This is a true story. How do I know that?—‘cause I was there. The Kid and I grew up on the same block back in the late 1950’s. Well… I grew up on that block, but I’m not so sure about what happened to the Kid.
First off, you have to understand how things were 50 years ago. The medical field was nowhere near as advanced as it is today. Diseases such as Polio were only just being eliminated and Scarlet Fever and even Whooping Cough could still be deadly to children. Pregnant women rarely knew if the child they carried was going to be born with any sort of deformity—until it was too late. This was especially true for older women who became pregnant.
So, there was this older couple who lived a few houses down the block from us back then. They’d been there for as long as I could remember and must have been in their mid 50’s. Yeah, yeah… I know that 55 isn’t really that old, but when you’re only nine years old yourself, someone who’s near 60 seems to already have one foot in the grave. So this couple they were nice, quiet folks and childless.
We hardly ever really saw them except on weekends when old Mr. Smith was out front mowing his yard or watering the little strip garden up near his house. We would usually see Mrs. Smith sitting out on their front porch during the summer and of course when we went up to their door on Halloween. She always gave out these really tasty homemade popcorn balls that were colored red, green or orange and impaled on a thick stick so we could eat them without getting gooey sugar on our hands. ‘Course that was back when we didn’t have to worry about some crazed psycho putting poison or razor blades in the treats given out on Halloween. Lots of people gave out homemade treats when I was a kid—fudge, cookies, candied apples—and no one was ever concerned about it.
Anyway, the Smith’s were nice enough folks who kept mainly to themselves. Then one day a rumor started going around the neighborhood that Mrs. Smith was pregnant. Turned out the rumor was true and everyone was real happy for both of them. Don’t forget this was 1958 and we were at the height of the Baby Boom explosion. Most of the families on our block had anywhere from three to six kids each, so for a childless older couple to suddenly become ‘with child’ was quite a celebrated event. After the initial excitement over her pregnancy died down, life carried on normally around the neighborhood for the next few months.
But then Mrs. Smith was rushed into the hospital a full three months before the baby was actually due. All of the adults knew that something was wrong and talk of complications and premature births were discussed with whispers whenever any kids happened to be around. Even so, we figured out that something was not right—we just didn’t know exactly what was going on.
A few days later word circulated around that the baby had some sort of freak birth defect and was born early and died. Everyone was naturally bummed to hear this news and many of the mothers on our block offered to help Mrs. Smith with her recovery.
Oddly enough, Mr. Smith refused all offers of assistance and informed everyone that both he and Mrs. Smith simply needed time alone with their sorrow. Somewhat reluctantly, people in the neighborhood agreed to his request. After Mrs. Smith finally returned home from the hospital—no one actually saw her come home, so it must have been very late at night—they both became even more reclusive than they had been before she got pregnant. The adults said it was understandable that they wanted to mourn in privacy.
Most nine year old kids do not have a solid grasp about what death really means or how it might affect people who have lost their children. At that time I certainly didn’t understand everything that was going on, but I just had this, well, weird feeling about the whole situation.
Almost all the houses on our block had detached garages—this means they were separated from the house and located in the back yard. And alongside each garage was a narrow area where the trash cans and other yard crap were stored. This area was fenced in and had a gate at one end so the owner could remove the trash cans and other stuff whenever needed. And it was real easy for people—well, for kids, actually—to climb up on a trash can and jump from one of these enclosed areas into another. By climbing over the fences behind each house, from one area to another, you could basically travel from one end of the block to the other, through that narrow corridor, and pretty much not be seen by anyone.
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