Evening at the Corner of Clay and Raines

Every evening, the boys on our block gather in a big gang.  Black, white, hispanic, they meet in the large, irregular intersection of Clay and Raines.  The group swells from ten, to fifteen, then twenty boys, ranging in age from about twelve to eighteen years old.  Sides are drawn, taunts are shouted and it begins.  No uniforms, no goal posts, no markings on the ground.  Just boys.  And a football.  Back and forth, the ball is tossed and caught.  Or dropped.  Good plays are cheered all around.  Dropped passes are jeered, then forgiven.  Close calls are mourned.  The big boys run the game, call the plays, make the rules.  They are the stars and the referees.  Their decisions are undisputed.  Boys get hurt.  They are, after all, playing on pavement.  Skinned knees, bloodied elbows, bruised ribs.  The play stops for a moment.  The injured boy is examined and encouraged to shake it off.  The game continues.

On and on they play, tirelessly, for hours and hours.  When we finish dinner and go outside to sit on our porch, they have already begun.  When dusk falls, and we go inside, they are still playing.  We are not the only spectators.  There are other grownups watching from neighboring porches.  Little kids on bikes and trikes watch from the sidewalks.  One tiny preschool girl is a regular.  Up and down the block she rides her tricycle, between her driveway and the corner.  She sits at the corner and watches for a while, then, bored, returns to her driveway.  A few  minutes later she is back at the corner.  No one seems to be watching her but, once, when she turned the corner and kept going, her mom was there in two seconds.  Harsh words, a quick slap and the boundary was re-set.  The little girl was reminded that safety lies between her driveway and the corner.  She has not ventured beyond since.  She satisfies herself with sitting at the corner, watching the big boys play football.

Cars pass through the intersection, interrupting the game.  The boys move aside for a moment, then resume play.  Occasionally, a driver yells at them, annoyed at their choice of playing field.  The boys don’t retaliate.  They just wave the driver through, and go on with their game.  Moms come to retrieve sons for dinner or homework or chores, but the rest play on.  Sometimes a boy will break some unwritten rule and will be exiled to the grassy area that runs down the median of Raines Park.  The offending boy will  pace, will watch, will grow bored and sit in the shade of a tree.  He will only be allowed to rejoin the game when the biggest boys are satisfied that his penalty is complete, when he has, once again, earned the right to play.

I love these boys and their never-ending game of football.  I may not be able to see their faces, but I can see their hearts.  I love the way they get along, solve problems, resolve disputes.  I love their inclusiveness, their rules, their ethic.  I love the way the bigger boys treat the younger boys with dignity and the respect the younger boys give them in return.  I love their shouting and their taunting and their cheering.  I love their tirelessness, their perseverance, their energy.  I love how hard they play.  I love that these games belong to these boys.  I love that they play for the pure joy of playing.  I am grateful that they are here, that they are so alive, so graceful and grace-filled, so masculine, so innocent.  I thank God for these boys and pray that God will bless them and protect them from all harm.  We won’t read about these boys in the newspaper.  Urban young men.  City youth.  Not in trouble.  Not at risk.  Just playing football for the love of the game.

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18 thoughts on “Evening at the Corner of Clay and Raines

  1. Hi Belinda
    You and the replying comments sure capture what I love about our neighborhood. I also have noted how the young people step aside for my car to go thru then resume their game. Life – good life – in the neighborhood!

    • Hi Kathy. Thank you for the comment. I do love our neighborhood so much for all its many kinds of diversity – age, race, culture, religion, language, music AND for the many different ways we find to relax and enjoy each other. I am glad we are in the same neighborhood. You are right, life is good here.

  2. I grew up on a farm so I don’t have the priviledge of having neighbors or knowing what it would be like to just go outside and have friends gather. I can imagine. I have a great childhood memory of my dad mowing the corner of the cow field into a baseball diamond. Between my parents, my siblings and my older brother’s friend we managed to play a good game! We didn’t have to watch out for cars, but we had to be careful where we stepped 😉

  3. Oh! What a wonderful blog! I live just off the corner of Raines Park and Clay…#406. Feel free to stop by and introduce yourself if I’m home…which is unfortunately not often!
    I’m not a huge fan of kids…and I don’t like it when they won’t let me car through. But on the other hand it reminds me of when I was a kid and we played chase and roller skated in the street. We probably annoyed the drivers, too.
    It’s a reminder of days gone by. And it’s SOO GOOD to see those kids playing outside and not sitting behind a computer or watching television.
    It might be more complicated than that…maybe they haven’t been blessed with computers or TV’s like the rest of the kids in the area.
    But it is good to see them.
    Glad to know I have a warm, caring good-hearted neighbor blogging away near by 🙂

    • Hi neighbor! Thank you for the kind words for my blog. I do love seeing all the neighborhood kids playing outside, riding bikes and skateboards and playing football. I will be on the lookout for you as I am walking in Raines Park – you can recognize me by my three bichons. Feel free to call to me if you see me out and about – my vision is not great. Belinda

      • I believe I have seen you…and have seen the Bichons barking at the window as I walk by! You may have seen me with my Aussie and then my Toy Poodle although I am dogless for the past 9 months. (I prefer the dogs to the kids! LOL!)
        Was great to see this Blog pop up on the MNA page on Facebook. We have a great group of people around.
        Will definitely see you around the ‘hood.
        Thinking about starting a Block group and I just joined Pac Tac so I will be out and about more this summer.

  4. Just loved reading this with my mind spinning back to my childhood and being an Army child we
    had little money for those expensive toys but the
    love of play, football, basketball etc and even skating along the streets near our home was such
    a respite from our homework and home chores.
    Such fun and these young people solving their problems while enjoying the sport of football are to be saluted for maturing with grace.
    Their Mini-Municipality could give us food for thought……. Jo

    • Thank you for writing. I am glad to have sparked some nice memories for you. I am happy that these great teens are in my neighborhood. They are not perfect, of course, but they are a blessing in the way they model dispute settlement.

  5. Another warm reminder of youth. When we were young, we would gather on the street at dusk for games like hide and seek, jacks, scooter racing. Now, kids cloister themselves in their homes playing PS and online games. No more human interaction. How sad.

    • Isn’t it wonderful to realize that these kids are outside, playing together and working things out in a game of football, in this day and age when so many of us had thought those days were long gone? It renews my faith in this generation and my hope for the future.

    • Thanks for the comment, Kevin. Isn’t it good to know that today’s urban teens still enjoy a good game of street football? I am blessed to watch them play almost every night.

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