Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Get Off The Ground

The house next to the park, white brick with red trim, where I spent my childhood had train tracks right beyond the backyard. Our yard, our fence, overgrown weeds and brambles and lastly gravel leading to tracks. A commuter train would whiz past every so often. We would wave occasionally to no avail. The train would pass night and day and became part of the ambient noise, soon completely blended in with the rest of the scenery.
    The back yard was big enough to run around in. My father planted a fruit tree centrally and adorned the land around it with flowers, bricks at an angle making a zigzag little wall of protection, red brick, white brick and so on. Vegetables grew to the side. The house next to ours hadn't yet erected a fence dividing the two yards so if we needed to go fetch a ball or frisbee we would though I am still struck by how respectful we were of the land next to ours. A mirror image of our yard hardly ever treaded by us or the folks who lived there.
    As our yard and garden were kept nicely with plants the no-mans-land on the other side of the fence before the tracks was overgrown and sinister. Rarely did a ball go over to that side of things and if one did then an adult was dispatched to retrieve it for us. They were not about to let the kids start exploring the thorny terrain that led to the train tracks. An added buffer zone was the cuttings and garden debris my family would routinely toss over the fence.
    Our play time was bound to be punctuated by passing trains. We couldn't let them go by as if nothing was happening. These events had to be worked in. It was somehow decided that when a train passes by the ground becomes electrified. There was some discussion as to when exactly this happened, how far away or close by the train had to be, etc. Whatever the final details were, the result was that with the rumbling of the coming train all the kids playing would scream  "get off the ground ! get off the ground !" We would madly scramble towards the stairs, laughing and jostling each other, running up to the balcony, hanging off it, hanging off the spiral stairs leading upwards, climbing over each other and at worst balancing on the small cement slab at the bottom of the stairs. Any poor soul still on the lawn at that point would be shocked to death. We never pushed anyone to their death. We would remain 'off the ground', hanging from the stairs, oblivious to the conductivity of metal, until the train passed. With the train gone we would resume our normal play until the next distant rumble brought with it the returning threat of electric shock.