in.

Us neighborhood kids would hang out at the various little play areas that the CHA (Chicago Housing Authority) put up to supposedly keep us busy and out of trouble. Mostly we sat on the benches and shot the breeze or played hide and seek or some similar games. I can't recall the name of the one that is like hide-and-seek but played in big groups - two sides - with equal numbers, and the object is to captureevery onee of the people on one side or the other. To capture someone, you not only had to discover their hiding place but you also had to touch them.

Once you were found by someone on the opposite team they took you to jail. People from your team who were still free, could come and rescue you from jail if they could. There were look outs from each side that kept close enough to the jail to keep those already captured inside while trying not to get captured themselves. Their job was to also capture anyone who tried to come to rescue of the opposite team's members.

Trying to rescue a fellow player on your team was considered a really heroic act because of course it meant that you were giving up your secure hiding place and risking capture. It was not easy to rescue folks either, because those in the jail from the opposite side would always start yelling for their team members to hurry up and come squash the rescue attempt.

I also think there was a rule that you could only rescue one person at a time. There were certain boundaries within which we could hide, and no one was supposed to go outside those boundaries of a few blocks. And it was definitely cheating to, say, go hide in your house just because you lived close to the play area - which was usually the place designated as the jail. That way the captured could sit on benches, swings or monkey bars and wait to be rescued or for the game to end.

Once, one of the littler kids went home to watch television because he said he thought the game was over, that was really a hoot because we just thought he had hidden really well! The projects I came up in had row houses, so we had lots of great hiding places - one could hide behind or in trees and bushes, in people's yards, behind garbage cans, in gang ways etc.

We had our strategies too, for look outs and fast runners to storm the jail. Sometimes four or five of us would rush the area to try and get out as many of our team members out as possible, which of course would become pandemonium because everyone would start yelling, running, grabbing, and trying to stop the rescue attempt. The other side would of course try to capture new people or recapture anyone who'd managed to escape.

One time the funniest thing happened both sides showed up at the jail at the same time attempting a big rescue and all hell broke loose, it was so crazy and confusing and we ended up arguing as to who had been captured, let out etc. We just decided it was better to start over.

If you were let out of jail and ran fast enough within the boundary area and could get yourself into a hiding place without being seen you could get away without being taken back to jail. I tell you this game could go on for hours, days and sometimes even weeks because we would remember who had been in jail from the night before and start right from there the next night. Sometimes we had up to twenty kids playing at the same time. We all had our favorite hiding places and it was great fun.

Of course this was when we were all pretty young, before people started hormoning out and becoming couples. Those summers were great and I don't imagine there is any place in the US where kids can still play in big groups away from the adults the way we did back then. We were poor but we were happy and summer was the stuff of life!

Yes, we were playing a game where the object was to stay hidden and out of jail - shades of things to come in adulthood for some of us, but the other part, the thrilling part, was to save your team mates and make heroic attempts instead of staying safely hidden in your little niche. The people who did that were the ones who always held up the game because in the end we'd all have to call out "olly olly all in free" or whatever it was that we said, in order to let whoever was still out hiding know that almost all of us were in jail and we wanted to start over or stop the game.

Here is a poem to honor my few, but long years of life in Trumbull Park Homes and my for first love, you know who you are...

We Shadow Boxed
in the indigo
security lights
Projects we called
home while the moon
and stars smiled at
our milktooth love
because they knew
it was forbidding
like red-hot fire
burns we knew too
but were trying
our spotted wings
anyway your lips
were ruby fruit
rolled in zacate
thought our mother's
didn't have a clue
but they could smell
love in grass stained
clothes newly mowed
every radio
was playing our song

and for all you folks still out there - olly, olly, oxen free. olly, olly all out are FREE!

the photo above is courtesy of CHANGE - Chicago Housing Authority

(c) 2005

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