All kids who grew up in the early 80’s had a repertoire of go-to games: Hide & Seek, Mother May I, Tag, Freeze Tag, Red Light Green Light. Those were the days before iPads (and the likely inevitable subsequent hit A&E TV series “Intervention: Candy Crush”). Those were the days when TVs only had three channels, which – aside from the hallowed Saturday morning cartoon line-up – seemed to only broadcast news, soap operas or sports; kids had nothing else to do but go outside and play. And that’s what we did.
Children of the late 70’s and early 80’s did not wear leashes. We were untethered, running about the neighborhood without restriction. We climbed neighbors’ trees, played on any swing set we could find in a two-mile radius, and eagerly ingested cookies and candy from anyone who doled out that kind of stuff. We were in the suburbs, after all, and the media had not yet discovered its ability to paralyze society with bad ideas and fear. Parents then didn’t think that their child was the primary target of a ginormous international kidnapping scheme and so we were allowed to run wild. As a child, the only rule we had to follow was to come home when it got dark or when your mom screamed out the window to the entire neighborhood: DINNER! Whichever came first.
My two best neighborhood friends were CJ and Jolleen. CJ was older than me by about a year and his little sister, Jolleen, was one year younger than me. There were tons of other miscellaneous neighbor kids who we dragged into our games, but because we
lived right across the street from one another had a lot in common, we were a pretty tight threesome.
One afternoon, my mom was babysitting for CJ and Jolleen. I have no idea where their mom was that day, but their dad was working from his at-home office and must not to be disturbed. I have no idea where my mom was that day, either, come to think of it. She was probably cleaning the house/making dinner/painting/regretting her decision to be a stay-at-home-mom, the most boring job in the world where absolutely nothing exciting ever happened. Whatever the case, the lack of supervision doesn’t really strike me as being odd.
It was a warm summer afternoon. We must have burnt ourselves out with an epic game of tag the night before or have been eagerly looking forward to gaping at cartoons on the TV Saturday morning because the game we decided to play was “Scooby Doo.” CJ, obviously, wanted to be Fred. I can’t remember if I was Daphne or Velma. (I like to think I would have been smart enough to pull the age card over Jolleen and be Daphne, but I was sort of non-confrontational as a kid and I have brown hair, so I probably got hosed.) Since “Scooby Doo” wasn’t an actual game, we were free to make up our own rules! And our own objectives!
It was in the early post-lunch hours in a suburban, Pennsylvania blue-collar neighborhood where the laws of “Scooby Doo” were established by three kids, aged 6, 5, and 4.
- Find a neighbor you don’t like (check, the Brino family)
- Make sure they’re not at home (check, the Brino family had taken the station wagon out for the day)
- Dig a hole in their yard and cover it with sticks and grass, so that you capture the family
All we needed was a shovel. Or, better yet, a helicopter parent to keep us from doing stuff like this. But since the latter didn’t exist yet, we set off to CJ and Jolleen’s garage to look for shovels. But there was not a single digging device to be found in the garage overflowing with tools and gardening supplies. Most kids may have been deterred at this point and run into the house for a Hawaiian Punch break or something, but not us. These were the days before ADD. We had focus. CJ called out:
“We can use this to dig the trap in the Brino’s yard!”
He held out an axe.
Now, at this point, even my tiny, not-fully-formed brain was telling me this was probably a bad idea.
“I don’t know if this is a good idea, guys,” I offered.
“Shut up, this is gonna be fine,” CJ said, his little sister standing by his side nodding.
Yup, I was Velma.
We took the axe over to the side of the Brino’s yard and CJ started chopping the earth. I stood there stupidly, knowing that if my mom peeked her head out the door and saw us, I was going to be in big trouble. Every now and then Jolleen would drop down to her knees and clear away the dirt that her brother had chopped up, careful to save any earth worms along the way. Because we cared about our fellow living creatures. Except for, apparently, the Brino family.
I really don’t remember if CJ was chopping at that ground for hours or minutes. He wasn’t really getting anywhere with the hole, but that’s probably because he was 6 years old and instead of using a shovel, he was using an axe. But he kept chopping away and Jolleen continued to save earthworm after earthworm from an early demise. And so it went, until the game came to an abrupt end.
CJ reared the axe over his head just as Jolleen saw another little wormface wriggling out of the dirt. Completely oblivious to Descartes and the concept of momentum, she bent down to pick the worm up, but CJ couldn’t stop the axe. It sliced STRAIGHT. INTO. HER. HEAD.
Her long, straight, blond hair streamed red, drops of blood pouring down her face and into her eyes. CJ’s axe dropped faster than his jaw. Much like the cartoon characters we were pretending to be, he ran off so quickly there was a cloud of dust where he had stood only seconds before. I had no idea where he went…to get his dad, who must not be disturbed? Jolleen was just screaming and crying, walking with her hands in front of her like she was a zombie. I ran across the street to my house, leaving Jolleen to stumble around the neighborhood on her own.
I’m not really sure what happened next: whether I called out for help to my mom or whether I tried to pretend like nothing had happened. I can see it playing out either way. I don’t remember my mom freaking out or Jolleen’s dad screeching out of the driveway to go to the hospital. I just remember Jolleen’s stringy, red hair stuck to her face, and I remember being utterly terrified. As it turned out, Jolleen had a fun little trip to the ER where she, thank God, only needed three stitches. I’m sure CJ and I got in trouble. Because how could you try to dig a hole in a neighbor’s yard with an axe and not? But those details are buried deep and probably won’t be resurrected without the help of a hypnotherapist.
I do remember Jolleen coming back, though, with a big smile on her face because her dad bought her an ice cream cone on the way home from the hospital.
That was the last time we played “Scooby Doo.”