I remember the sound of the ball coming in contact with the bat. The wood bats had a hallow kind of smack, while the aluminum had a ping.
I remember the lamplights turning on, slowly, hesitantly flickering before reaching their full strength, the moths dancing in the warm spotlight.
I grew up in a small white house, along with my two brothers, on a one-way street called Wentworth.
The park was our backyard. It’s where we learned how to play basketball, baseball, hockey and how to look out for one another.
Our parents worked several jobs to make ends meet. We lived a simple yet fulfilled life. We were kids with 3 baseball diamonds, two basketball courts, a shack to play “wall ball” against, a jogging path behind Diamond 2, a playground beyond that, and our very first school, Wentworth School across the street, beside yet another landmark, Blossom Pool.
We had a neighbour who talked to the bus drivers, whose rest stop was in front of our house. His name was John “Babe” Learie. He also talked to anyone and everyone getting off and, on the bus, entering or exiting Wentworth Park (and he kept the squirrels well fed).
He had a unique way about him, including his many expressions such as “Is he doing his thing for Canadians?”, which he would ask when I was taking our dog, Casey for a pee. He also attested to the fact that “everything is better with coke” and he called me “Miss Moffatt”. He taught us all how to drive by the time we were 12 and he fixed our bikes, brought us to McDonald’s and always made us laugh.
Our father, who had little down time (between being an accountant, a radio broadcaster, a sportswriter, a restaurant reviewer (he swore there were no calories in cheesecake), a stadium announcer, a community minded person – The Annual Sports Celebrity Breakfast to benefit the Cummings Centre), liked to sit on his lawn chair on our back balcony, reading the paper and shouting “Hey, how are you…. (name)”, he knew everyone’s name and basically captured their life stories within a short and unexpected interview.
While other girls were trying on their mother’s make-up and playing with Barbie dolls, I was following my brothers and their friends around the park. I had a “good arm”, as my brothers would say and they often let me pitch around before a game.
I learned to play basketball, skate, ride a bike, build a fort, and even had my first kiss in Wentworth Park (I’m not telling).
Diamond 2 Dugout
Eventually, we all worked for the city, as Park Attendants. Mike, my eldest brother was the first one in the position and then as he transitioned to a career in journalism (Sunday Express or The Monitor, or both, I think he was 17 – born journalist – in the blood), my middle brother Chuck took over. I was called in for switch shifts (day shift/night shift).
It was a sweet gig. We used this wheel barrel contraption to create the baselines, we loaded the bases (literally), raked the sand and awaited the players. Once everyone was present, we were responsible for basic first aid and calling an ambulance in extreme cases.
When I worked the night shift, I got to turn on the lamplights. There was this giant panel, with handle switches. I had to use both hands and all my strength to pull down each one.
The best would be when Chuck would stick around and he would power on the lights, so I could be out there watching it all happen. It would be dark and then BOOM, lights from everywhere, players arriving, laughing, talking, so happy to be in the park, after a long day of work/school, whatever life they led.
Girlfriends, wives, kids, parents, grandparents, everyone came to see the ballgames back then. The whole community gathered, talked, debated, and cheered on the players. We knew everyone and most of our friends had grown up on Blossom, Wentworth, Davies, Palmer, Smart and onward toward Wagar, where we attended high school.
My father played in the Slow-pitch league, which meant, a softball was used instead of a fastball. It was also called Slow-pitch, because it was “slow”. My father played “catcher”, which may as well have been called, “talker”, because that is all he did. Although, it wasn’t all bad for his team because he did a good job of distracting the batter and even the umpire.
All the teams were sponsored and the players wore these really, cool, retro jerseys. There was Guaranteed Industries, Mandy Designs, Mitchell Lincoln, Future Electronics, jump in if you know any of the others!
Let’s talk about “Wall Ball”. Everyone thinks they invented the game but the truth is my brothers invented it, and so did the Marons, the Margoleses, the Gurmans, the Rosenbergs, the Nutcovitches, the Liquornicks, and all the families whose “batter up” graced those walls.
Sadly, the shack is no longer there but when it was, we drew a square on one end of the wall, put someone up to bat, pitched the ball at the wall, as hard and fast as possible and then watched it fly over our heads toward Diamond 1 (or 2 or 3). The batter actually had nowhere to run, basically if they hit the ball and it wasn’t caught, they stayed up at bat. The thing was, that it was such a popular game, you had to get to that side of the shack wall first, in order to play.
Chuck and Me
Dogs were not allowed in the park, but Casey Cohen would have none of that! So, him and his brother, Chuck, decided to wonder into the park whenever they saw fit. One day, the CSL Patrol was out on a mission – to catch Chuck and Casey Cohen on the move. As the patrol car, entered the park, the emergency lights flashed and Chuck and Casey were caught “Yorkie Handed”, BUT the patrol person, had no idea, they were dealing with the Cohen family of Cohen-St.Luc and The Suburban Newspaper and Larry Fredericks and the small but mighty rock of the family – Elaine Cohen, who loved her Casey far more than…well all of us!
Casey was brought to court. He was in big trouble, that is until our entire family showed up and the judge (Segal), took one look at our 9lb Yorkie and another at our Cohen St.Luc family and set Casey free – “Not Guilty and never to be bothered again.”
In the wintertime, the boards went up, the flooding/painting and freezing began and we started the outdoor hockey season. For me, that meant, my brothers dressing me in goalie equipment (far too large for me to walk or see or be found) and taking slapshots at the net.
