Tunnels of My Childhood, Chapter 1
By, Felice Scrittore
Photo by Twisted Root Studios
It was a hot summer day in 1967. The kind of sultry heat that curls the leaves of the towering ancient oak tree in the backyard of my grandmother’s house. The wind was strong but not strong enough to give relief from the heat; the hot, moist wind only moved the perspiration along my brow into my hairline, tickling my scalp.
We lived in lower northeast Minneapolis, my two cousins and I. The oldest, Mark, was 12 at the time. Tony, 10, was his younger brother. Then there was myself; the tomboy of the block, I was 6. Even though I was young I had no trouble keeping up with the boys, or at least it seemed that way. Unknown to me at the time it was Mark who always looked out for me; it was his way to ensure I was never alone. He was my hero. Tony on the other hand was my tormentor, and it was because of him I was tough, tougher than any of the other little girls in our neighborhood.
The neighborhood was a close-knit clan with generations of blue collar workers ingrained with traditional values. The area was known as dog town because there were as many dogs running loose as there were children, and being a Catholic community there were many children. You could hear the laughter, the cries, and the sounds of ball games of all kinds from sunup to way past sundown. We used to play hide and seek at night or kick the can and all ages were included. On occasion when the parents were settled in at one neighbor’s house sharing stories and beers, we would sneak out with pots, pans, and tennis rackets. These were all were used to try swatting at the bats that came out from the caves cut into the bluffs of the Mississippi river, to dine on the mosquitoes Minnesota is so known for as our second state bird.
The neighborhood was comprised of many different ethnicities – German, Italian, Polish and Native American with sprinklings of Russian and Middle Eastern. It was a 4 block by 8 block area. The borders were comprised of: East Hennepin Avenue, Johnson Street, Broadway Avenue, and Central Avenue. All the houses were closely built together, with front stoops that led to paved sidewalks, which separated the green grass of the boulevards from the front, manicured lawns. The streets were lined with mature Dutch Elm trees that created a rustling canopy to block the sun during the summer heat.
When the ripening of fall came, the amber hues crunched under our feet on paved walkways as we traced our steps to school. On the front stoops of these homes you could find the owners sitting as they watched the neighborhood dramas play out. It was from these vantage points all the neighborhood children, no matter whom they belonged to, were raised. Everyone had a hand in bringing up the children of dog town. If you were naughty you would be scolded and sometimes spanked by the nearest adult, only to be sent home to receive the same from your own parent because the call had reached your home before you could run as fast as your legs could move you. Although, if you were hurt it was those same adults that came to your aid with a kiss and a pat on the back and sometimes a Band-Aid coupled with a small glass of Kool-Aid. That was the dynamics of my childhood; it was a liberated, easy time to grow up and a loving community to have been reared within.