Somehow in my household I get the walk-the-dog-duty about 90 percent of the time. Half of that is the by-product of being an early riser; the other half is being a slow evader at suppertime. It’s been so hot this summer that the grass crisped up early on the South Common, especially on the south slope facing the Eliot Church. In another post I described the color of the grass as the color of mountain lion haunches. Walking on that grass day after day has reminded me of the hours I spent in the outfield at the Lowell park in Centralville that I knew as Aiken Avenue Park, but whose official name I believe is Hovey Square Park, on the border of Dracut and Lowell. The two ball fields used to be called Hovey 1 and Hovey 2 in my softball-playing days.
As a kid I spent countless summer afternoons and evenings in the park with two of my cousins who lived across from the park on Aiken Avenue, up the street from Ouellette’s Funeral Home (now Ouellette-McKenna). The outfield grass in high summer was short, scrubby, and bleached-out, but as much as what was underfoot triggered my memories, being in the large open space itself helped bring back those days at Hovey Square. Wide open spaces are rare to find in the city. Wide open spaces with grass are even more rare. (We do have some big parking lots, such as the one at Cross Point.) Crossing the expanse on the Common gives me a sense of liberation. The feeling is like tracking a fly ball in the outfield, running and running until you catch it or run out of room. There’s also the sensation of standing still in the middle of a big open space—waiting for the inning to begin or the next pitch to be thrown. My cousin Tom and I would often play home run derby at the field whose home plate is closer to Aiken Ave. There would be just the two of us: one hitting the ball out of his hand, and the other positioned in right field, which was bordered by tall grass and brush on two sides, making it a better option for smashing home runs. Deep center and deep left blended with the outfield of the other field that it backed up to. We would take turns and play that game for hours. Baseball requires skills that are sharpened by repetition. We didn’t mind it at all. Hit. Catch. Hit. Catch. Over and over.