Other times, I followed them to a game and they told me to go figure skating instead. So, I met up with my #1 childhood friend/buddy – Karon Margolese of the Margolese family of Blossom Ave.
We skated, talked, laughed and then went back to her house and ate all the “cheesies” while her amazing mom, Sandra, made us hot chocolate.
In the Spring, the boards were taken down but there was a lapse between the time they were down and taken away by the city works. So, me and my brothers and our friends would drag a few over to the middle of the jogging track. There, the center of the ground gave into gravity and flooded like a river, from the runoff of the snow. We used the boards as “rafts” and the wooden sticks that held them in place as “paddles”. The water stank! It was filthy and we would throw each other overboard (freezing), get soaking wet and then run home to the great dismay of our mother.
There were these mesh nets that were supposed to stop any foul balls from landing in our yard or smashing my bedroom window. The only problem was, they had holes and the balls knew about those holes. My bedroom window was smashed (and visited by a peeping Tom who stood on Chuck’s outdoor weight bench, used a stick to slide open my blinds after poking a hole in the screen – quite ingenious actually – never figured out who it was but they left behind a foot print – the police came by – could not identify the foot and I’m still looking for the culprit), our hibachi BBQ was smashed (which meant my father could no longer burn the steaks or burgers) but…WE GOT TO KEEP THE BALLS!!!
The other summertime activity was going to Blossom Pool. Most of our friends were members there as well. We would spend an entire day, morning to night, swimming, playing champ, shuffleboard, volleyball and eating Squish Knishes (potato knishes, huge, hot, delicious, that were served on parchment paper and then we would either press down on it with our hands – standing – with all our might to see who could get their knish the most squished – even if it meant burning our hands – those really desperate to prove their point – sat on their knishes – I’m not giving any names) and never, ever, doing as instructed, when the announcement was made…
“NO RUNNNING, NO JUMPING, IT IS NOW FREE SWIM!”
And we hated hearing:
“ALL CHILDREN PLEASE LEAVE THE POOL – IT IS NOW ADULT SWIM.”
At which point, all of our parents would get in the pool, with their white zinc on their noses, and they would wade the water with their hands as if part of a synchro team, and just stand there in the water talking. I mean what was the point? It was the same thing they were doing on their lawn chairs and we could have been in there swimming and trying to push each other’s heads under the water.
Blossom Pool - Mike, Chuck and Me (topless)
Karen and I were not signed up for swim class. It was costly and our families were supporting 3 kids each respectively, so we just decided to show up for the first day of classes (with her cousin who was signed up) and take the classes anyway. The instructor did not take attendance or care who was in the group and we attended for 4 weeks!! That is how I learned to do the crawl and the butterfly and most importantly to tread. My parents often wondered, how I became such a good swimmer.
There were nights when a bunch of us would hop the wooden maze of walls that contained the property, so we could go for a real “free swim”. We thought we were so cool, lounging in the shallow end, listening to music on the shortwave radio our grandfather gave us. That was just the kind of thing you did when you weren’t wealthy enough to be off at camp or have a family cottage. We found ways to entertain ourselves right through the summer.
When I was in my 30s, in a long-term relationship that came customized with two amazing stepsons, I use to return to the park with them and our dog Buddy and we would play frisbee, wallball, do all the same things I did when I was their age. I got such a kick out of watching them make Wentwork park a part of their growing up experience.
Later, my nephews would hit the field, play their first game of baseball or just pitch the ball around with their Dad and Grandfather. Those were sweet times. Everyone was still around and the family was growing. We all appreciated the simplicity of being outdoors together and playing sports in the park behind our house.
Several years ago, I lost both my dogs within a month of one another. It was beyond painful. Buddy had grown old and suffered a stroke in the middle of the night and was gone by morning and Buster, heartbroken, and only 4 years old, got very sick and died of terminal cancer that had spread to all his organs. It was July, they were both with us, running in the woods in the country, it was August and Buddy was suddenly gone, it was September and Buster followed after him.
I felt lost. I couldn’t find my grounding. So, I went to visit my parents on Wentworth. My mother was preparing dinner in the kitchen, the cool of fall had arrived and the park was empty.
I hopped our backyard fence (that we had permanently damaged from lots of “hopping” over the years) and went to sit in the bleachers by Diamond 2. It was pitch dark, except for the lights coming from the back of the homes on Wentworth and Blossom.
I closed my eyes and imagined being a little kid again, playing sports with my brothers and our friends, running wild, without a care in the world. I thought about how all of our lives had turned out, marriage, divorce, people coming, people going, things that were easy to understand and matters of the heart that were beyond understanding.
I imagined the bleachers being full with everyone’s parents, siblings and others who came out to see us play, have a laugh, and join together as a community, a young vibrant one, such as CSL was back in the 70s/80s.
I opened my eyes and I returned to the present. I was older, I had triumphed, I had failed, I had found what I thought was my place, my seat at the table. I missed the simplicity of growing up in Wentworth Park and at Blossom Pool. I wished I could still hear the ping of the ball making contact with the aluminum bat, the hollow smack of the ball making contact with the wood bat.
I wished both my hands were pulling down those circuit handles and there would be a second of hesitation, then a flicker, then BOOM, the whole place would light up, and in the stillness, in that moment frozen in time, the moths would dance under the heat of the lamps, in the slices of rays, of a sweet time gone by.