“Attic Salt” column for Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012

By ED CULLEN

Advocate staff writer

The voice on the telephone was older but familiar, a child grown old who’d attended the same grammar school I had.

We shared the memory of a two-story, blond brick building, steep, wide staircases of marble or some less expensive but no less exotic stone.

We’d had some of the same teachers, seen a principal or two and pulled for the L.S. Rugg Rams from the sidelines. There were no bleachers.

We changed into sports clothing in another, smaller brick building, this one with a tall brick chimney. A boiler inside provided steam for radiators in our classrooms.

We played basketball outside on concrete courts the length and width of the Russian steppes. Inside basketball was a rainy day sport played in the auditorium.

It was a strange game, this inside game. Children shot from a circle that ringed a basket, a round frame and net atop a pole.

The auditorium was a sweaty, hallowed place we associated with honors, Cub Scouts, movies shown on a projecter and traveling entertainers (magicians and jugglers, mainly).

We made them traveling entertainers, the last of the vaudeville people. Likely, most of the entertainers lived in our town.

There was a man who walked across the stage on a ladder. I’m sure he was from out of town.

Hearing the voice of an old classmate on the telephone, circuits began firing, awaking memories of the smell of new blue jeans in the dry, fall air, a sun that baked the dirt of the playground, the cries of children free for a few minutes from the rigors of instruction.

The classrooms weren’t air conditioned. The windows opened or we would have died. The rooms smelled of us and our teachers’ perfumes. There was a male teacher who taught math and coached everything.

I listened to this old, young voice on the telephone and asked, “Do you remember ‘Throw Back Football?’”

He wasn’t sure.

“You turned your back to a gang of boys, threw a football over your head and someone caught it or let it bounce until someone picked it up,” I said.

“Then, everyone jumped on him?” my old classmate asked.

“Right,” I said.

No one went to the hospital. If an injured child went to the school nurse, it wasn’t by choice. We wore our wounds like badges.

We played football all fall and winter at school and in vacant lots. At one classmate’s house, we played in sock feet or barefooted to better feel the thick, cool St. Augustine grass.

Our mothers pleaded with us, then threatened if we didn’t remember to change into old jeans.

“Look at these grass stains,” they’d say when we forgot. And we never said, “That’s the way jeans are supposed to look in the fall.” We were matadors, combatants, players of the game, but we knew it was useless to argue with mothers.

Email Ed Cullen at ecullen@theadvocate.com.