The lonely boys of Shoreham…

It occurred to me the other day, that my childhood – the part before age 13 when we moved to Greenwich when I became surrounded by large numbers of kids my own age – was largely spent alone, or in my ‘one friend’ relationship with Robby Knox. He was the only boy in town who was my age. My friend. The only member of my peer group the whole time we lived in the tiny town of Shoreham.  We (he and me) along with Winny Allen, who I recall was both a girl and was just in a different orbit than we were – comprised our entire class in Shoreham’s one room school house. 

In the summers there were more kids certainly, as Shoreham became the summer beachfront community by the Long Island Sound that it was for the summer months.  But still, no particular age group had enough kids to field baseball team. Not even half a baseball team. So we kids (under 13 anyway) split into three fluidly defined groups essentially. Little kids…older more physically able kids (8 to 12ish)…and some prepubescent kids/slow developers (12 to 13) who jumped in on certain sports and activities, but who were mostly involved doing work around their homes or were in intense study of the opposite sex. Some things never change.

All these informal sub-groupings were small in size by default…but would combine fluidly in various aggregations, for spontaneous and unsupervised games of all sorts and inventions that peppered our simple lives back then before Shoreham became a city.

The most magical of these would occur when for no particular reason the kids of Shoreham would decided to play “war” on a town wide scale – and would form two quite complex and detailed warring units involving kids of all ages (including little kids as scouts, and spies and logistics mules).

These were unimaginably disciplined armies, utilizing all forms of weapons and tactical war strategies and large scale logistics and field encampments including the building of forts in the woods, battle hospitals and medics, mess halls, latrines and foxholes.

Opposing armies posted sentries complete with pass words, and carried all manner of pretend stick guns, toy pistols, bows and arrows, grenades (rotten apples) – all complete with appropriate sound effects – which could kill a 5 year old deader than dead with the always lethal combination of a pointed finger and the utterance of a screamed POW (followed by immediate confirmation “you’re dead…you can’t play anymore”).

Shoreham may not have been great for age and gender defined peer groups…but we knew basic warfare – and how to move troops and how to fight to the death. Jane Goodall would have been proud of the kids of Shoreham. We were as good as any teenage band of Chimps in spontaneous formation of waring units – in precursor attempts to learn ‘how to defend your tribe against other tribes who might invade your range’.

And yes I recall two exciting instances in my childhood when we found ourselves in “territorial wars” with Rocky Point (the adjoining town to our west. How these coalesced I could not possibly tell you – but they happened suddenly and with rules of war clearly understood and defined on both sides.

Non-peer group groups  (even bonded non-peer group groups) crossed age and sex and summer people/townie home boy lines in Shoreham. Pick up baseball games lured in anyone with motor skills developed to the point where they could play without getting hurt.

Capture the flag could cover large portions of real estate and included all the kids that could play without getting hurt or lost. We even played pickup touch football that way. Teams comprised of age and ability…with elected captains who selected team participants from the best and the oldest, down to the youngest and weakest. Everyone was included…and encouraged. Your team depended on the best you could do. Even if you were just little.

Summer activities in Shoreham were structured on inclusive age and sex clustered groupings because there just weren’t enough kids in anyone group to have a race where someone could come in 4th (or 3rd in Robbie and my case).

The town in summer did a great job attempting to be fair and inclusive for kids and they mixed age groups where they could – to where it made sense.

Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts allowed kids of different ages to get mixed up. So did the community dance classes and town holiday swimming and running and whatnot races – and costume parties where everyone was expected to create a costume which were then judged – complete with 1st through honorable mention award recognition.

The greatest of these functions was the  epic camp outs that Shoreham did each year, where all the kids and – adult advisors – would pile all their camp-out gear into a hand full of boats  (four or five – all outboards) and travel maybe 2 miles down the beach where all the town’s kids who were old enough to participate…camped out, cooked out, swam, played volley ball, toasted mash mellows on sticks – and slept in sleeping bags under the stars – or in tents and tarp covered lean twos – and sang and told ghost stories and talked deep into the night – waking up on the beach at sunlight. Dirty Moore Stew. And eggs fried in bacon fat over a campfire…and biscuits made from Bisquick dough wrapped in tin foil and cooked in the cooking fire embers.

Out side of the two or three or four member peer groups that Shoreham’s demographics were capable of forming – most of my socialization took place in groups with kids too young to bond with – or a year or two older. Stuck in-between (as most kids who lived in Shoreham all year long were) kids who thought you were to old to be friends with – or too young. We knew each other certainly. We played with each other…and sometime later may have even played doctor with each other…but these youngers and oldsters were not peers. Robby was my peer.

I had never considered if having a limited peer group from first grade too six grade ever made any difference in my development Into the adult I later became, until just recently when my older brother Terry and I discussed, in yet another in a long and continuing  “growing up Shoreham” conversation – how it all impacted our lives. It did I’m quite sure, but less certain how.

One thing a two person peer group certainly does impact is in ‘keeping the friendship clutter down’. Robby was not only my best friend, he was my only friend – which means that all the competition inherent in larger multi person peer groups – which creates attendant feelings of being in and out, accepted or rejected, or part of a constantly ebbing and flowing group dynamic…and involved in, or influenced by, leadership and structural role and relative favoritism changes in larger groups – were never present in our lives at that age. It just never occurred to me that these things were important.

As a consequence – as a teenager and later as an emerging adult – and indeed throughout my adult life – I never worried much about how, or if, I fit into the group structures I found myself in. I never felt very connected to them either. I felt more apart from, than included in…or accepted by. Like an independent entity within the groups I functioned within. I never have been lonely or felt excluded either – but I have always had best friends, like Rob, where I felt most comfortable in relationship and most free to be myself. But this weak insight is about as deep as I can get with the thought.

And of course, this all could be just total bullshit babbling on my part – and who gives a shit anyway. But the ‘thread’ did produce a few Shoreham gems (at least for me) that might trigger a few thoughts of ‘war’ against the big kids…and of ‘apple knockers’…and of “Hollow heads Chain Gang” – and returning soft drink bottles found along side of the road to the store for 5 cents a bottle – and of pathetic childhood loneliness because there was nobody your age in the whole town.

WTF. Over.

 

J.McD.Burke  – Feb 27, 2016

 

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