Four-square is the name of a game I used to play with my brother and a few other friends. We’d gather under the viaduct on any given summer day with a basketball and use a section of concrete lined into four squares, one player per square. You start out bouncing the ball into whatever square you wanted, using only your hands, and you couldn’t “carry” the ball either, you had to bounce it. The recipient of your bounce was then responsible for aiming his bounce into another players square. It was a fun game of strategy and coordination for a bunch of kids who didn’t have much growing up in a downtrodden area of one of Louisville’s many inner city slums.
There was also what we all called “the tin thing.” It was built to help prevent the dirt bank from crumbling into the yards of the houses just below the railroad tracks. We’d often climb the tin thing to reach the tracks, sometimes while box cars were in motion, other times when they weren’t, many dimes, nickels, and quarters were smashed on those tracks. Sadly enough, I don’t have a single remnant of one of those coins.
I don’t think parents use the words “go outside and play” much, if at all, today. We heard it all the time in our house in Louisville. At the time I didn’t know that our family income (and probably everyone else who lived in that area) was probably a good deal below the poverty level, but that didn’t matter to us kids, we didn’t know the definition of “poor.” We didn’t need money to play four-square, as long as the basketball held air.
While playing on the tracks one cold winter day, one of the kids almost got their leg cut off when a box car jumped forward, it happened suddenly. You couldn’t tell it was about to move because the main engine was far ahead, out of sight and sound. Thankfully, my older brother was near that kid and pulled him off the track before the wheel cut his leg completely off. I remember seeing blood and torn jeans, I’m sure an ambulance was called, but I don’t remember hearing or seeing one.
The kid survived, and I remember him walking with a limp after he came home from the hospital. We climbed the tin thing and played on and around the tracks as if nothing had happened. But then something happened: the race riots. Things were never the same after that. Such a stark difference developed between white and black. They hated us, we feared them. Most of the memories I have from my childhood are tragic and nightmarish, but thankfully a few are pleasant and repeatable. I wish I could play four-square under that viaduct again, unfortunately were I to attempt it today I’d probably get mugged. Is it any wonder parents don’t say “go outside and play” anymore?