Finally, at the end of a very busy work week, I am sitting in my lawn chair on the back porch relaxing. Tonight is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. It is a very peaceful, calm evening. As dusk eases in, some of the first fireflies of the year appear; the rich aroma of a neighbor’s campfire is in the air; and I hear a sound from my childhood: the laughter of children playing outdoors long after their school year bedtimes. My mind wanders back to similar evenings on Beecher Street in the late 1960s.
Dale Peterson is sitting in a lawn chair on his front porch at the corner of Beecher and Walnut Streets listening to the Detroit Tigers on the radio. In 1968, the Tigers won the World Series so it’s a great time to be a Tigers fan. The announcer is Ernie Harwell, who would later be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Ernie is sharing some of his favorite lines like “He stood there like the house by the side of the road and watched that one go by” or “A great catch by the fan from St. Clair Shores.”
The usual gang of kids is outside: Ron, Rhonda, and Randy Bean; Shari and Steve Peterson; my brother, Gary Slaughterbeck, and me. Once the streetlights come on, we know that our time to play is limited, but we also know that it is time for one of our favorite games: Ghosts in the Graveyard.
We decide who is “it” and the rest of us scatter to find the best hiding places. Soon, the person who is “it” begins the countdown. “One o’clock and the ghost’s not here.” “Two o’clock and the ghost’s not here.” This is the time to put the final touches on one’s hiding place: to wedge in behind a row of bushes or crawl behind a neighbor’s shed.
The countdown continues and anticipation builds until the person who is “it” says “Eleven o’clock and the ghost’s not here” and finally shouts, “Twelve o’clock and the ghost IS here!” Now it is time for the hiders to try to scramble back to base without being tagged by the person who is “it.” My personal tactic is to try to bolt right back to base and hopefully avoid the person who is “it.” Others trust their hiding places and stay hidden longer and strategically sneak back to base later.
The Beecher Street base for Ghosts in the Graveyard is always the porch where Dale is listening to the baseball game. One of the best things about my approach to running back to base quickly is the chance to chat
with Dale while the rest of the kids find ways to slink back to base. Dale is always smiling and happy to talk even if Ernie Harwell’s voice is animated and Dale might really rather be listening to a Tigers’ rally.
As the Ghosts in the Graveyard game winds down and the very last hiders come back to base, there is a flurry of action as “it” tries to tap the hider before he touches the base. Dale comes in handy then as he sometimes has to act as referee and decide whether the tap happened before or after the hider touched the base.
The Beecher Street version of Ghosts in the Graveyard is always short-lived because it never starts until the streetlights come on. Soon, one of our moms shows up and says it is time to come home. We say good night to Dale and walk home surrounded by twinkling fireflies, tired from a fun-filled day on Beecher Street.