It was almost always the same pattern, two dribbles then a shot. Sometimes three, if an errant ball bounced away. Although I could see the hoop from the kitchen window, the distinctive bounce on the pavement was audible from nearly every room in the house.
The rhythm of it was comforting to me.
The basketball hoop in the alley behind our house was not on our property. The neighborhood HOA is pretty strict about these things and we never got our act together enough to research the approved hoops and submit designs and paperwork for a vote. Luckily for us, our neighbor did and they declared it open for all.
Because of its prime vantage point from the kitchen, that alley hoop was the first step in independence for my boys. It struck the perfect balance between their desire for freedom and my desire to keep them in the yard until they were old enough to vote.
In those early years, my eldest son would shoot while his brothers perched on the fence watching. Over time, other kids emerged from adjacent houses to join them. The ring of laughter amid the pounce of the basketball was the soundtrack to my days.
And it made me whole.
Basketball was the great unifier, boys and girls of all ages would pick up a ball and shoot. Or just watch. See, it didn’t matter if you actually played, the hoop became a gathering spot for all. Everyone knew where the lever that lowered and raised the basket was “hidden.” Everyone knew who could easily scale the fence to fetch a ball that went off-course into a yard. Everyone knew how to replace the square of siding that was likely to pop out-of-place after too many bounces dislodged it.
This was the hoops club and it shaped and blessed my children’s childhood.
It was here that they learned to share and take turns with others. With a gaggle of kids and one hoop, it was an exercise in patience for those partaking. The hoop taught the value of hard work as they saw skills improve with consistency and effort. They gained the ability to mix it up with kids of all ages as no one was ever turned away.
The value of others’ property was at the forefront. With no hoop of our own, the kids had to be careful not to ding Mr. Howell’s garage or hang on the rim. It was a privilege to borrow this hoop and everyone respected that. And they learned that sometimes you have to try the crazy shot just to test your boundaries and if you are not successful, laugh at yourself, pick up the ball and try from another angle.
The ebb and flow of time was never more evident than at the hoop. Older kids moved onto high school and then college with less time to just shoot the breeze in the alley. The younger kids happily slipped into that vacancy, sometimes dribbling the ball late into the evening with only the garage light illuminating the cylinder. And a new crop of youngsters watched awaiting their turn.
As my children age out of alley play, I am struck by how much I love the sound of that ball. Last week, my youngest, a 15-year old, was shooting with our 9-year old next door neighbor. The youngster never asked to lower the hoop but rather pushed himself to shoot at the same height. There were few words; just the language of the game bouncing and clanking the time away.
Their contentment reminded me of my childhood when simple joys ruled our days. In a world growing more hectic and impersonal by the day, I realized how much it meant to me that my kids got to experience an old-fashioned good time with fresh air, friends and foolishness.
Recently, Mr. Howell’s son was home from law school for a visit and wondered into the alley to shoot on his hoop. One by one the kids who were around came outside to visit and toss-up a few shots with him. Soon enough, they were reminiscing about the stupid antics that made our alley legendary.
I listened and reveled in the repetition of two dribbles and a shot. As much as things change, thankfully some things stay the same.
Maureen Stiles writes at her blog, Magnificence in the Mundane, where she chronicles the beauty within the chaos of raising three boys and a dog with her husband, given that the dog is the only one that really understands her. You can also follow Maureen on Facebook and Twitter.