Summer means family gatherings, often accompanied by loud, raucous family games. Croquet was popular among the neighborhood kids on a hot summer afternoon. Our back yard, at forty feet wide and sixty feet long, was an ideal court. The game often was set up at family picnics. Children, parents, grandparents and great-grandparents played—my great-grandmother sending an opponent ball clear down the yard to cries of “Hit it hard, Marcia, hit it hard!”
Uncle Hank had a lathe, and he turned new threaded ends on many a toilet plunger handle or a handy broom to replace a mallet handle severed enthusiastically from a mallet’s head. That game dwindled in popularity as the adults grew older, and especially as the children grew older and pre-teen boys saw the mallets as handy weapons to settle rule disputes. Dad put the set high in the garage rafters; effectively ending croquet games.
When we moved to this house the big front yard could not go to waste. Croquet was passé, but Uncle Hank introduced us to bocce ball, and the tournaments began. At every picnic, no matter who was here, teams formed and bocce was played. Uncle Hank, half English, half German, lived in a Polish suburb; he knew bocce and he captained one team. Our friend Marilyn, a tough Hungarian, born with bocce blood, captained the other. The rest of us just played.
There were tough and exciting games one summer, reminiscent of the old “Hit it hard, Marcia!” days. We played on down to Labor Day, when the winning team would be declared. So many people came to that party there was an audience, as well as two teams. A lot of cheering would be done.
At a time out in the game, when Uncle Hank and Marilyn were nose to nose on a point of order, Scuffy, the corner dog came trotting down the road. Scuffy was the company dog of a business along the main road. Although he had a dog house behind the fence, weekends found him lonely. Being a terrier, he often went under the fence and in search of adventure.
One of our guests, Danny, is a police officer in a neighboring city. Danny was concerned the dog was lose. He would even take Scuffy back and figure out how to get him over the fence. We told him to be patient; it was about time for our police patrol car to make the rounds.
The township black and white came down the road, the officer waved at all of us assembled on the porch and lawn, Uncle Hank and Marilyn still nose to nose. Then the officer saw Scuffy, called him over and put him in the car. Danny said now he’d seen everything; a town so small the police knew the names of the dogs, too. He would have a story to tell at work. The patrol car came back up the road, Scuffy’s head out his window, riding back home.
The rule of the game was settled, in Marilyn’s team’s favor. I have no idea who won, but it was a great tournament. That was the last summer we played bocce. Mom’s next summer was spent in declining health, she was gone in March of the next year and Uncle Hank that fall. The game used to be in the garage; Tom’s probably hung it from a rafter, out of the way.