As young lads, we were free. Free to hop on a streetcar and go to Comiskey Park to watch Luke Appling and the White Sox play ball. Free to walk to school or to the playground for a pickup game of baseball or basketball, or to the Gage Park pool for a swim. Free to play in the street, join a game of "kick the can" in the alley or hang out on the corner. There were two rules: You had to be home for dinner at 6, and when you went out after dinner, you had to come home when the street lights went on.
Our parents let us be free, but there was never a question about how much they loved us. And we had dreams of becoming cops or firefighters or owning neighborhood businesses.
When it came to organized sports, we did the organizing. I played shortstop on our team, the Slashers, and we had jerseys. The back of my red and blue jersey had my sponsor's name: "G & T Auto Seat Covers," a store on 63rd Street run by two ex-GIs. I was maybe 11 at the time and asked if they would sponsor me. "Of course." It might have cost them five bucks. Funny thing, but they never came to any of our games. Guess they were too busy working six days a week building their own dreams. That was over 50 years ago.
But our world has changed, and many of the freedoms I enjoyed growing up on the South Side of Chicago are gone. In many communities in this great land, children can no longer walk to school or to the park for fear some crazy will snatch them or they'll be caught in the crossfire of a dope deal gone bad. Parents now manage their children's lives, organizing the kids' sports teams and supplying the uniforms. Instead of letting their kids play in the street or the alley, parents arrange play dates.
A few days ago our 8-year-old neighbor rang our doorbell. Turns out his play date had been canceled, and, as he put it, "I'm totally bored. Is Seneca there?" Seneca is our granddaughter and a frequent after-school visitor.
Funny, but I don't ever remember being bored as a kid, except when I was quarantined at home with chicken pox or some such contagious disease. But in spite of occasional boredom, our young neighbor hangs on to his dream of becoming an engineer like his dad so they can work together.
Travis J. Layfield, from a neighboring town, also had a dream. When he was growing up, he would often talk about how some day he would be a United States Marine. Semper fi. What a proud day it would be.
On April 6, 2004, Lance Cpl. Travis J. Layfield was killed by hostile fire in Iraq. He was 19.
When Frank isn't agonizing over a world gone mad, he can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.