The French And Indian War In Pittsburgh: A Memoir

PrintPrintEmailEmail

If someone cheated at any game or incurred the group’s wrath in any way, the rest of us gave him, or her, Indian burns: we wrung a bare arm with both hands close together till the skin chafed. Worse—reserved practically for capital crimes—was the dreaded but admired typewriter torture, which we understood to be, in modern guise, an old Indian persuader. One of us straddled the offender, bared his or her breastbone, and lightly tapped fingertips there—very lightly, just where the skin covers the bone most closely. This light tapping does not hurt at all for the first five minutes or so.

In another game I saw us as if from above, even as I stood in place living out my childhood and knowing it, aware of myself as if from above and behind, skinny and exultant on the street. We were silent, waiting or running, spread out on the pale street like infantry, stilled as scouts, relaxed and knowing. Someone hit the ball, someone silent far up the street caught it on the bounce; we moved aside, clearing a path. Carefully the batter laid down the’bat perpendicular to the street. Carefully the hushed player up the street rolled the ball down to the bat. The rolled ball hit the bat and flew up unpredictably; the batter missed his catch; he and the fielder switched positions: Indian Ball.

And there were no roads at all. And the trees were very tall.

By day my friend Pin Ford and I played at being Indians. She was my age, an only child who lived two doors up.

As Indians Pin and I explored the wooded grounds of the Presbyterian seminary at our backyards. We made bows and arrows; we peeled and straightened deadfall sticks for arrows and cut, stealthily, green boughs to bend for bows. With string we rigged our mothers’ Chesterfield cartons over our shoulders as quivers. We shot our bows. We threw knives at targets and played knife-throwing games. We walked as the Indians had walked, stirring no leaves, snapping no twigs. We built an Indian village, Navajo-style, under the seminary’s low copper beech: we baked clay bricks on slate roofing tiles set on adobe walls around a twiggy fire. We named trees; we searched the sky for omens, inspected the ground for signs.

We came home and found our blonde mothers tanning on chaises longues by the backyard pool. They held silvered cardboard reflectors up to their flung-back chins. Over their closed eyelids they had placed red and blue eye-shaped plastic cups, joined over the nose.