Friday Fun: What goes around…

My younger brother and I often made up goofy games when we were kids. “Line Drive” was a game that involved standing some distance apart in the back yard, yelling “Line Drive!” and then throwing a baseball as hard as we could at each other, but just out of reach. The idea was to have to make spectacular, Brooks-Robinson-like diving catches, where your body is fully extended and you barely catch the ball in the tip of your glove.

My brother’s expression for making a diving catch like this was, “You really snabbed that in your waring!” He said stuff like this all the time, and I never needed to ask him to explain. I always knew what he was talking about, even when I was hearing some goofy expression for the first time. I’d just say, “Yeah! I KNOW! Complete snabbage!”

Most of the time, we ended up throwing the ball past each other, having to chase it into neighbors’ yards or the nasty brackish creek behind the house, complaining that the other one was a lousy line drive thrower, threatening to quit. Anyone else watching us play Line Drive would wonder why we were so awful at playing catch. Throwing and catching really aren’t that hard, in principle. For my younger brother and me, catch was boring and mind-numbing. We preferred games that required diving onto the ground, getting grass and mud stains on our clothes, having the wind knocked out of us. Now THAT was fun!

The upstairs floor of the split-level home we moved into when I was in first grade featured a living room/library that ran the entire width of the house. To my brothers and me, it was like having an indoor football field, shooting gallery, and dry swimming pool all in the same place.

Below the living room was our dining room, which featured an uncharacteristically (to me) fancy crystal chandelier. It occurs to me only now that maybe the chandelier’s main purpose was to sound the alarm when any combination of the four of us was getting a little too rowdy in our indoor stadium. If we could hear the chandelier clanking from upstairs, we knew we had to tone it down. Hearing the familiar, “Hey, knock it off up there!” was also a good indicator that we needed to make quieter mayhem.

As kids will do, my younger brother and I were always inventing ways to get our ya-yas out in this enormous room without clanking the chandelier too much. One particularly ridiculous example of this was when we hatched the brilliant idea of playing an adapted version of “Line Drive” in the living room.

Oh, not with a baseball. You don’t throw baseballs in the house! Everyone knows THAT!

So, we weren’t stupid. We were INSANE. We stood at the far end of the library and we’d call out the names of baseball pitchers who had distinctive wind-ups: Juan Marichal was a big favorite, with that crazy leg kick. Then we’d take turns winding up and throwing a stuffed animal toward the couch at the other end of the living room. The couch was the perfect catcher — wide, soft, and a generously-sized target.

I probably don’t need to point out to the entire Internet that the words “line drive” and “living room” should never appear in the same sentence, unless it’s a reference to watching a baseball player hit line drive on the television in the living room. But when you’re 10 years old, and your younger brother is eight, and it’s raining out, and you aren’t allowed to clank the chandelier, well, who needs to wait around for Thing 1 and Thing 2 when you can simply BECOME Thing 1 and Thing 2.

That's me on the left

For those of you who haven’t yet played Line Drive with stuffed animals, don’t bother. I can report that, for the purposes of Line Drive, stuffed animals were extremely unsatisfying. It was difficult to throw them hard for any significant distance. The sound they made hitting the couch, when they actually made it that far, was muffled and unrewarding. This was before Beanie Babies had been invented (probably by someone else who played Line Drive in their living room and realized that pellet-filled stuffed animals are GREAT for that purpose). Throw pillows were too awkwardly shaped and sized, even though their name commanded us to play Line Drive with them.

We stood there, locked into our characters as Thing 1 and Thing 2, and scanned the library for things to throw (that we hadn’t already thrown). Books were lousy candidates, because they had this annoying tendency of fluttering open in mid-flight. We needed objects that had baseball-like properties, but weren’t actually baseballs. Small, somewhat hard, easy to grip, with a decent amount of heft.

We settled on a little statue that my mom had been given as a Thank You Gift for delivering one of her famous Book Talks. This was before book groups were invented. My mom would read a book, go and tell a group of people about it (usually a group of ladies over tea), and they’d give her a little Thank You Gift. We had all sorts of these Book Talk Thank You Gifts around the house.

Our ultimate Line Drive candidate was a 6″ high ceramic angel statue, painted gold and black. It was solid-looking, with wings that protruded thickly from its back. Perfect. Compared to the stuffed animals and books, it traveled true and fast, pinwheeled exotically in flight, and hit the couch with a satisfying thud.

Until. There’s always an “until” in stories like this, isn’t there? One time, one of us (I don’t remember who) released the throw too late, launching an end-over-end dribbler across the carpet toward the couch. The angel’s head broke off and rolled under a chair. Anyone in their RIGHT mind could have seen this coming. To this day, and on behalf of my younger brother, I plead temporary insanity and throw ourselves on the mercy of the court.

We probably looked at each other like this

Shocked by this unanticipated turn of events, we quickly shifted into disaster-response mode. We glued the angel’s head back on, christened her “Marie Antoinette,” put her in her place on a library shelf, cleared the room of any other evidence of our misdeeds, and went down to the kitchen to look for something to eat.

