My Young Life: Innocence Lost

Early Grade School

I grew up on a street called Magee Street. It was a picturesque neighborhood of classic 50’s and 60’s lifestyle. All the dads kissed their wives goodbye in the morning and went off to work. All the wives stayed home and got the kids ready for school and then settled into housework and running errands. Most of the kids went to Lawndale school which was a public school and all of the Catholic kids went off to Presentation in nearby Lawncrest.

I remember being in the car with my dad one day and a kid named Mark Simpson was being pulled around in a wagon by his sister Linda. Only thing was, he had a cast on his leg.

“I always see that kid running out in the street all the time.”

“Well he’s not running now.”

“He got hit by a car. That’s why his leg is broken. He better watch out or he’ll get killed one day.”

I listened to my father’s words and watched in silence as Linda pulled her little brother down the street until they vanished from sight.

We lived in a time of basic rules. Say Thank you. Respect your elders. Stay off of other people’s property. Look both ways before you cross the street.

We also lived in a time of no bicycle helmets. No one wore seat belts. (Some cars didn’t even have them.) No sunscreen. No organized sports for everybody. Children ran free to go anywhere unsupervised. Just be home in time for dinner. I played by the railroad tracks. We’d ride our bikes miles from our homes. We had no cell phones. We developed keen senses of direction and distance. Everyday we thought of new ways to have fun by putting ourselves in some sort of isolated danger.

But we were fine. Young people live by the “I” words. They don’t know it, but they do. Immune. Indestructible. Impotent. When you’re young you think you’ll live forever.

Grade School

I think I was in 4th Grade when I became a Safety.  You wear a little white belt like the kid in the picture above. You also get a nice shiny silver badge to pin on it. (My sharpest memory of being a Safety was when I was doing poorly in school and my father said he should rip that belt off me and beat me with it. Fucking piece of shit thing to say to a child. But he was a rage machine back then.

Your job is to stand on your designated corner and put your arms out and block the little kids from crossing the street until it’s safe. I don’t even know how I became a Safety. Maybe someone just elects you. Maybe they didn’t have enough kids who wanted the job. But each morning and afternoon, you’d go to your assigned corner and protect the little kids.

I remember one time I was holding a soft pretzel in my hand and I put my hands out to stop the little kids. As I was waiting for the traffic to clear one little kid on my right took a bite out of the pretzel in my hand in front of his face. Too cute!

Mark Simpson and I worked the same corners. We weren’t really friends, but he lived up the street from me. I think my sister Janice maybe sometimes hung out with Linda, but I’m not sure. I think Mark may have been a grade behind me. On cold mornings his mother would whip up a few thermoses of hot chocolate for the Safetys. We’d finish up getting all of the kids to school and then all head into an office in the school and sip hot cocoa together. A little warm repose and reward for keeping the little ones safe on their way to and from school.

Fels Junior High

I was in 8th grade. I remember walking down the hallway early one morning. The school was oddly quiet. My friend Jimmy Hunsinger comes around the corner and says the following words:

“Did you hear? Mark Simpson was coming home from chess club, and ran out in the street around a bus and got hit by a car.”

“Oh my God. Is he okay?”

“He’s dead.”

‘What?”

I just stood there frozen. My face, a grimace of mute protest.

You cannot process that kind of information when you’re a 12-year-old boy. Your friends can’t die. Kids don’t die. There must be some kind of mistake. What kind of horrible lie is this?

But it was true. He ran out in the street around a stopped bus, and a car coming by the bus on the left side took him out. Apparently the trauma to his head was so forceful that he was hemorrhaging from his brain and he died on the way to the hospital.

Word quickly spread throughout the school and the neighborhood.

I remember my friend Michael and I went to his funeral service. (Closed casket) Everyone was dressed up in suits and ties and girls were in their Sunday best. This kid named Paul Berger was standing to my left in the pew, and he was playing with the zipper on his jacket because he was obviously bored. I told him to knock it off and be still out of respect to our fallen comrade.

After the service the family came to us and thanked us for coming. I just remember Mark’s sister’s face was almost unrecognizable to me because of how scrunched up it was from crying nonstop. Her face soaked with tears as she hugged us both. We here alive and had been through a few scrapes of our own but nothing compared to this nightmare.

Later we went to the Simpson’s home to pay our respects. This is some grown up shit here. Death puts everything into perspective. Especially when a child dies.

What Michael and I found odd was that nobody really looked broken or sad there. It was like a forced family reunion over grim circumstances. Everybody was eating and drinking. Mrs. Simpson asked us if we wanted to go up to Mark’s room. I had never been in Mark’s room let alone this house before. Like I said, we didn’t really hang out together.

He had a typical young boy’s room. It was neat and clean with all sort of boy memorabilia about the room. It felt weird to be looking at his stuff and touch his things. I picked up a little model car he had made. I thought they should give all of this stuff away to other kids because Mark will never come home again.

But of course I didn’t say anything about it.

As darkness fell over the neighborhood in those days, the clouds soon clear and people go on with their lives. Kids playing and going to school and just normal everyday events happen. Life goes on. The world continues to turn and some of us are not in it anymore. Some day that day will come for me and everyone I know. But we all hope it comes in old age and asleep in our beds when death comes to scatter our days. Not as a child.

I suppose the biggest ironies of this story are: My dad’s black prophecy about Mark getting hit and killed by a car. Him being a Safety and protecting other little kids from getting hit my cars, and then darting out into the street and taken by that very thing.

 

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day at 8am EST.

Instagram: @phicklephilly    Facebook: phicklephilly

Author: phicklephilly

Copyright © 2016 by Phicklephilly All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. All stories and characters are based on real people and events. The names and images have been changed to protect their privacy. Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation!”

8 thoughts on “My Young Life: Innocence Lost”

  1. I remember the first time I heard of a child being hit by a car and dying. I was six and only knew that, when someone died, they became an angel. That was what I was told, at age five, when my Grampy died.

    Like

  2. I was a member of The Tufty Club. I had a badge. They taught you how to cross the road. Even now, especially living in central London I can hear a voice in my head saying – look right, look left, look right again.
    JP

    Like

  3. I remember the first time a kid I knew died. He was a few years older than me, but we hung out with all the neighborhood kids until he went into the service. He died in a car accident. I was only fifteen. I remember I didn’t go to the service because it was just too damn freaky. Not the first person I knew who died, but the first one who wasn’t old or sick. It was scary, because it confirmed what I had always suspected – nobody is invincible.

    Like

  4. I was lucky in that my friend that was hit in a similar accident near the same age lived but I will never forget the day it happened. She was my best friend at the time and I was so scared. Even though you weren’t close, I am sorry you had such a terrible introduction to death.

    Like

  5. I watched my best friend get hit by a car when I was around 9 years old. She survived but it had a drastic and devastating effect on my life …It is tough when innocence is lost at such a young age!

    Like

Leave a Reply to ladyinthemountains Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s