Duffy’s Store wasn’t the only place where I “hung out” as a kid.A large part of my young life was spent in and around the park at the endof Thomas Street. There were the baseball fields of course, where I had played both as a “Little Leaguer” and as a bigger “Pony Leaguer,” as well as countless hours of pickup games. There was also the Ingram Playground,and the hillside between the park and the railroad tracks above where we dug foxholes and built forts of a sort and rode sleds in winter. But for real adventure, we went to the Bugaboo!
I should add that after 1956 we went to the Bugaboo, for by then it was all that remained of the neatest marsh a kid could hope to have in his backyard. “Progress” came that year, when construction of the present Crafton-Ingram Shopping Center ruined forever “the swamp.” From Foster Avenue to the athletic field–from the Steuben Street Apartments all the way to Ingram Avenue there were acres of cattails and grasses and boggy places and even a small pond where the world’s hugest snapping turtle was purported to reside. It was a great place for safaris and hunting expeditions. We hunted pheasants and rabbits there with our bows and arrows. We caught catfish in the pond. We snitched grapes from the back garden of the big houses along Steuben Street that bordered the swamp. Big folks seemed to like the new stores that were built in the shopping center, but most of us kids would have much preferred to keep the swamp. And so we were left with the Bugaboo. To this day I don’t know how the place gained that name. That’s just what it was! Everyone knew where it was, all of us kids anyway. It was that part of the swamp that was on the Thomas Street side of Foster Avenue. It wasn’t big enough to build a store and parking lot on, and so it survived for a while. (Eventually even this space was “developed” as the high-rise apartment house for senior citizens was built there.) There were and still are woods behind Stitelers’ house. They were relatively tame woods. We played there and built our famous “shacks” there. But the woods behind Millers’ were thicker and swampier and had the most sinister reputation. Evil things had happened there once (everyone just knew), and they might happen again–to us! It was not a place where one went alone.
It took courage and bravery to enter those woods–girls didn’t go there. As a general rule, girls tend not to like swampy, mucky places–and they retain that dislike all the way into motherhood. Boys like such places lots, and tend to bring home much of the muck with them (perhaps having something to do with maintaining mothers’ impressions). We were brave, we had courage, we liked muck! We were scared, we had to dare each other to go, we didn’t mind the muck and mire.
One time we found two old shopping carts from the A&P Supermarket. Of course we pretended they were cars from a train wreck. We searched for bodies for days, half wishing we would find one and half hoping that we wouldn’t. Not finding one won out. It usually did. There had been a rumor that an old man from Ingram had been murdered and buried there, but the closest thing to a body we ever found was an old skull. It was most likely a groundhog, maybe a cat or a dog, but not an old man. We would go back often to look at it, but no one was about to touch it, much less take it home. Not that my mother would have permitted such a thing to cross over her doorstep.
We went “to” and “through” the Bugaboo, always coming out on the otherside. Yet the place always had something about it that held out the ominous possibility that maybe we wouldn’t. It was bigger in our perceptions than it ever was in real acres. It was scarier in our imaginations than it ever was in actuality. Every kid should have this kind of place in their growing-up years, an important place, a “Bugaboo” of their own. I’m sure glad I did.