May 13, 2021
Mornings in the north suburbs of Kansas City were slow. The parents and older siblings went to work. My younger brothers and I didn’t get up early. When we did we moved outside to see who from the neighborhood had accumulated on the street in front of our house.
Our house was the gathering place because the other kids were welcome in our house. Most of the neighbor kids could go anywhere they wanted outside, but were not allowed to have any other kids inside their house. I suppose it was because all their parents were gone at work. Ours were at work too, they just had an open door policy. At the Willoughby house any and all were welcome. Mom & Dad never had any problem with us inviting our friends over whether they were home or not. That is probably why even as adults we all enjoy entertaining.
Dad would never lock the doors at the house, even if we were all gone. He would say, “What if some of the kids came over and they wanted to get in the house or needed something.” Dad always put family ahead of stuff. We didn’t hold on to things, just each other.
Living next door to us was Sammy Sanders. Sammy was my brother Phil’s age and a year and half younger than me. He looked even younger than that because he was small for his age. He was short and a tad chubby with a confident personality. Sammy went to school with Phil and I.
Also in the neighborhood was Sam Schimbry. I was 15 and Sam was 14 ½. Sam and I hung out a lot together at my house but never at his house. I don’t believe in the 7 years I lived at that house I was ever in his house or any of the other kids houses for that matter. Sam was Italian and went to the catholic school, my brothers and I went to public school. It was summers that we spent the most time together. I never noticed that the catholic school kids and the public-school kids were any different in behavior. When together we did the same things and got in trouble together. I think the difference was mostly in the parent’s eyes.
Even at 15 the highlight of the afternoon was the ice cream truck driving through the neighborhood. In some places they called it the “Good Humor Man”. This particular summer we were very fond of the “Good Humor Man” because he was a woman. Not just a woman, but a cute 17 year old girl who drove up and down the street in an open jeep with a cooler on the back. She normally wore short shorts and a t-shirt and she was one pretty girl!
She came everyday, so we all got to know her. He name was Patty and she seemed to enjoy a flirting with us when she sold us ice cream. I suspect she intentionally flirted just to sell us ice cream. She probably owns her own car dealership now. She would drive through the neighborhood like the Pied Piper with her jeep playing music and a dozen young boys from 10 to 15 would circle her wagon trading quarters for ice cream bars. She would wink at us when she handed out the frozen treat. That went a long way on customer loyalty.
This summer the cold craze was bomb pops. A bomb pop was just a large popsicle that was shaped to resemble a rocket ship. There were lots of flavors. Cherry, Berry, Strawberry, root beer and one of the most popular was the Banana Bomb Pop
This particular hot summer day Patty drives through the neighborhood with music blaring. There were about a 10 kids in front of our house. The two Sam’s, Danny Odell from down the street. Larry Crouse who we all called Mouse. My brother’s Phil, Dave & myself. Jimmy from the cul-de-sac, Tommy from the next road over and Ricky. Ricky was an odd kid. He was about 11 years old, a little shy and quiet. He was an only child so his social skills were a little behind some of us. This day he had bought himself a big banana bomb pop. While we were all standing out in the yard, Ricky went over and sat on the concrete steps in front of our house and started to eat his banana bomb pop. Ricky loved animals and the animals loved him.
This day as Ricky was sitting on the steps in front of our house 3 of the neighborhood dogs walked up to Ricky and sat down right in front of him as he ate his popsickle. Brownie the short haired mongrel groaned eagerly at Ricky. Ricky’s response was to hold his bomb pop and Brownie took a lick. Next the beagle everyone called Yankee groaned and Ricky shared a lick with Yankee. Finally Daisey, the large short haired mutt barked eagerly and Ricky was fair to oblige.
We watched Ricky take a lick and the hold the bomb pop in front each of the three canines so they could have a lick too. It was amazing how patiently the dogs sat there waiting for their turn to take a lick from Ricky’s stick.
Boys will be boys and it wasn’t long before we were chiding Ricky for eating with the dogs. Ricky didn’t pay a bit of attention he just took a lick and then shared one with each of the dogs. At this point we decided Ricky was short on brain juice. It was before Forest Gump so naturally somebody called him stupid. Then we all started making fun of Ricky and talking about how dumb it was to share with the dogs.
I don’t know where it came from, maybe someone had just watched a Clint Eastwood western the night before and someone yelled. “Ricky is so dumb we should hang him”. Somebody else chimed in “Yeah lets hang him. Pretty soon everyone agreed we should hang Ricky. In only a few moments this Ice cream party had turned into a lynch mob!
I have to confess I was right there with them. Naturally it was all in jest. We weren’t really going to hang Ricky, it was just a game to deal with the afternoon boredom. My brother Phil found an old clothes line rope in the garage, little brother Dave picked up a wooden fruit box off of our back porch and the whole troupe, Ricky included started walking to the neighbor’s house behind our house because they had a clothes line pole still up. That pole became our hanging tree.
Now understand, no one was making Ricky come. He wasn’t tied up or anything he was just going along with the rue. We all climbed over the short wooden fence in our back yard and headed for the neighbor’s hanging tree.
When we got there we sat the box on the ground and told Ricky to stand on it. Which he did. Then we put the rope around his neck and threw it over the top of the T in the pole. Brothers Phil and Dave were holding one end of the rope and the other end was around Ricky’s neck.
Being the theatrical one I started making an execution speech to the little crowd of killers we had assembled. Everything was going great! It was fun! I yelled “We are hanging Ricky for eating with the dogs”. Just like on Bonanza the rest of the crowd was shaking their fists in the air yelling “Hang him! Hang Ricky!”
The sadistically planned little play was a big hit until Ricky decides to jump off the box. Maybe Ricky was as dumb as we all thought because his hands were not tied. He could have just pulled the rope off his neck and stepped down. Instead, he jumps off the box with the rope still on his neck.
That would have still been fine if when he jumped off my brothers had turned loose of the rope because it wasn’t tied at the other end. When they saw Ricky jump off the box I assumed they would turn loose of the rope. Nope, they held on in shock! All of a sudden Ricky is actually dangling by his neck from the rope over the clothesline pole.
I yelled at Phil and Dave “Turn loose of the rope!” Frozen they just held on and watched Ricky dangle. I reached down and wrapped my arms around his waist and picked Ricky up. He had only been their a few seconds and as soon as I raised him up the rope loosened, and my brothers found the presence of mind to turn loose of the rope.
Ricky was fine, no damage. The execution was cancelled and we all went about doing our afternoon activities as if no catastrophe had threatened the future our little group. Not one of us could have ever got into politics after 2010 if our reputations had been tied to a lynching!
I never thought much about that day until one time I was talking with my grandson’s and mentioned about the day we hung Ricky. To them this was the wildest and funniest story I had ever shared with them. After that when they would bring over a new friend they always wanted me to tell the “Hanging Ricky” story.
I also had used that story to teach my daughter how to drive. I told her when you are driving down the road and you see a group of boys ages 9-15 slow down and be extra cautious. You never know when one may push another in front of the car or even jump out in front of the car on a whim.
My girl cousins who watched us boys grow up often comment that they are surprised that we survived our childhood. As I look back now, I can only assume that God has a whole platoon of guardian angels assigned to each prepubertal boy, else we would all kill ourselves or each other.