Hidden Park

I wanted to write something fun which has nothing to do with our current situation, but rather a look back on a time when there were no bike helmets, video games, or cellphones. When a good summer afternoon consisted of lounging in the shaded cool grass peeling each other’s sunburns and making clover chains. Good memories are to be cherished and held close.

Albuquerque 1966, I was 10 and our family moved to a new house. I was so very shy and didn’t know if I would ever make new friends again. New school new neighborhood; it was overwhelming. The new house was located on McDuffie Park, but known as “Hidden Park.” It was indeed a hidden park accessible only by alleys from the street or through the backyards of the houses which surrounded the park. You couldn’t ask for a better place to grow up.

On one of my first days I remember sitting under a large elm tree on a hot New Mexico desert afternoon reading my Nancy Drew book. I was soon approached by a couple of the neighborhood kids. They immediately made me feel welcome and wanted to know my story. Eventually I met the whole crew, an eclectic bunch all unique in their families and personalities. What ensued was a lifetime of friendships and adventures. Two tom boy redheaded Aires who weirdly enough are not related are still my best friends 50 years later. We created our own tight family to escape difficult situations at home.

It was an era of un-engaged parents who shooed kids outside to play and told not to come home until dinner. No fear and little restriction. We had the innocent gift of freedom and imagination.
“Round the Block Chase” was a neighborhood wide game of hide and seek which lasted for hours and usually ended in drama and feuding alliances. All would eventually be forgiven until the next game…
Hidden Park was a favorite nighttime teenage make out destination. Our kid gang was territorial and protective. We would greet each cuddling bundle hidden in the dark corners with a kind warning, either pay up with treats or cash or we will annoy you all night and possibly resort to a water balloon bombing. By the end of the evening, we usually had extorted enough cash to make our way on our stingray bikes to the local A&W. We were a force with which to be reckoned.

We also spent time competing in epic snowball fights, Frisbee Football, and great baseball games. Hot summer nights were the best. We knew where park maintenance hid the sprinkler key, so we would turn on the sprinklers and run with abandon chasing each other through the cool spray.

We soon started creating neighborhood productions for the adults. Taking turns setting up a stage, dressing room, and seating area in each back yard. We wouldn’t charge for the shows, but made money by selling Kool Aid and cookies. Sign of the times… we did one modern dance show to a Zodiac themed album which included a dance for each astrology sign. Groovy costumes were a must. I think I remember it was narrated by William Shatner. Our finale was a big dance number to Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. It was psychedelic! We did another to Herb Albert’s Casino Royale soundtrack and I also wrote and directed a play called “Aunt Zelda’s Millions.”

Danger was us. We once created a zip line using a rope between two tall elm trees. One end was attached high in one tree and the other attached to a low branch in the other tree. We climbed to the top of the tree and using towels slid down the rope at a break neck speed. We hadn’t taken into account friction and the towels would quickly disintegrate and to no surprise the whole endeavor ended with casualties. A few kids that summer proudly sported trophies of casts on broken arms and legs. We were forced to take it down after only a couple of days.

Soon the end of the sixties was upon us and a wondrous but unsettled zeitgeist in the country had arrived. This marked a new phase in our pubescent world. Under the influence of older brothers and sisters and nearby University of New Mexico, we began marching in the streets, getting tear gassed, wearing black arm bands, smoking pot, and becoming obsessed with everything rock and roll. And well, that’s another story for another time.

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