The Brat Patrol | A Long Time Ago, In a Neighborhood Far, Far Away…

The Lost Art of Block Parties

August 21st, 2006 by duane

Hillcrest had the best block parties. Ever.

Everyone on the street knew each other. Every summer… usually late July, the block would put up a barricade at each end of the street, set up tables in the road and have a whole-block party. Early in the morning, our families would work on their agreed task: filling water balloons, making a dish for the potluck, getting ice for coolers, etc. The kids only had one task: clean up your bike. We would gather at one house and detail our bikes with concourse precision. It was the one day of the year that we could ride our bikes in the street and not get in trouble… our bikes had to be clean!

Meanwhile, the adults would form into smaller groups: the gossipers, the sports fans, the cops, and the beer drinkers. Gossipers took turns telling each other the dirt, carefully avoiding subjects involving other gossipers present. Sports fans would stand around and either complain about the Tigers or rave about their indestructibility, then change gears to talk about how the lions need to do either as well or better than the Tigers come football season. The cops would start as a separate group, but eventually merge with the beer drinkers… that group was self-explanatory.

The earlier block parties had 3 distinct groups of kids. The “big kids,” “older kids,” and “us.” The big kids liked to scare, intimidate and chase us. The older kids were nice, but quite obviously not interested in being around either of the other 2 groups… the kind of other kids that were most likely to be babysitters or tutors.

Around a week before each block party, “the word” would get out that the big kids were going to “get” somebody in the BRAT Patrol. The reasons were trivial, but the excitement was priceless. Everything came to a climax early during the block party with a big kid chasing someone home and a few water balloons being used before the official water balloon toss began.

After a little mid-street bike riding, somebody’s mom would organize the balloon toss. The balloon toss replaced the open fire hydrant that traditionally accompanied the block party. However, legend says that “Crazy Kers” (a mysterious man around the corner) complained enough to the city about the loss of water pressure when we did this that it was eventually discontinued… anyway, back to the balloon toss: The kids all got a kick out of the adults that dared to participate. Predictably, the toss would become a water balloon fight and everyone would be soaked to the skin. A little more bike riding and everyone was dry enough. The kids would take turns guarding the ends of the block, glaring at confounded drivers when they approached the block party barricade. Occasionally, we would let residents in by sliding the barricade over just enough. To an eight-year-old, that’s real power: complete control over who is allowed in and out of your world.

As the sun began to get lower in the sky, dinner would make it’s way to the lines of tables set up earlier in the day. Everyone would gather, pile up food, and sit together to eat. The adults took their time, chatted, and hoped the food would make the kids sleepy. No such luck. We all knew that the block party meant we could stay up past dark… and that meant we could play “witch!”

After dinner the adults would start up card games and drink coffee (or sometimes more beer). The kids (all three groups) would gather on a front porch and set the rules for the night’s game of “witch:”

  • One person starts as the witch, they will hide
  • Everyone else covers their eyes and counts the magic chant:

    One-O’Clock, Two-O’Clock, Three-O’Clock… Rock! Four-O’Clock, Five-O’Clock, Six-O’Clock… Rock! Seven-O’Clock, Eight-O’Clock, Nine-O’Clock… Rock! Ten-O’Clock, Eleven-O’Clock, Twelve-O’Clock… Rock! Starlight, moonlight… Hope to see the witch tonight!

  • Look for the witch (seeking). When found, yell, “Witch!” and try to get back to the safe zone (goal) without being tagged.
  • If you are tagged, you help chase down the fleeing seekers.
  • The person that found the witch is the witch next time.

    Block parties made this game possible. Normally, we would have to be in before dusk. But since the whole neighborhood was outside, we were allowed to play until we were exhausted… and we did. Sometimes I think I looked forward to block parties more than Christmas or birthdays. I’ve never seen or participated in a block party like those of my youth.

    Share some memories:

    Entry Filed under: Good Times,Remember When…

2 Comments. Add your own...

  • 1. The Brat Patrol » D&hellip | November 4th, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    [...] stay out much past dusk, but we tried to squeeze in a game or two of “witch” (see the block party article for a description), followed by a few harmless [...]

  • 2. Made in Michigan (Food) |&hellip | July 22nd, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    [...] was definitely the brand of choice for the adults in my neighborhood during the 80’s. Block parties looked like television commercials for the [...]

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