Regular Life

Regular Life

In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on. – Robert Frost

The Thunder Chicken

With summer here and Benjamin out of school, I’m thinking of a place my brother and I spent many hours each week of our childhood summers. It ties in with a funny moment during my 10-year high school reunion weekend, which I’ve been recalling because my 20th is only about a year away.

A classmate’s girlfriend said she was anxious to go to the dinner at the country club. Her life up to that point apparently had not included trips to such places, and her eyes danced in anticipation of regal surroundings.

My friend laughed and said, “No, you don’t understand, this is a country club.”

The hometown crowd cracked up because we knew exactly what he meant. I knew a little better than most because my family had a membership.

Don’t go thinking that meant we were rich (but I know that’s a relative term). Let me tell you what set our club apart from what your mind conjures up when you hear “country club.”

First, one of the primary attractions for paying members was the bar. We lived in a dry county, meaning no liquor stores, no beer stores, no wine stores — period. The nearest place to get all that was about a 45-minute drive. The law also meant no bars unless they were private clubs, and restaurants didn’t serve alcohol. I suppose there was a dining area, but I don’t remember ever using it.

That brings me to the establishment’s name: Thunderbird Country Club. Yes, it shares its moniker with a low-end fortified wine. I suppose it’s better than Night Train Country Club. Ripple, however, has a nice ring to it. (those who want to spoil my fun might point out that it could have been named after an older, much nicer club in California, whose introductory web page you can’t get past without being registered)

Regardless of its name’s origins, many of us affectionately called it the Thunder Chicken.

The sports facilities were not top tier. The golf course consisted of nine holes — 18 if you went around again and started from the alternate tee boxes. To have anything nicer demanded more money, and at that time golf was not the popular sport it is today. I think there were a couple of tennis courts nestled in a patch of pine trees near the pond on the ninth/18th fairway.

There were two features, however, that are pretty much the same no matter where you go — the swimming pool and the billiards room. Sure, the fancier clubs dress them up by adding high diving boards and more tables, but the sensation of cooling off on a hot summer day or putting the eight ball in the corner pocket isn’t enhanced by higher monthly fees or Mercedes in the parking lot.

The most popular poolside game was rag tag. The two taggers wadded up a soaked t-shirt (the “rag”) and stood on either side of the deep end, turning the diving board into a gauntlet for every soul that chose to use it. The often unwitting targets used various strategies to avoid being tagged. Covering the eyes was always a good idea, because invariably the rag would come partially undone in the air and grow whips.

I still remember the sloppy fwop as the rag hit its target. Hitting someone put you back in the rotation, where you then had to hope their revenge shot missed.

Snack time was a favorite for me. Almost always with a friend, I exited the chain link fence around the pool and walked barefoot up the sidewalk to the pro shop. The 100-degree days often sent me off the blistering sidewalk into the grass.

I walked through the door to a patient white-haired lady who merely tolerated us. Dripping wet, I shivered as I gave her my candy bar order. She took my quarter, turned slowly to open the refrigerator, and then handed over my sweet reward. I hurried back out the door, hoping the pro shop’s brief, frigid blast and the candy bar would keep me cool for that half hour I waited to get back in the water. To do otherwise meant certain death.

Chilled Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups always hit the spot. Sometimes I went for a Butterfinger, or the now-defunct Marathon Bar. Its braided caramel remained remarkably brittle in the hot sun, thanks to the arctic refrigerator, but it was delicious.

The most dangerous moment was the day that “Mel,” a friend of ours, was climbing up the ladder from the deep end. The number one tee box was beside and a little behind the pool. Someone hit their shot right off the toe of the clubhead and the ball zinged over the fence and hit Mel in the middle of his back. He didn’t wail until he knew what had hit him, and obviously either from his shriek or word of mouth the powers that be heard about it; the fence was higher soon after.

When the chlorine sting in my eyes or the sunburn got bad enough, I retreated to the lone pool table on the premises. My pruny fingers readily absorbed the blue cue chalk, and if I wasn’t careful I started looking like a Smurf. My wet swimming trunks felt like ice each time they brushed against my legs, and my hair was a cold mop on my head. When not playing, I watched as the older kids mixed international terms like “English” and “massé,” but seemed unable to demonstrate them with any regularity. They also peppered their speech with what they jokingly called “French,” but that I knew as “cussing.”

After pool became tiresome and my lips started turning blue, it was back outside to the pool.

Ah, yes, the Thunder Chicken. Country club living for those who weren’t rich (but they were welcome, too).

So, what was your favorite childhood summer hangout?

(Note: Before my brother retorts, I must point out that the golf course was a source of many memorable moments and, although still only nine holes, has improved since our glory days.)

10 Responses to The Thunder Chicken

  1. For me, it would be the big vacant lot down the street from my house that all the kids in the neighborhood used to play baseball in. I can’t begin to tell you how many days in a row we played baseball… me, Carl, Joey1, Joey2, John and Tom, Joel, Lonnie, Jeff, Neil and Jim… and all the rest of the guys I don’t see anymore.

    Oh, of all these, Joey 1 coaches basketball at one of our local high schools, John and Tom moved to Florida and have BIG time jobs at Disney. I saw John about 10 years ago while down there when I called him and he met me for a drink.

