August always throws the nostalgia at me and, it always hits its target.
I was sitting on my little deck this morning and it hit me in the way the shadows had changed. I notice a bit of red and yellow starting to edge the neighbor’s dogwoods. There’s even a nip that makes me wish that I’d put on long sleeves. That could be remedied quickly but the coffee is a more immediate need.
August mornings like this one throw me back to the late ‘50’s to mid-‘60’s when I was a kid and summer was shutting down on Carson Street.
Summer always ended with a bloodletting.
I grew up in a Philadelphia neighborhood called Manayunk.
It was a working class/low-middle class place. Most of the residents worked in the many textile and paper mills that were along the Manayunk Canal and the Schuylkill River.
Manayunk prospered, as a mill and manufacturing town, from 1840 until just after the Second World War when most of the jobs crossed the river to the suburbs.
Only remnants of the glory Our Town (as the local newspaper calls it) remained on the once bustling Main Street by 1959.
I was too young to have seen any bustling. Main Street looked like a ghost town minus the tumbleweeds when I was a kid.
Carson Street, where I grew up, was a veritable ocean of adolescent testosterone running wild, in a very small space.
The three girls on the block, Sally, Jackie and her sister Patty, were overwhelming outnumbered by myself, brothers Joe and Tony, Charles, Eddie, Rich, Bob, Mike, Bucky, Joe and his brother George, two different Glenns and a Lenny.
All of that in one short block.
There was always someone around to hang with.
Summer started as soon as school let out.
We’d ride our bikes along the Wissahickon “Crick”, swim in the horribly polluted river and canal, play ball on the Carson Street Squirrels Team (well, we signed up as a team at the local Boys’ Club and they needed a name. I do not recall who came up with ‘Squirrels’), and generally went as nuts as a group of preteen boys can go.
By the middle of August we were all burned out.
We’d inevitably end up sitting on the porch of a derelict house at the bottom of the street bored and wondering what else was left to do when someone would pull out the deck of cards.
Summer’s end demanded sacrifice, a blood sacrifice.
That meant playing Knuckles.
I have absolutely no idea where the game originated. It just showed up in my kidhood.
I imagine it was handed down from the elder brothers on the street.
Knuckles is an interesting card game, quick to learn and easy to play.
It is played by pairs of players who cut the deck to see who draws the high card.
The high card wins and the loser cuts the deck again.
The numeric value of the card was how many “Knuckles” the loser would get.
Aces were 1; Kings were 13.
Now, the Knuckles could be delivered in a couple of ways.
You could extend your arm palm down and make a fist. The winner of the hand would hold the deck flat and whack you on the knuckles as hard as they could, as many times as the cards dictated.
Especially skilled, and sadistic, players could target their blows to just scrape the knuckles causing quite a bit of pain.
To paraphrase Tom Hanks, “There’s no crying in Knuckles!”.
You could opt for 'Chops' if you drew a high card.
'Chops' involved the winner holding the deck vertically and bringing it down, like a guillotine, on the knuckles.
Each 'Chop' was worth 5 whacks. It was always a late game option
I do remember someone trying to introduce "Stomps" as another option.
The loser would sandwich his hand in the deck and the winner would stomp on it.
It would wipe our your entire Knuckle debt in one swoop.
It was voted down as just being crazy.
There never was a formal ending to the game.
It just ended when everyone was bloodied enough.
Then, we’d head off for a rousing game of “Hide the Belt”.
It wasn’t so much fun hiding the belt as it was finding it and whatcha got to do with it.
End of Summer Sacrificial Fun.
What were your childhood End of Summer rituals?