Of the places we lived when I was a kid, I guess I’d have to say the house on Sherman Street was my favorite. The back yard bordered on woods, woods that had dirt bike trails that would take us as far as a tank of gas or nerve would let us go… with maybe a couple hundred yards of scooting down public roads on an off-road vehicle. There was the crawl space under the stairs that we used for indoor camping. But most of all, the neighborhood had plenty of kids our age to hang out with. We’d have occasional snowball fights in winter (if the snow wasn’t too icy or slushy), bicycle races and water wars in summer, and hide & seek on weekend nights.
For whatever reason, I got to thinking about this water war story, and thought it might be amusing enough to share with everyone. In the early 1970s, there were no Super Soakers — a typical squirt gun had a range suitable for hand-to-hand combat, not much more. For longer range, we had grenades (water balloons) and fixed artillery (a water hose).
There were unwritten but strict rules that we observed during water wars:
1) All combat took place either in the street, or in front/back yards of combatants.
2) Adults and girls were non-combatants (the girls would have been welcome to join us had they been interested — we were 13 or 14, and they would have been in bikinis, 'nuff said). Anyone else was fair game, declared or not.
3) Cars were non-combatants, unless they belonged to an older sibling. People on bicycles were fair game — part of the fun was to run the gauntlet, after all.
There was a kid named David directly across the street from us who wasn’t really old enough to join the water fights, but he usually wanted to participate so Rule #2 applied to him. His problem was, he would want to join in, then want to quit as soon as water got anywhere near him. None of us really had a problem with him being on our “side” — we’d take him on as an extra because we knew he’d quit before he got to be a pain.
We had enough water hose to squirt most of the way across the street, so our house was pretty much the designated house for running the gauntlet on a bicycle. We’d run the gauntlet if we didn’t feel like running around with water balloons (or if everyone had run out), and that’s what we were doing this particular afternoon. David was riding around with us, fully understanding what we were doing but thinking he was somehow privileged. My brother (not Solar, the other one) was manning the hose, and I was standing next to him, having just taken a break from running the gauntlet, when David came out on his bike.
“I’m not playing now!” he yelled.
“You know the rules,” one of us yelled back. “If you’re in the war zone, we can get you.”
“No you can’t!” he yelled defiantly, and proceeded into the crossfire. Phil lobbed a water balloon and missed — but my brother’s hosing was accurate enough, and David ran inside crying to mommy. A minute later, Mrs. Smith came marching down her yard and across the street. Phil was not the brightest bulb on the string, and I could see he had a mind to introduce her to a water balloon, but he wasn’t that dumb (his brother Paul, now… fortunately, he wasn’t there).
Even though my brother was holding the water hose, Mrs. Smith chose to start screaming at me — probably because I wasn’t as openly defiant of authority as some others on the block and wouldn’t stand up for myself so much (I’ve improved in that regard, but not enough). “He knew he was going through the war zone,” my brother and some of the other guys explained. I just stood there.
“IF YOU DO THAT AGAIN, I’M GONNA CLEAN YOUR CLOCK!” she screamed, and walked away. I had a really hard time suppressing a smirk at that… and after that, whenever there were two or more of us together and she was anywhere in sight, one of us would say, “Clean your clock, Mrs. Smith” in a snarky undertone. Both we and Mrs. Smith banned David from further participation in water wars (or snowball fights) — one thing we could all agree on — but we included him in other things, sometimes to his (and our) detriment.
A year or two after that, they moved away, and Carrie the Barbarian moved in. But that’s another story.