Gladstone Manor has no playground. Even the yards are generally too small for most games, but there was a grassy area beside the train station where we played pickup football games on winter afternoons. As a bonus, the lights of the station allowed the game to continue into the early darkness.
“Pickup” is not the right word. It took planning to gather enough players to have the required minimum of three on each side—a hiker/blocker, a quarterback, and a receiver. The version we played was “restrained tackle.” We had no padding and knew if anyone got hurt, or just quit in anger, we would not have enough to continue, so we tackled gently, more wrestling the ball carrier to the ground rather than a bone-jarring tackle. Ed Henrie once dragged a couple of us hanging on his back all the way from midfield to the goal line. We would start out keeping score, but soon lost count. It didn’t matter. We each finished with at least one spectacular play—a lucky catch, an interception, a tricky run—and that was what we remembered as we walked home in the dark and cold, not the score.
A summer game was “train racing,” although we did not call it that. It didn’t have a name, we just did it. We would stand on the tracks at the Gladstone Manor end of the high, narrow Scottdale Road railroad trestle and wait, poised like relay runners, looking behind for the evening commuter train to come around the curve. We could tell the train was coming by the faint pinging of the tracks. As soon as the first car appeared, we started running to the safety of the other side.
Someone once said there is nothing like a hanging to focus the mind. The same is true of running across a narrow bridge with a rumbling, horn-blaring train coming behind you. It was easy to beat the train as long as we did not trip, but that thought never occurred to us. When we got to the far end, we dove to the side, rolling down the grassy embankment, whooping and laughing, as the blaring train roared past.