Magical memories under the lights

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The commercial caught my eye because it was advertising a string of lights that wound its way through the trees while a group of happy people stood under them enjoying the evening. I think the advertiser said something about illuminating the landscape.

The lights were not fancy, just bare bulbs hanging from wires lighting up the night. I’d seen this before long ago.

“Well, Daddy was ahead of his time,” I said to my husband. “He hung light bulbs from wires around the yard before it was a popular thing.”

I don’t know where he got the idea, but Daddy turned our backyard into the coolest one on East Park Avenue with his lighting project. The wires holding the bulbs ran from a switch on the back porch to a tree, then to another one and another one making a circle back to the porch.

When he flipped the switch, the place looked like magic. In the middle of the light circle, there was usually a croquet game with wickets lined up in their precise order.

I hadn’t thought about that yard or the croquet games played there on summer nights until I saw that commercial and had a conversation with one of the folks who played those games too. Johnny Jackson had the same smile when he talked about growing up on East Park Avenue that I get when I travel back to those days.

“I remember playing a lot of games of croquet in that yard,” he said. “We had a good place to grow up.”

I smiled my agreement.

Of course, back then we took a game of croquet seriously. It started with choosing the perfect color ball and mallet. I liked the green one or the red one, but you had to be quick to get the one you wanted.

There was a talent to knowing how hard to hit the opening shot and how to angle it so went through the first two wickets and stopped in the right spot for your next shot. Too hard and it went past the upcoming wicket. Too easy and the ball was too far to make it through in one whack.

Every time the ball went through a wicket, you got another shot. The goal was to be first around the course, and back through the last two wickets without hitting the pole. If you hit the pole, you were out even if you arrived home first.

Oh and there was the opportunity to “slam” other players. I can’t remember if that happened when you hit their ball with yours or if it was when they hit you. Whichever it was, it meant you got to line up the two balls, place your foot on yours, and swing your mallet as hard as possible against your ball. This sent the other ball flying, often times into the darkness of the neighbor’s yard. Getting slammed slowed down your game considerably.

Everyone played croquet in the Folmar yard and often there were kids, along with adults bent over mallets lining up their shots. Over the years, family gatherings featured stories about those games.

One of Daddy’s favorites was to tell how he split his lip open with a mallet and ended up in the emergency room. It wasn’t funny at the time, but grew funnier over the years as Daddy described trying to convince people in the ER he caused the injury when a celebratory spinning over the head of his mallet went terribly wrong.

Johnny was right; those were great times in that backyard under those lights. There was family, friends, lots of laughter and a feeling of freedom that only comes when you are a kid in the summertime. It was a magical time and how lucky I was to live in it.

I hope the folks who buy the lights in that commercial use them to light up a yard for croquet and to create some magical memories for another generation of kids.


Nancy Blackmon is a former newspaper editor and a yoga teacher.