By Tim Hayes
Art carried all the keys down at Transverse Park.
He was a good man to get to know. Art could unlock the basketballs, the checkerboards, or the shuffleboard pucks and sticks. He could repair the see-saw or sliding board. He could even turn on the sprinklers at the pool any time he wanted.
Transverse Park stood about 100 yards from my house as a kid. My friends and I would tear out of our back doors after school or the first thing on Saturday morning, yell “Down the park!” to let our Moms know where we were headed, run through a neighbor’s yard on the other side of the street, skid down a well-worn hillside path, and get to the park for hours of unorganized, totally self-directed, outdoor fun. A wonderful way to grow up, and something most kids today couldn’t even begin to fathom.
Art always struck me as a pretty old guy, but remembering him now, he probably wasn’t all that old. Maybe in his late 50s or early 60s. But whatever his age, he looked older than that number.
I have no idea what his backstory truly encompassed, of course, just being a kid myself at the time. My assumption, though, held that Art had lived sort of a rough life. Perhaps working as a laborer in the steel mills, which back in the early 1970s were still roaring away.
Art always looked tired. He moved pretty slowly. He never seemed like he had two nickels to rub together. He sighed a lot, watching each day drift by. A lonesome sort of sadness enveloped him. The energy required to unlock a cinder block shed full of sporting equipment for neighborhood kids most likely suited Art just fine at that point in his life.
And it wasn’t anything like the “creepy-scoutmaster-who-always-seemed-like-such-a-nice-man” sort of thing we hear about almost daily in the news today. Art was harmless to all of us kids. To the extent he was capable of it, I think he got a kick out of working at the park. We were never in any danger from Art. Plus, the houses in our neighborhood were built practically on top of one another, so if anything untoward ever happened, every parent on the block would know and it would stop immediately.
During the summer, as we played baseball or rode the swings or played tag, around 7 p.m. we’d surreptitiously listen for the telltale ding!-ding! of the Goodie Bar truck to pull up curbside at the park. Armed with a quarter or two, we’d get our snow cones and ice push-ups, taking a break from the action to enjoy a tasty treat.
We never saw Art get anything from the Goodie Bar man, though. One balmy and humid evening, a bunch of us guys chipped in and bought Art a grape snow cone. We took it over to him as he sat on a little wooden folding chair outside his equipment shed. You’d have thought we had given him a gold watch.
He really didn’t say much. Just nodded his head and accepted the gift. He might have even teased a hint of a smile along one corner of his mouth. We ran off and dove back into whatever game we’d been playing, never giving it another thought.
I’m not sure which happened first, whether I got to be too old to run “down the park” any longer, or whether Art stopped working there. Either way, that chapter had closed. But thinking back now, I hope Art remembered that grape snow cone as the thank-you a bunch of kids meant it to be, one hot summer’s evening.
He was a good guy to get to know.
Copyright 2013 Tim Hayes Consulting