Neighborhood Kids

The kid’s name was Peter Alyward.My beautiful picture

He came from a big Irish-Catholic family two houses down from ours.

I remember only two of his siblings—his older brother Matthew, a stocky, square-headed kid, and their older sister Kathleen, who used to babysit my brother and me when our parents went out. Fairly certain there were two younger kids and one girl who was between Matthew and Kathleen in the family tree.

There’s a photo of all the Alyward kids on Hallowe’en shoving through our front doorway in their costumes, mugging for Mom’s camera. I can see that photo in my mind’s eye now. I have that picture—just don’t have it right here, right now.

There is, however, this photo of Peter (above) between me and Brian, who’s reining in our new puppy, which Brian named Lassie—one of the few remaining pictures of Maryland and the late 1960s.

Peter was a small kid, and he constantly shadowed my brother and me. Brian and Peter were always climbing trees together. When I mentioned in a previous post that you could hear Brian cracking through the branches in an unintended descent, Peter would often be the second wave of kid you’d hear biting the dirt.

We spent a lot of time at their house, a rambling two-storey. The only bit I recall is the “War is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things” poster on the basement door of their cluttered kitchen.

Later, we were outside, playing in their barn and making up stories. This is what I remember the most about them—we were characters in whatever stories we chose to make up. The barn was like a big theater, a space for our imaginations to take wing. What I found exciting was like-minded energies, willing to play the same games. Don’t we all?

While Peter was close on Brian’s heels, I shadowed a kid two houses down in the other direction—a geeky inventor about my age named John Gottschalk. John designed a portable power box with a plug outlet on one side, a switch on the other, a hinged handle on top. Take that box out in the field, plug something into it and it would run on portable power. Whoa.

The Gottschalks were a regimented German family. When I was invited down to join them for supper, everyone got a serving of vitamin pills beside their plates. Dessert was de rigueur, unlike our house where even a regular suppertime was subject to the whims of Dad’s commute from Bethesda, Mom’s schedule at Montgomery County Hospital, and whether Brian (or Peter) had broken more bones falling out of trees.

John had a stoner older brother who was always holed up in his room. Whenever I ran into him in the hall, he picked on me. John and I made a habit of stealing his comic books whenever we had a chance.

Which brings me to the new media—comics.

I liked to read well enough, which usually involved the Scholastic Book Club ordered from Olney Elementary School. But I started sending off for comics in the mail, just to avoid the wrath of John’s wasted brother.

The innocent stuff was Archie or Richie Rich or things like that. But then I found Tales from the Crypt, Weird War, and The Unexpected … I’d pore over those, along with the Johnson Smith catalog with its gags, decals and dubious science experiments. The real addiction began with Classics Illustrated comics. I started out with Jules Verne and ended up with The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I couldn’t wait for the mail to come! (BONUS: the previous link will take you to Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.)

Books, in the end, had the biggest pull. I read them, cherished them, collected them.

Grandma Maupin was also a reader and never failed to ask, “How many do you have now? How many have you read? What’s your favorite?” One Christmas she gave me a collection of illustrated Alfred Hitchcock mysteries and my eyes nearly popped out of my head. I loved Grandma Hazel.

We wrote in books, scribbled in the margins, doodled on the back pages. Here’s something I found scrawled in a Scholastic Book Club title I found at the parents’ house after they passed away. It’s one I remember from my early library: Mean Max by John Peterson with illustrations by Syd Hoff.

In the inside back cover, there’s this…

Look, if you’re gonna roll the paper dice you made in class, numbering it from 1 to 8, there are all kinds of possible answers.

But “I hate you” apparently won’t be one of them.

~ by completelyinthedark on November 12, 2010.

One Response to “Neighborhood Kids”

  1. Reblogged this on Completely in the Dark and commented:

    Happy Hallowe’en 2014! Here’s a blast from the distant past. All new post next Friday, Nov. 7.


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