The spring when I was 8 years old and he was 11, Henry had organized
a kind of cowboy-and-Indian thing on our block, with the west end, or
the side bordering California Avenue, versus the east end, bounded by
Washtenaw. It was more a combination Robin Hood and his band of merry
warriors and the Cartwright family, together defending the sprawling
Ponderosa ranch against Bobby Kowalski and his alliance of Martians
and Second World War infantrymen.
The strange mix was dictated by the array of armament available to
us from the last load of Christmas gifts; the toy cross bows and Fanner
Fifty 500 cap guns were particularly popular.
Henry had neither invented nor initiated today's game. Since our primary
influences were TV westerns, war dramas, and Flash Gordon sci fi, the
games we played were naturally some form of war. The setting was 96th
Place in the relatively new suburban village of Evergreen Park, where
nearly half the houses were still under construction, and the other
half contributed between 40 and 60 military-minded children to the conflict.
This resulted in the occasional epic battle, pitting a dozen kids on
one side of a basement foundation, hurling snowball-size dirt clods
at the enemy dozen on the opposite end. Henry's role in all of this
was rather like a United Nations observer, insofar as he legislated
battle rules such as always aiming below the waste, and supplying the
historical context for our staged episodes naming the dirt hill
adjacent the alley Iwo Jima, and the mudhole in Gramer's prairie Guadalcanal.
Paradoxically, he also assumed the role of Adam Cartwright and a participating
warrior on the California Avenue team, armed with a plastic sword and
mounted on my sister Ruth's Huffy bike.
Though only 8, I was honored as a scout who rode along with Henry,
due less to any tracking or combat prowess that the only new and shiny
24" inch bicycle on the block belonged to me, courtesy of Father
Clarence the previous Christmas.
We had ridden to the top of the block, to the edge of Washtenaw Avenue,
ostensibly to steal any unguarded supplies-Kool Aid, Twinkies, rolls
of caps-that the enemy had stashed there. In front of one of the older
frame houses, surrounded by a white picket fence, was a Campbell's soup
"Guard the horses while I check that box," said Henry.
I dutifully held the reins of his Huffy, while remaining in the saddle
of my horse Silver, and watched Henry raise the flap of the box with
his sword. As he bent down to look closer, a husky kid with black hair
and two silver six-shooters strapped around his waist came walking along
the side of the house from the back yard.
"Who goes there?" he said.
He held his hands just above his pistol grips, ready to draw. Though
his face put him at 10 or 11, this was a man-child. He was taller and
heavier even than Carl.
"Put your hands in the air," said Henry, from where he crouched
by the box. "We already have you covered," he said, jerking
a thumb backward.
I realized that he meant me, and I quickly drew my Luger dart gun with
my other hand. But the man-child ignored me and drew his right hand
pistol, firing off an entire ring of caps.
"You missed," said Henry. "All your shots hit the box,
Humperschnell," he said, rising slowly from behind the soup carton.
Humperschnell. Vince Humperschnell? I had heard this name mentioned before. Adults spoke about him in hushed tones. Kids were scared of him, referring to him by his nickname, "Brick." Brick was suspended for beating up a patrol boy. Brick maybe going to be expelled for cursing at Sister Jeanine.