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Young friends and old games (03/06/2005)
By Janet Lewis Burns

Back in the 50s baseball was big. Area town teams played in heated competition, strutting their stuff for cheering, jeering fans of all ages. In Lewiston, the field ambled behind the twelve-grade school, complete with dugouts, concession stands, and row upon row of splintery green bleachers.

A constant jumble of kids, running up and down and making excess racket, didn't seem to detract the avid fans. A personal memory from the town girl's youth, those local ballgames literally echoed through her family's home, from across a vacant plot of clover-adorned land (ideal for neighborhood softball).

Towering light poles emitted powerful rays, which flooded her home's upstairs bedrooms and hallway. Often her near-country friend stayed over on game nights, which added a twist of adventure to their whispered wee-hours chitchat.

An announcer's spirited play-by-play, through the din of the crowd, put slumber into overtime. The gravelly-voiced calls of the umpire of the hour, Ole Olmstead's shrill retorts split country-scented air. "Striieeee!"

There were times when the young girls would sneak down to the kitchen, where part of the outfield and the scoreboard could be seen through west windows, and wallow in banana splits and fireflies. With no bedroom televisions, and before VCRs, computers, and DVDs, vivid imaginations were spurred by genuine ingenuity.

In fitful dreams, the town girl imagined those gangling light poles, as extraterrestrial robots with bubble eyes and rigid steel legs, tottering laboriously across the field and through her folk's huge garden. Short-circuiting, just inches from open windows, with a sizzle and a deafening bang, the metal giant went dark...generating a dream-state chill and entombing blackness across the hometown (too down-to-earth for dramatic invasion anyway).

That dream, to entrust even to one's best friend in the whole wide world, was too risky to reveal, along with imaginary comrades and things that only she, through unbridled mind games, heard going thump in the night.

Lewiston's former renowned state senator and at least two-time mayor, Roger Laufenburger manned the mike on raucous baseball nights. During one particular event, it seemed the entire town turned out. (Everybody was much more young at heart back then.) Huh? It may have been during a "Beef and Dairy Days" celebration, when Laufenburger introduced a popular TV sportscaster, either Norm Selby or Bernie Lusk.

As clouded recollections seem to rise above murky waters, I am thinking that the celebrity commentated wrestling matches out by the ballpark. Does anybody else remember?

Part-time jobs became a reality for the two chums, as they bounded into that age when spending money was to be earned, while in high school and demonstrating a heightened interest in makeup, nylons, crinoline petticoats, jewelry, and such perfumes as Evening in Paris, Lily of the Valley, and Avon's Topaz and Charisma, all of which were far too spendy for their families' meager budgets.

The town girl, because she was too inhibited, didn't take the plunge as a Snooks Prigge waitress trainee, like sister Mary had done. She regrettably spent her summer days with a rural family, for a mere $10 a week. The girl with no spunk for the intimidating public endured the antics of four kids, cooking, laundry and cleaning.

It all seemed so strange to the babysitter, to pull up to Kilmer's local root beer stand with her best guy, in his spiffy, squealing wheels, and view her lifelong buddy bring out the tray of floats, burgers, and fries, like she knew what she was doing. She handled it all so smoothly, remarking, "Hey, what are you guys up to? I get off at 11:00."

The "buzz, zzzip, zap!" of June bugs to yellow light bulbs, revving hotrods sidled against family sedans, kids' smart remarks all over the place, held an adventuresome magnetism...for a sixteen year old.

A second glance at her friend, as they pulled away, exposing befuddling sentiments. "I'll be seeing you in all the old familiar places..." carved a fork in destiny's road...

one of many, soon to lead "youth" to uncharted terrain.

Later dates. 


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