"Kicking the Can"

Jun 5, 2009

Murray, KY – If you have fond memories of summertime as a child, you'll understand exactly what storyteller Robert Valentine is talking about when he tells the summer story of a simple, childhood game: Kicking the Can.

Larry loved to play "Kick the Can."

He remembered the first summer he learned the game. A can is placed in the middle of the street and someone is "It." He patrols around the can until another kid, hiding in the darkness, working closer and closer to the can, runs out to kick it to be "in free." If "It" kicks the can first, the other kid is "It" and the game goes on.

Larry learned to wait. After a while, he longed to be the last one out there in the dark. It was the greatest challenge and he was good at it. He was fast and compact, that first year, and he surprised the older kids who thought he couldn't do anything. After that first summer of Kick the Can, they started to pick him for baseball games in the park, and basketball in David Wolfe's back yard.

He could hardly wait for nights to get longer, and for lightning bugs to emerge. They were sure signs that Kick the Can season was not far away.

But all his old playmates were gone, now. He had been the youngest and older kids seemed to lose interest. Lots of them moved to other towns; others were just gone. Only Liz still remained of all those kids, and she said she was "too old" to play in the street.

Then, almost before he noticed it, there were new kids. He could count eight or ten whom he thought of as good friends, not counting Julie, the prettiest. Let out of school and freed from the forced labor of homework, they were hungry for something fun to do while parents watched TV; Kick the Can had been just the thing. He was the one who had to teach them the game. None of them seemed to know it and it was fun to see them take to it so quickly. Now, a long last, he had someone to play with, again.

The kids in the neighborhood were smaller and faster than he. He looked at himself in the mirror and thought, "How did I get so tall?" He had never thought of himself as tall, but the last week or so, since the weather turned warm, and parents let kids stay out later into the dusk and the light blue darkness of a summer night, he realized that he was tall; too tall to hide behind a garbage can without getting down on all fours, anyway. Short legs were quicker than his and the new kids were bolder.

Tonight, though, would be different. One of the streetlights had burned out and the uneven shadows made it harder for unwary eyes to see someone coming at the can from the Hendricks' house. After two or three games, "It" always concentrated on the "dark side," as they had come to call it. A patient fellow could almost stroll in from the side where a light still burned with its bluish-green tint swarming with bugs and bats nearly 35 feet in the air.

He hadn't been able to play for two nights because of a church thing. A city councilman was supposed to have the light fixed, but it was still out tonight. Tonight, he would be champ again. He would use the darkness and fool them with rocks thrown into the blackness from high over their heads; when "It" went to look more closely, he would run on long legs and kick the can high into the air. If he wasn't last, he would kick it closer to where Julie was hiding so she could kick it and get in free, too.

Tonight would be like that first year.

Then he heard Julie at the bottom of the stairs. He looked out the window and saw that summer darkness had come again. He finished putting a hard double bow on his tennis shoes, as she yelled up the stairs to him.

"Grandpa," she called, "We're going to play Kick the Can! Come on, or you'll be It'."

He straightened up and looked in the mirror again. "I may be 67," he said to himself, "And I may be too tall and too slow, but being a city councilman has its small advantages."

Then, Larry went out to play, again.