    Good memories Mark… *S*

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  2. The only place I hung out with regularity as a kid was my own yard. We had a big shade tree, a log fence to challenge our balancing skill as we walked the top rail, a hill to roll down, and lots of friends and family to share it with. When it got really hot we made use of the sprinklers. What more does a kid need?

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  3. Welby…Nice story. No retort. I thought that was pretty accurate.

    I also remember some legendary games of “shark.” Remember that game? Someone tread water in the deep end and then we all dove in and tried to get to the other side without getting tagged by the “Shark.” It’s amazing how much times have changed. Now the diving board is gone, and you wouldn’t even be allowed to dive into the pool. sigh. We all survived somehow.

    I also remember putting flippers or a towel under the diving board to give it extra spring. I recall it getting broken a few times as well, but that was just a part of the allure. “OK…is this going to be the time that the bracket breaks and the board gives when I make my final jump?” I’m still amazed that those lag bolts could hold as well, and as long as they did.

    One of my favorite Thunder Chicken stories came a few years later.

    Joel and I got up a match with two of the locals that we knew from the days that we worked there on the golf course during college summers. They hung in there for awhile, but we dusted them off early on the back nine (second time around). They were hitting the bottle pretty hard, and by 18….were trashed. So…they were ribbing us about taking advantage of some old drunk men, and they challenged us to horseshoes to “try to win some of our money back.” (Which I think was all of about $5 apiece, which we’d already spent on a pitcher of beer when we were through).

    What happened next still seems impossible. You typically think of horseshoes as a fun backyard/camping game….liesurely, and at least somewhat built on luck. These guys weren’t typical. The talent gap on the golf course was pretty big, but the talent gap on horseshoes was more like the Grand Canyon.

    We were losing so bad to a couple of older drunk guys that it wasn’t even funny. Playing to 21, we actually lost a game of horseshoes with them spotting us 15 points. I know, it doesn’t sound possible to me either, but it happened.

    They threw a ringer EVERY time, unless they were trying to knock our shoes off.

    It was amazing, although somewhat demoralizing at the time as memory serves me.

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  4. Man…I wish I could edit that to say “badly” on the the first sentence of the third paragraph from the bottom. Mom wouldn’t approve of that….

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  5. Oh…and one more. I had forgotten about “rag tag.” That game was “off the hook” fun. Your description was perfect.

    When the woosies whined about using a shirt, we would use a soaked nerf basketball. That wasn’t NEARLY as much fun. Sure it was still a game, but it took the element of inflicting punishment out of it, which was a critical component.

    I remember taking some head shots from that game that would make your ears ring for a little while. Ahhhh….fun times. :-)

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  6. Charles! Get off the comments! That’s quite enough from you, thanks…

    Mark, I think I’m going to be saying “sloppy fwop” for the rest of the day. I can’t get that out of my head. Thanks. I’ll have to think more about a fave hangout from the youth, since I have to run for a meeting pretty quick-like.

    SLOPPY FWOP!!

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  7. Dave – That sounds like a cool place. We lived far enough outside of town that we didn’t have any kids nearby to gather for games like that. Sometimes I think my brother and I missed out on living in or near town. It was my brother and me for much of our play, and if our parents drove us somewhere, we spent enough time to make it worth the trip.

    Eve – I definitely can identify with lots of time at home. As I mentioned to Dave, my brother and I lived out in the country, with a huge yard and a pasture with a creek and lots of woods.

    Charles – I’m glad you chimed in with a little corroboration. We had some great times at home and away. Don’t listen to Simon — he’s Canadian. I considered editing your mistake and then deleting the next comment, but it’s more fun leaving it.

    Simon – Hey, now, simmer down! That’s my brother you’re talking to, mister. But if he really had needed somebody to put him in his place, that would have been fine.

    Seriously, I’m glad you took to “sloppy fwop.” It was between that and “floppy swop.”

    I’m waiting for our international commenter to share one of his favorite childhood places of play.

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  8. My favorite childhood hangout was ANYWHERE outside. All I can really remember is that I was out for hours and hours. My kids are not outside like that.

    Aaaahhhh…..good times….good times.

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  9. Now that I have a little more time to think about it, I can’t really pin down one single place as my favourite childhood hangout. A couple examples do come to mind, though.

    I vividly recall hours spent in one of the local outdoor pools during the summer months. After a long winter cooped up indoors, my brother and I were always eager to get out and get wet. One in particular was called the Fred Broadstock pool, and I recall always having sore feet after leaving. This was because they had a textured pool bottom (like a “popcorn” ceiling, but backwards) to provide a grippier walking surface while you were in the pool. It was probably fine for the adults, but for us kids who NEVER stopped moving and jumping and running (in the water), our feet got roughed up pretty good. Still, it was a sign that we’d had a good time, and I didn’t really regret that a whole lot. It took me years going to that pool before I worked up the nerve to jump off the highest platform at the diving tank.

    Another example is just word of mouth from my dad. When I was really young and still lived in Ontario, we lived across the street from an Italian community centre. Every weekend there would be afternoon soccer games. My dad loved to stand in the backyard and shout across the street, “HEY TONY!!” And everybody in the parking lot would always look. He still laughs himself silly every time he relates that story, which is the most amusing part for me.

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  10. For the record…Simon only posted one less time than me on this entry. :-)

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