Running home from our classes at St. Mel’s every day, we could not wait to strip off our blue serge uniforms and throw on our play clothes. Then it was out the back door onto the porch and down three flights of wooden stairs, crossing the cobblestone alley that separated us from the home dwellers with real back yards, and running through one of the many gangways in search of fun and new friends. We couldn’t run fast enough. Children were moving in and out of the neighborhood during this time; the children came and went with their parents’ shabby suitcases and bumpy mattresses. The children trailed along with their parents’ jobs and opportunities, and we always needed a fresh supply to keep us entertained.
We headed west toward the vacant lot near the end of the block. Two small girls dug with a stick in the dirt of the small, dry, vacant, and weedy lot where the neighborhood kids held unceremonious games of baseball. The game was on as long as someone had a bat, a ball and a glove. Anyone could join and the rules were very loose. There was no beginning and no end. There was never a winner or loser. The game might still be going on today
Strolling past the lot one day, Mom told us a home once stood on the lot, but had burned to the ground and no one rebuilt on the site. We tried to imagine the house and the family who Mom had known in her childhood, but we could only see the steel drum trash cans that lined the alley to the north. From Monroe Street, you could see all the way through to the alley, and if you were running bases you had to watch out not to trip over the concrete foundation that remained dreaming under the weeds.
The older girl looked up from her artistic pursuits in the dirt as we approached. Like a young Maureen O’Hara, her creamy pale face, large green eyes, and wavy auburn hair spoke of Inishmore and Dun Aengus. Poverty and poor diet had not marred that lovely skin. Dressed in a too short summer frock, she tugged at her waist as she stood up and I saw that she was taller than me. The younger girl stayed crouched in the dirt. She had freckles and startling blue eyes; her front tooth was missing and a new one budded at the gum line. Her faded plaid dress was worn and soiled, a hand-me-down that had seen better days. Her hair was loose, a ribbon still dangling at the end of a lock and her smile made me think of Huck Finn. Both knees were skinned and healing. I knew she would be fun.
I was the first to speak. “Hey, who are you? Whattaya doing? Do you live around here? Where are you from?” The younger girl started to blurt a response but the older sister hushed the younger girl with a squinted eye and a look. “I am Maureen Reilly, don’t call me Moe, and this here is my sister, Deirdre.” The younger girl chimed in, “Yeah, Deirdre, but you can call me Dee Dee.” The girls pointed out the boarding house two doors to the west where they lived with their parents and siblings.
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