11 June 2009

Barefoot Summers & Bottle Cap Ball

I periodically get e-mails from a cousin with links to sites featuring trivia and photos from the "good old days" or "Golden Oldies" music and generally take a quick glance and move on. I lived the "good old days", and I'm here to tell you that in my estimation they just weren't all that good. You see, I still remember polio and all too may kids in iron lungs.

Today's link was different and set me to thinking about some things. The site is Bill's Retro World and worth a visit. One of the first things I spotted was an old Pepsi bottle cap...if you have to ask, what's that, you might as well move along because I'm afraid listening to an old fart reminiscing will bore you.

But, let me take you back in time to Springerton, Illinois (in the heart of Little Egypt, pop 623) in the late forties and early fifties when boys like me got a burr-head (haircut) the first week after school let out and went barefoot and bare-chested from Memorial Day to Labor Day and snuck off to swim in rivers, creeks and stock ponds every chance we got despite dire warnings about polio and impetigo. Hell, we even dove off railroad trestles in defiance of the tales about the kid who got paralyzed from the neck down by doing the same thing.

But, what got me to thinking about all this was that Pepsi bottle-cap and bottle cap ball. My cousins andI, along with other town boys would gather each morning in back of the town's sole barbershop to play bottle cap ball. First, we'd raid the general store's and DX gasoline station's soda machines' bottle cap holder that was right below the opener and gather up every new bottle cap we could to mingle with ones we'd already stashed.

Getting the picture yet? The bottle caps were our "balls" that the pitcher would sail in to a catcher. The "bats" were sawed off broom sticks and each batter got three swings at the bottle caps.

We had an honor system of sorts, in which the catcher would call balls and stikes and keep track of how many were "on base". And it mostly worked pretty well since we only had one or two fights a week arising from disputed calls.

Foul tips were strikes and three in a row was an out. There would be a short and long fielder standing behind the catcher and hits over the long fielder's head were homers, hits past the short fielder were doubles and hits past the pitcher but in front of the short fielder were singles. Hits caught on the fly, of course, were outs. No bases were used as we kept track of hits and outs to determine runs.

But, Pepsi caps were the worst for some reason. They just didn't sail right and had a tendency to flutter or veer off to the left or right. Bubble Up and Dr. Pepper caps were the best for some reason and also the rarest because they didn't sell as well as Pepsi, Nehi, Royal Crown, Coca Colas, and Orange Crush. To work correctly the cap had to have its cork lining intact to give it sufficient weight to sail and not flutter. Some of the boys were known to soak them in water to pick up some extra weight and speed and a flatter trajectory. That was sort of allowed, but sneaking in a "mudder" wasn't. A "mudder" was a bottle cap that had been packed with mud and allowed to dry and all but impossible to hit it would sail in so fast and straight.

We set our own rules, negotiated and settled disputes and generally went about our business without adult oversight or interference. There were no "bottle cap" moms in our hair and we learned the rules of life, and how to interact, problem solve and create in ways that we carried forward into adulthood.

That's been lost with T-Ball, Soccer Leagues, dance lessons and the dozens of other "adult supervised" activities that today's kids take part in. Come to think of it, it's those T-Ball generation kids that grew to adulthood without moral compasses, senses of fair play and self-centeredness who gave us AIG and all the other aspects of the financial meltdown.

So, perhaps, there was some "good" in the "good old days" after all.

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