Aaron loves playing basketball. Lauren has a little hoop attached to an overhang in her apartment, and it is probably daily that I hear the request from my son to “go to Lauren’s house!” So, the other day I decided to get creative and I cut out the bottom of a Noah’s Bagels’ box that Doug had brought home from work and taped the thing up to the wall. It’s a little bit like the toddler version of kids nailing milk crates up on posts which I saw a lot of in Chicago.
As I played ball with my son, I was reminded of three boys who also loved basketball and who, like my son, were willing to make do with much less than the ideal.
The kids I worked with through the Big Sister/Big Brother program I led in Chicago were desperate for a safe place to hang out and be kids in those “so easy to get into trouble” hours between school dismissal and dark. My senior year at North Park, we cleared out half of a dorm basement (the other half was stacked with boxes and furniture and junk) and opened a very ghetto drop-in center for junior high kids. We had old, lumpy furniture, a ping pong table that sagged in the middle, and a Foosball table where half of the little guys were missing their legs (yes, this makes for a very challenging game). We had tables for homework or art, a handful of games, and most importantly a crew of college students who would listen and laugh and play. We opened our doors to the community two days a week.
Someone brought in a little Nerf basketball and hoop that could be attached to the wall (much like the one Lauren has in her house), and it hung on a support post near the edge of where the junk began. There were three eighth grade boy, Jonathan, Ivan and Jamar, who came regularly and who always played basketball on our “net”. They were good players and knew how to have fun with our tiny little hoop and ball. Their laughter was contagious as they would very competitively enjoy their “games”.
It was some time in that first week that the Nerf ball got tossed into the junk portion of the room and we could not recover it. A ball of duct tape became the substitute, and this in no way diminished my boys’ delight.
Every time I walk into my kitchen, I see those same three boys smiling at me. There is a picture of them on our refrigerator: Jamar with his arms folded in the middle; Jonathan to the right, head cocked, with his arm on Jamar; Ivan, to the left, sober-faced in his stocking cap, with his hand on Jamar’s shoulder. And behind Jamar, to the left, is a crooked orange basketball hoop with a blue net hanging by a few threads on one side.
Those boys. That broken hoop. A meager attempt at meeting a need. Those days go down in history when I think of who I am today. And as Aaron calls out to me to find the ball that is now lost in our own little junk pile here, I think of Jamar and Ivan and Jonathan and I smile with wet eyes.