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Friday, December 5, 2014

"The Enchanting Clay Hill 'Fort' and the Grown-ups Who Brought The 'Fort' Back to Reality"


Once upon a time, there was a boy named Savion.  He, like all of his friends, have very vivid imaginations, and loved playing outdoors.

The most fun that Savion and his friends had, was playing "fort."  For that, they built a real "fort" out of planks, sticks and boards, and held it together with wire and even a few nails.  It hurt sometimes hammering the nails into the boards that came loose, but that was the price kids paid, for holding something together so it wouldn't fall apart.

The "fort" that Savion and his friends built, was in this magical place called "Clay Hill."  It was a child's paradise that had rolling hills with faraway views, trees with swingy vines that were fun to play Tarzan on, and wild animals that mostly hid themselves from view when the friends played.  Occasionally. they would peer with curiosity and amusement around the rocks and from high branches at the children as they played. "Clay Hill" even had holes in the ground that water collected in, and tall, massive pieces of steel machinery left there by grups, who probably knew a child would have fun crawling on the monoliths of metal, pretending that the rusty relics in this 'creation of the imagination' were real play toys.   Even Captain Kirk himself would have enjoyed playing on a make-believe Starship Enterprise on one of the abandoned steel structures covered in weeds.... this fantasy world, known as 'Clay Hill.'

But best of all, underneath all this stuff that kids could claim as their own conjured-up hideaway, was clay.  Clay dirt.. clay rocks... clay mounds... anything, everything CLAY.  It was a light brown, almost pasty kind of rock, that held the limestone slate in place until little boys and girls came along and dug it up out of the ground.  They made handballs out of the clay for baseball, knocked with sticks that were pulled right off the nearby trees.  The clay was pushed up into mounds that little boy "John Wayne's" could hide behind, while shooting toy guns at the bad guys.  The whole area was shaped and reshaped into small hills and valleys that sleeping bags could be placed in, so you wouldn't roll away.  

If there was ever the right name for a enchanting world of make-believe right in your own backyard, 'Clay Hill' was it!

This netherworld... this 'Clay Hill' was a place that grups (grown-ups), especially Nana's, were not allowed.  And the grups (grown-ups) knew that.  They were always forbidding Savion and his friends from journeying up to this mysterious place called 'Clay Hill.'  'Oh, you'll hurt yourself,' they would exclaim loudly.  'You'll fall outta them trees and hurt yourself,'  the grups would yell if they saw you headed in that direction.  'You'll fall in one of them holes and that quicksand, and you'll never get out!" was a popular one.  ' Boy, have you lost your mind... stay off that hill!'  (that's the one the friends heard the most).

Despite the grups' disdain for 'Clay Hill,' Savion and his friends loved their fantasy world called 'Clay Hill,' just like their Nana's and big brothers and sisters and their grandmama's, granddaddy's, aunts, uncles and all the other ancestors who came before them.  'Clay Hill' had a reputation for drawing in kids who wanted to stretch their imaginations, and even though it seemed like they were trying, grups could not stop that.

But back to the 'fort.'

Savion and his friends had fun in their boarded up 'fort.'  It was big for a kid, even two-story!  It took two years to build it, pushing down trees and cutting back underbrush to clear the area.  They found some tiles and put them down to make a floor.  They put up the boards, and discarded netting they found over the windows and doors to keep the bugs out.  They had so much fun at the 'fort,' being kids and getting away from the grups, 'because sometimes kids want to get away from grups,' Savion says.  Think back.. it is the natural order of things.  Everybody needs their space.  The kids played games, brought food, and enjoyed their little getaway.  They even had safety rules and stuff:  'only one person could use the chain in the ground to pull themselves up 'Clay Hill.'  The real little kids couldn't come around, because we didn't want them to get hurt,' says Savion.  

"But it was fun.  Kid fun."

Every day during the summer, and each day after school, the 'fort' was busy with activity.  When they weren't playing games, Savion and his friends would help each other with homework, or they'd sit around and talk about kid stuff.  Every kid had a good reason to come to the 'fort.' 

The group even stayed the night in the 'fort' once, listening to the mysterious sounds of the crickets and the night birds, and also the distant, strange hum of this huge monster that the grups call 'Eastman.'  Off in the distance from the 'fort,', the kids could see this big thing called 'Eastman' with all its buildings and lights and steam and trucks and trains and people running around.  In front of the homes and 'Clay Hill, this 'Eastman'  had built baseball fields for its own people to play and have fun on, but that didn't bother Savion and his friends.  For in their magical fantasy land called 'Clay Hill,' they could play their own baseball and have their own fun, so how about that!

But one day, disaster struck.  Bulldozers and dump trucks came to 'Clay Hill.'

With deafening sounds, the dozers pushed down the hills and valleys... with their big blades, the the dozers mashed up the clay and limestone... with one fell swoop, they pushed down all the trees with swingy vines... As the ground shook, the dozers leveled out the ground and the dump trucks hauled the clay dirt away.  They left 'Clay Hill' flat as a pancake.

Seems the grups had a plan Savion and his kid friends did not know about... That big thing called 'Eastman' had decided to build a big skyscraper where its ballfields were, and so their ballfields had to be moved.  

Where do you think they wanted to move all their ballfields?  To 'Clay Hill!'  Oh my!  That would spell an end to the 'fort' and all the fun Savion and his kid friends were having.

"It's terrible!" exclaimed Savion.  "It was so much blood, sweat and tears that we put into our 'fort,' he said.  "It's real pitiful that they took this away from us.  All the time they want us to 'go green' and use stuff that's here to have fun with, and right when we do, they force us to tear it down.  It's not fair to us.  All this work we did, and now it's gone."

Savion remembers that some of his friends cried when they had to take the 'fort' down.

Others were even mad at the bulldozers working nearby, as the group took down the 'fort' board by board, plank by plank.

"It was really the only place around where we could have fun," he remembers.  "The parks are always crowded.  The splash pad down the street is always crowded.  If we play in the street, we get honked at and the grups get mad!  The 'fort' keeps us off the streets, it keeps us away from bad things.  We don't get to do bad things, 'cause we're up here having fun."

"If they keep building and pushing us kids around, pretty soon there's gonna be no place for us to play and be kids at all.  Actually, they're pushing us away."

"It's just not fair!"

Alas, the enchanted area where the 'fort' used to be is now just a mashed-out area.. it's just a 'hole in the thicket' because weeds always take a while to grow over a place that was once cleared off.

The grups' new ball fields are named 'The Clay Hill Ball Fields at Brickyard Park.'  Four smaller ball fields are just downwind of one huge, massive ball field that would rival any major league ball park in a big city. That one field required the complete bulldozing of the wondrous illusion that generations called 'Clay Hill,' the magical place where fantasies came true... where needs not gratified by reality were met... and generations like Savion and his friends grew up. 
Kids like them will eventually play on the new ball fields, and fun will still be had, at 'Clay Hill,' where dreams met daydreams.

Did Savion and his friends live happily ever after?  Does the story of the 'fort' have a happy ending?  Stay tuned.  The grups' new ball fields open in the spring of 2015.  The story is not over yet!