Rock the Baby
By Sean Patrick
When I was still a “nipper,” as my brother Kevin used to call me, things were comfortably predictable for someone growing up in the ragtag world of being a kid.
I was lucky enough to have brothers who could pave the way and make sure I was somewhat acquainted with certain rituals and skills expected of a normal kid in the inner city world of Ohio where we lived.
Boys, for example, were expected to be good at drawing circles in the dusty dirt that could be found on or near most playgrounds. Next, pockets were emptied of their treasured marbles, and a group of boys knelt in the dust to “shoot” their trusted “shooter” at the marbles in the circle.
Shortly after the Second World War (“The Big One,” as many of us old-timers still refer to the conflict which involved our great land from 1941 through 1945), was the introduction of the yo-yo, one of the great challenges of “kid stuff.”
Somewhere along the line, someone got the idea of taking two wooden disks and joining them together by putting a quarter-inch-thick dowel between them. A string was looped around the dowel, and the string was wound around the dowel and tied at the loose ends in a loop that would fit over the middle finger of a kid’s dominant hand. When it was secure, the yo-yo was cast downward where it would spin violently in the loop until the kid gave a quick jerk on the string, which then would allow the yo-yo to come back to his hand.
Now, the more adept kids learned that they could do a million-and-a-half things with that device. You could grab the string and form a “cradle,” with the yo-yo spinning in the center space; you could throw the yo-yo out like a baseball and let it make huge arcs around your arm; you could even let the yo-yo spin in the totally descended position and allow it to “hop” on the ground before yanking it up to your hand again.
These great feats were affectionately named “Rock the Baby,” “Round the World,” and “Walk the Dog.” Some of us were masters at those—and a whole bunch of other tricks whose names I have forgotten.
I was not really very good at any of them.
The closest I came to being proficient was doing the “Round the World” thing because it was the easiest for me and didn’t require much talent.
Yo-yos became so prevalent by the time I was in eighth grade that a boy without a yo-yo was sort of like a dog without a tail.
Sister St. Patrick bowed to the inevitable by ignoring some kids who walked back into school from recess with their yo-yos still spinning as they walked. The only real rule was that the yo-yos needed to be put into pockets before entering the classroom doors.
That is until Bloke—probably the most skilled yo-yoer of them all in our class—did his world-record “Shoot the Moon” at the wrong time in the wrong place, forever banning the spinning toys from being anywhere except in a pocket or desk after entering our classroom.
Bloke was a master of the craft. He even got a little book from the drugstore that showed real tricks with the fun toys. He had patience and didn’t mind practicing, so he naturally quickly became the unchallenged champion of St. Columbkille School without peers.
One bright spring day, Bloke was entertaining the rest of our group of boys in the playground with a demonstration of a dozen or so tricks he had mastered when the hand bell was rung, ending recess period and telling us to get into lines for returning to our classrooms.
We marched into the hallowed halls and back into the classroom without incident, and if it hadn’t been for Sister St. Kermit calling Sister St. Patrick into the office as we passed her door, all would have been OK.
But she did motion for our teacher to step into the office as we continued to move toward our classroom and line up at our desks, just like always.
I then noticed that Bloke still had his trusty green yo-yo in his hand, with the string loop still around his finger.
Bloke had been practicing a fairly uncomplicated trick called “Shoot the Moon,” with the added challenge of shooting the yo-yo out from his hand and allowing it to spin at the end of the string for a number of seconds before jerking it back to his hand. It was a good trick because the yo-yo was parallel to the floor and straight out from Bloke’s body as it spun suspended in the air!
Well, as Bloke glanced at the door and saw that Sister St. Patrick was not in sight, he said, “Shoot the Moon!” and zinged his yo-yo out from his hand and let it fly.
We all held our breath and watched the thing go and go…and go…and keep going. I was close enough to my best friend to actually hear the snap of the string and see the blasted thing head straight for the window.
The actual crash was not horribly loud. The glass broke with a “tinkle,” not a real smashing sound would if you hit it with a baseball. But it was loud enough for us to let out a collective gasp as we saw a good chunk of the window glass break and fall to the playground just outside our classroom.
We stood staring—not breathing—at the hole in the window for the longest three or four seconds the world has ever known. Bloke stood there next to me with the limp string still hanging from his finger as the form of doom—in the person of Sister St. Patrick—loomed over us.
At that moment Bloke looked directly at the nun who held our futures in her hands and uttered the word I will never forget.
The rest of the morning is a haze in my memory. There was no yelling, no earthshaking punishment, not even a strong “What is going on here?”—which would have been totally in order.
Finneran, the janitor, was summoned and said he would get a new piece of glass in the window “when I have minute or two to get to it,” and he went outside to sweep up the small amount of glass on the playground.
No one had to tell us what to do next.
When the recess bell clanged, it was understood that the yo-yos went into the pants pockets and would remain there until we were outside again. Bloke even took it upon himself to hold out his hands so Sister could see he didn’t have a yo-yo string round his finger.
Bloke still did his yo-yo thing, but it was evident that his enthusiasm was somewhat diminished after that one fateful spin.
I do have to admit that, once in a while, I may just drop a phrase into one of the frequent conversations Bloke and I enjoy via long-distance telephone lines.
If I want to get a reaction from my best friend in the entire universe, a quick “Well, Bloke, time to Shoot the Moon…” will do it every time.