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Kids' game of street ball sparks memories of summertime past

Kids' game of street ball sparks memories of summertime past

 A high school picture of Kathy Smith's father, Urban Axe.

A high school picture of Kathy Smith's father, Urban Axe.

We live in a small home in modest neighborhood. I guess the term is “starter home.” I don’t think there is such a thing anymore.

Our neighborhood has always had lots of kids of all ages riding bikes, roller blading and doing all kinds of outdoor activities.


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One day, a few weeks ago I happened to glance out my front window. I saw a group of neighborhood kids who had just finished a bike ride, sitting down on the sidewalk. There were no cellphones or tablets in sight. Instead, these kids were laughing and having fun being with each other. In a little while one of the girls went home and got a baseball bat and a tennis ball. The baseball game began. It was the first game of street ball that I had seen in years. There was laughter and some pretty awesome hitting going on. Watching those kids triggered a lifetime of memories for me, especially a baseball-like game called “ticky ball” that we played when I was a kid.

When my brothers and sister and I were kids, we spent hours outside playing and had to be forced to come in when it got dark. There were 4 kids in our family plus one big kid — a.k.a. Daddy. My mom was really raising 5 kids in a way.

My dad grew up in St. Mary’s Ohio, a small industrial city located on the Miami Erie Canal. Between the trails along the canal and the railroad, the kids in St. Marys had plenty to keep them busy in the summer. Probably the hottest game in town was ‘ticky ball,” a game thought up by my dad and his 6 brothers. Purchasing sports equipment was pretty much out of the question due to the limited finances of the family. With all of those boys in the family that meant lots of odd socks. The ones that didn’t get darned were use to make a soft sphere called a tricky ball. My grandmother was the engineer of the ball. Five or six old socks were rolled inside each other. Thanks to her expert sewing, she was able to quickly make it into the round ball. Her skilled top stitching closed the top of the socks. It was soft and safe That is what everybody liked about it.

The rules for the game were something else. There was only one base besides home plate. No formal pitchers mound and no chalk line. The teams were made up of half of how ever many showed up to play. No one had to be a good baseball player. You hit the ball with your hand which was could be an amazing bat. If you got good at the game, you could really manipulate the ball. The only way a person could be put out was to be hit with the ball. It was really easy to run someone down and then throw the ticky ball at them.

My dad was always trying to disarm the person who was trying to catch the ball. He would yell “Watch your Mouth,” which triggered loud laughing by all of the players. He also had some other laughter inducing phrases that escape my mind right now. The game lasted for hours or until we just could not laugh anymore.

My dad laughed the hardest. I don’t know if kids today would think it was fun. I made a ticky ball for my son. I taught his friends to play. It was still fun.

Recently, I found one of our old neighborhood kids on Facebook. We were reminiscing about our neighborhood. He remembered my dad and those famous ticky ball games. It made me fell so googly — if that is a word.

I can close my eyes and still see my grandmother sewing the ticky ball while all of the kids in her family hovered over her. We could not wait for the fun to begin. What a great legacy my dad left behind.

Our family ticky balls games have come to an end. All of my uncles are gone now but in a field in St. Mary’s ,Ohio the fun of kids generations ago still echoes  in the air. My dads voice is still telling the kids to “watch your mouth”.

The kids in my neighborhood created their own legacy on that warm summer day a few weeks ago.

Editor's Note: Kathy Smith writes about the people and histories of Lee's Summit, MO. A Lee's Summit resident and local historian, she serves as Executive Director of the Lee's Summit Historical Society and Lee's Summit History Museum as well as chair of the Lee's Summit Historic Preservation Commission. Views and opinions expressed in her columns do not necessarily reflect those of Link 2 Lee's Summit, it's employees, or any other guest contributors.

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