Later — I honestly don’t know if it was days, months, or years later — my mom was dusting in the library, getting ready for company, when I heard her exclaim, “What HAPPENED to my ANGEL?!???”

I explained to her, with completely genuine remorse and embarrassment, that my brother and I had been playing Line Drive with her and her head had come off but we glued it back on and we were really really REALLY sorry.

“You took this OUTSIDE and played Line Drive with it??”

“Um. No. We were playing Line Drive right here.”

“IN THE LIVING ROOM???”

“Uh. Yeah.”

The rest of the memory-tape of that conversation has been conveniently erased. We never did play Line Drive in the house again. We weren’t so certifiably nuts that we didn’t learn from our mistakes.

As a special karmic bonus — and significant shred of evidence for why my mom loves being a grandmother so much — decades later I was looking for a tiny (less than 1″ tall) ceramic penguin that sits on our mantle-piece above the fireplace. I had seen GForce (who was maybe eight at the time) fiddling with it, so I asked her where it was.

“I think it’s under the couch.”

“Why would it be under the couch??”

“I think I was throwing it around the living room.”

“You were doing WHAT?????!??!?!”

Beak-less, wing-less penguin survivor of GForce's version of Line Drive

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10 responses to “Friday Fun: What goes around…

  1. Yea Karma always gets you. Having 4 younger brothers I remember many of our games that were “adapted” for indoors. I remember a day that we had beanbags and we were throwing them across the living room at each other the hardest we could. My mother had a lamp that was like a sleeking cougar on the piano, we you can guess I broke it. Mom never said much about it she just unplugged it and threw it away. About 15 years later I was at a garage sale and low and behold there was an exact duplicate of that lamp. I bought it, I proudly went to Moms a few days later and presented her with my “find”. She told me that although she was proud that I had felt guilty for breaking it, it was a blessing that I had broke it cause she hated the thing. She put the gift away and I have never seen it again. I think it probably got thrown away too.

  2. This reminds me of my brother and I’s oh-so-creatively named “Kid Kickball” and “Broomball” games, both of which were unfortunately considered (well, by us anyway) to be indoor activities.
    When the boredom of code-red summer days set in, we took to the basement to violently kick or broom a large rubber ball across the oblong room, and the unspoken point was basically to hit the other person, the shelves, or anything else in sight as hard as possible. After a while we tired of these simplistic passing games and decided to make it a tad more interesting; and thus, “Extreme Broomball” was born. This meant the very same rules of play, but the use of three to five balls at once, and the helpful although subconscious addition of randomly shouted onomatopoeia. There was much mayhem and very little logic, and if you’ve ever read the surpassingly formative Calvin and Hobbes comic books it looked a lot like Calvin ball, particularly after my brother decided to wear a few layers of plastic-weapon-laden gun belts and kung-fu-master-style head bands for each game.
    Needless to say, we too eventually condemned an innocent red desk lamp to eternal sleep (also by knocking its head off) in one of our spirited games. Ah, the carefree destruction of childhood.

  3. great story! nice photos. and i miss kip. i loved working with him 25 years ago. funny, smart, surprising, entertaining, just like the rest of you howards.
    love how you bring your stories to life, every single one of them. also, your keen sense of universally “relatable to” occurrences is always spot on. your vivid imagery keeps pushing the high bar even higher. i don’t know what has replaced the phrase “you rock,” but if i did, i’d end with that. now, i must get back to my “to-do’s.” thanks for the nice break.

  4. I/we wasn’t/weren’t allowed to sit, touch, or barely look at anything in my house growing up. Nothing was ever broken that I can remember. That is all.

  5. I don’t know Bill Bird, but he is welcome in our house. There are still plenty of things to be broken, and withthe exception of photos , he is welcome to toss balls or angels. Everyone should have a story about something broken while being absolutely creative in re-creation. I miss you, Joy, but I never think about the broken angel. Heavens, I have so many artifacts now, that a good game in the great room might take care of things you’ll have to decide about when we are no longer here to dust them. I love you. Mom
    PS Thing 1 and Thing 2 is a perfect description of you and Kip when you were kids.

  6. Anyone that tries to imitate Brooks Robinson catching a line drive or Juan Marichal throwing a pitch (though I’d prefer Sandy Koufax) is way high on my list of fine folk!! And, if you won’t tell my mother as I still haven’t confessed everything, I can share tales of major sports events with my 3 brothers in our homes through the years. The list of damaged homes and contents is not insignificant!

  7. Thanks Barbara, my mom had a friend that would tell my mom it was ok to for me to get dirty. I loved her driveway as she would let me play with the pebbles and roll around on it. I love my Mom, and I have a special place for Aunt Liz in my heart.

  8. This is so fabulous it hurts. I can remember being in the downstairs TV room watching college football (for some reason, I have a strong memory of one of the teams was always Alabama, and I hate Alabama) when I was a kid and arranging all the pillows on the floor so I could pretend to be the fullback bursting through tacklers and crossing the goal line. Surprisingly, I never actually went through the window or even broke anything (bones or property), but I think it was excellent preparation for running the wishbone triple option in Greylock Quad with Weisty and Schemo, when I was called upon to dive through that little gap in the concrete wall….

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