Basketball, Growing Boys, and Me

Never fear for I will watch over you.

What a difference a few months make. This kid, I’m not sure of his age, because I didn’t ask his dad last time we talked has shot up like a Leyland Cypress. He has also lost a lot of the baby fat. The family, three youngsters and mama and daddy, lives across the road from me. Back when it was cold, Dad and I exchanged small talk near the mailboxes. I mentioned the kids were growing up fast. Dad agreed and hinted at some friction currently between him and the oldest son, now a teenager.

Before I would jokingly inquire about the trouble, dad just put it out there that the youngest boy had asthma. Explanation for why his son was obese maybe. Although not tall, he appeared rather fit and I would venture to say not too tolerant of fat people. So, if not for asthma no way his son would be hefty.

I don’t know if he knew it or not but he had the neighbor in back of me to thank for his son’s transformation. When he put up the portable basketball hoop, it pissed me off because I thought the noise would interfere with my writing. Not to mention his boy couldn’t be more than three years old. And from what I could see couldn’t even throw the basketball high enough to reach the rim. There were times the dad and guys his age went one on one, but other than that the goal got little use.

Then fall rolled in and they started gathering like birds. Without even having to look out the window I knew when my neighbor’s boy had the ball. When he dribbled it sounded like Thor’s hammer smashing repeatedly into the ground. He was a rough kid and once crashed into the back of the owner of the basketball hoop’s Ford Explorer with the little boy’s scooter he’d earlier confiscated. He covered his mouth with a fist, swung around to see if anyone was watching. Either they’d not noticed or didn’t care. I was the only witness and all I could think was if there was a dent he deserved it for putting up the goal that attracted the boys like a magnet in the first place.

Before long I was calling him Heavy-D. Weather permitting he was out there banging that ball into the ground. Why that thing never exploded still boggles my mind. I think he was too rough for the other boys because they stopped showing up. No matter how cold he would be out there in his t-shirt banging away. And when he tired of playing basketball, he rang the neighbor’s doorbell. The guy handed him the scooter then closed the door. I couldn’t feel sorry for him because he seemed as content to play alone as with the other kids.

After a while I think his mom must’ve told him it was too cold to be out there bouncing a ball around. I missed that kid and hoped he hadn’t substituted video games with the great outdoors. Then the young ones started to gather again. The first thing he did was pick a fight with the garage folks’ kid. The boy was half his size but I’d seen him put down an uprising once. Three boys, a posse or brothers, I don’t know which but they attacked and he put them down one by one. They ran off and he played ball alone. His daddy looked like a body builder so I think Heavy-D picked on the wrong kid.

They fought in the street, on the erector of the goal’s lawn, and on the lawn next to his. No one intervened and quite frankly didn’t seem all that interested. Just boys being boys I suppose, survivor of the fittest and all that good stuff. Neither seemed the worst for wear when they swaggered like little gladiators back to the basketball area.

Eventually I took on a night project and was away for a while. When it was over I swear Heavy-D had grown a couple of inches. His body had even lost much of its roundness. Although he appeared to have mellowed, I still detected a bit of roughness around the edges as he zipped up and down the road on a bike, wind buffeting a much looser t-shirt. He vanished from view and returned giving another kid a ride. Up and down the road they went while others played basketball, soccer, and rough-housed, a melting pot of little fellows growing up right before my eyes. To tell the truth, I’m still slightly pissed at my neighbor for putting up the basketball hoop. But it’s a small price to pay to watch these boys grow up.

These are no lost boys. No Peter Pans. They will grow up, God willing, and life will become their own personal Captain Hook.

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