In 1963 I met a new kid who moved in next door to us.
His name was Allen. Since my middle name is Alan, I figured we'd already had a predestined connection. His being a "new kid" was hard for me to fathom since his family had lived there for years already. I'd never heard the term "foster child" before. Like many, this one particular day is ingrained in my memories. There are some things that never happen in a child's life, and should, and that's a very sad thing. I learned in a single day, the value and importance of people, and how quickly they can appear and disappear from our lives.
Allen had some army toys of his own, a canteen, helmet, and of course a plastic rifle. It was interesting as we compared our army gear; I had some he didn't, he had some I didn't.
I met him early on a Monday afternoon. School had just begun its session, and I was very excited for later that evening, a new show called "The Outer Limits" would make its debut on channel 2.
After some over-the-fence discussion and getting to know each other, we had a great session of army playing. I had my canteen
and my helmet and rifle, and there were several bushes and some trees in his yard that made it all the more fun. I can recall tracking
him, hiding behind bushes, popping up from leaves and branches to mock-shoot with kid-voiced machine gun
sounds "Heh- heh- heh- heh- heh- heh- heh- heh- heh!" These sounds were followed by the typical rousing arguments of:
(You had to have these arguments; otherwise the game would be over). We were having the time of our lives, and Allen and I got along famously. From behind bushes I crept stealthily; Allen was certainly doing the same, though he was out of my immediate eyesight. My plastic army accessories made it all the more fun, and it was challenging to try and belly crawl with noisy plastic equipment hooked on my belt. It was very warm outside; early September gave us incredibly warm temperatures, and I was sweating underneath the plastic army helmet.
However, as usual, parents have to ruin everything, and his parents - or Foster parents I should say - called him in for dinner immediately after. I can recall being extremely disappointed. Allen was one of the best army players around, and he was sincere in his adventures. A lot of the other kids would get bored and quit, but he didn't.
Playing army with Allen was all I could talk about when I hopped back over to our yard. Even at dinner I described our great game, and how I couldn't wait until next time. He was my new best friend, end of story. The army game kept me awake at night dreaming of how to improve, and hide, and sneak up on the enemy whilst engaging in probably the greatest fun ever invented. The best part was I had a new best friend. I had elaborate battle plans drawn in my mind. We could, between attacks, take a break and compare our equipment. Allen had a plastic mess kit, something I did not, but was next on my "must-have" list of army toys.
I could only imagine how great our future games would be; I couldn't wait until John, Mitch and Larry got a chance to meet him. Soon we'd be a local fighting force to be reckoned with. There were also Leroy and Art, the boys that lived behind the dreaded Andersen House (the neighborhood haunted house). They too were great army players (though local troublemakers most of the time). I couldn't wait until we all met and got together as one tight and mobilized fighting force ready for a great round of belly-crawling and plastic rifle fire. Allen was my age, so I was excited knowing I'd see him in school the next day.
I know I drove my mom and dad batty talking about nothing but playing with Allen all through dinner. There's nothing more challenging than the manic dialogues of an over-exuberant kid newly stationed in the third grade. Life couldn't move fast enough for me, and neither time nor patience to wait for it. Though they pretended to be interested for the first few manic moments of my account of the afternoon, they ended with the usual "you have your whole life to play army, now it's time to eat your beets."
The only distraction from my thoughts came at seven-thirty that evening when the first bone-chilling strains from "The Outer Limits" theme song droned in our TV set. All the mystery and imagination of a "Galaxy Being" glowing with mysterious other-worldly energy in glorious black and white kept me spellbound for the following hour. Come bedtime, the most that I had on my mind was how to get the image of that galaxy being out of my head long enough to get to sleep. By law, monsters were still required to hide in kids' bedrooms at night.
In my opening paragraph I mentioned that some things never happen in a child's life. I hadn't seen my new friend in school that day which was peculiar. I can't even begin to explain the crush and confusion that swept over me when I knocked on our neighbors' door and asked if Allen could come out to play. Our friendship never got the opportunity to happen. His stay in that home was short, overnight in fact, and by the next day, he was gone. After that, I hated the term "foster child" as it stole friends away and split up families. In my mind, I saw him bouncing like a ball from place to place.
Though fostering children in need is a gallant, and good thing, in the eyes of an eight year-old who lost his best friend, there was no explaining the gallantry of it all. To this very day, I still think of Allen and wonder what could have become of him.