One morning in 2009, Husband pulled on his grubby work clothes and set out for the garage. He welded when he had the time, and that day, he needed to create a piece for the school’s art gala. Hours later, I glanced out the kitchen window. He had an audience. The two boys from down the alley, tooling by on their bikes earlier, had stopped to watch. Husband handed them welding helmets, so they could witness the scrap metal transform into something otherworldly. Curious, I wandered out.
“What are your names?” I said.
“Peace,” the older one said.
“I’m Freedom,” said the younger one.
The brothers stated their ages: twelve and nine.
“Can you think of a name for this thing?” Husband said, indicating the steel shapes he had cut with the torch and fused together. “It needs a title.”
“Easy,” Freedom said. “We go to an art school.”
Under the observant eyes of Peace and Freedom, Husband completed the sculpture within two days.
“So what do you think?” he finally said.
“I know what it should be called,” said Freedom.
“Okay, let’s hear it.”
“’Springshield.’ You know, for the spring right there. And that thing looks like a shield.”
“So that’s what it is.”
Our next door neighbor Dallas attended the art gala several weeks later, bid the highest, and won ‘Springshield.’ I traced the piece’s pilgrimage from our garage to the gala in northeast Minneapolis, and then back again to Dallas’ living room right next door. If we ever missed the artwork, we’d know where to find it.
Peace and Freedom popped over whenever Husband worked in the garage. Their friend Keyondra, who was a little older than Freedom, tagged along. She coolly nodded hello, but her eyes sparkled and a smile played just below the surface.
Later that year, we bought a basketball hoop on Craig’s List. It was sturdy with adjustable height. People warned us about having a basketball hoop in the neighborhood.
“You won’t be able to control who uses it,” one well-meaning friend cautioned.
Good, I thought.
On our way home one day, we drove through the alley. Two boys we had never seen before shot baskets on our driveway. They caught sight of our vehicle signaling to turn in, abandoned their ball, and bolted. Husband parked the car, got out, and pursued them down the alley. They darted into a yard near the end.
“I asked them why they were running,” Husband said when he returned home. “They thought they’d be in trouble. I told them they have to respect our property, but they can play any time.”
Our basketball hoop became a ten-foot-tall magnet. And day after day, they came. Keyondra was usually in the mix, and each time, she rapped on our back door.
“I like that you ask permission every day,” I said. “But you don’t have to. Just come.”
“My ma said I have to knock first.”
“You have a good mom.”
I would check in with the kids playing basketball. I asked their names, and when I got back inside, I jotted them down on a piece of paper I stuck to the fridge. I didn’t want to forget.
One day, the usual four kids—Keyondra, Antoine, Peanut, and Armani—were playing, and a few extras sat on the cement, leaning against our garage door to watch. As always, I stepped outside to say hi and learn new names. Two of the names were foreign to me, so I asked for spellings.
“You’re good kids,” I said to the group, embarrassing my girls who hovered nearby. “I’m glad you’re here.”
Later that afternoon, I looked out the window and noticed the kids huddled in a group on our driveway. They took turns trying the handle on the basketball hoop’s pole. I could see it was broken. I waited.
A knock at the door. Aisha—one of the new girls—and Keyondra too.
“We broke it,” Aisha said, her eyes down.
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s take a look.”
I examined the handle’s plastic piece that had snapped. The kids peppered me with apologies.
“I’ll see if Husband can fix it when he gets home,” I said. “I’m really glad you told me. You could’ve just run off, but you didn’t.”
The basketball hoop got fixed, and its luster returned. The same group of four came over almost daily for three seasons of every year. In the winters, I missed them.
“Could we have your basketball schedule, so we can come to one of your games at school?” I said to Keyondra in the fall one year.
She nodded, playing the cool card again, her smile threatening to leak through.
Husband asked Antoine for his football schedule too, and we went to watch him play. We cheered when he ran out on the field. We hollered his name, and eventually, we caught his eye, and he waved back to us from the fifty yard line.
Every day in the summer, year after year, the basketball hoop hosted games. Then came the summer of 2014. We had a big yard project, and I anticipated a blissful three months of getting dirt under my fingernails accompanied by the happy, percussive sounds of the ball striking the cement and backboard.
But the kids didn’t come.
The forlorn basketball hoop stood untouched. And no balls passed through its net, which swayed like a flag in the summer breezes.
One day while I watered the Japanese Lilac in our front garden, Keyondra pedaled by on her bike. She waved at me and then circled back, applying the brakes near our front steps.
“I’ve missed you,” I said. “What’s up? It’s been forever.”
“I got a job at a bike shop in south Minneapolis.”
This was good news, but my heart sank anyway. “Good for you. They’re lucky to have you.” Then I asked about Antoine, Peanut, and Armani.
“Antoine is working now too,” she said. She reminded me of their ages—all of them fifteen and sixteen years old—except for Peanut who was still fourteen.
I felt the same pang in my chest I felt when I caught my own girls growing up without my permission.
“Come back whenever you want,” I said.
“The hoop misses you.”
Her smile escaped this time, and she let it shine.
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