Forgot your password?

We just sent you an email, containing instructions for how to reset your password.

Sign in

  • When I was growing up, somewhere between the ages of 6 and 8, I was good friends for a time with a couple of kids who lived on the grounds of Toner Institute, a Catholic institution for boys from “broken or disrupted” homes. Billy and Regis’ house was just down the hill from the institute itself, just up the hill from South Hills Catholic High School, where I eventually went for 3 years. Just beyond their house on the other side of the hill, and beside Toner, was Depaul Institute for the Deaf. The kids in these institutions were often there in the background of our world, residents and wards of the institutes, while we were free to run around and play and do what we felt like. It always felt strange, and I often felt sorry for the kids in these institutions. We were not allowed to associate with them, and they were always kept busy doing whatever it was they had to do. If they were outside at all, it was for some structured activity.

    Billy and Regis’ father was the groundskeeper at Toner, and ran a small farm on the grounds of the institute. I spent a lot of time hanging around with them while they did their farm chores – feeding the horses, cleaning out the stalls, feeding the pigs and chickens, and various other chores. I always enjoyed the smells of the farm, and liked to help them. The sooner they got done with their chores, the sooner we could go play.

    Over beyond Toner institute on the other side, across a wide field, was a heavily wooded area known as “Toner’s Woods”. We spent a lot of time playing in those woods, creating fantasy worlds there, and recreating movies. A favorite of mine was the movie “Camelot”. King Arthur and his Roundtable of knights, Sir Lancelot, and Gweneveire, which we would let their little sister play, if she managed to be allowed to come with us.

    We’d also recreate West Side Story, with Rif and Tony and Maria, the Jets and the Sharks. I had the words to the songs from these movies memorized, and created side stories based on the premise of the songs, that we would play out in our shared fantasy world. It was a great time of my childhood, a time I only recently even remembered, when I was reflecting on my life for a paper I had to write when I went through the Federal Executive Institute, about my journey as a leader. I had completely forgotten leading those recreations of movies with my friends.

    When their parents found out what we were doing, they strictly forbade it, and when we continued to do it anyway, I was banished from the farm. They were not allowed to play with me anymore. I never really understood what the problem with it was, but I came to see it as a bad thing, and it would not be until much later in my life that I rekindled my love for things theatrical. I imagine it must have been a tough blow for Billy and Regis, as well, because they really didn’t have many friends – they were “different” from most of the kids in the school, considered kind of “country bumpkins”, and I didn’t see them hanging out with anyone else after they were forbidden to associate with me. While I was not a popular kid at school, I always seemed to be able to make friends with a few kids, and it wouldn’t be long before I made other friends.

    It was shortly after that experience that I turned to sports, and especially baseball, which filled the void that was left in my fantasy life. I came to love the stories within the games, and developed a rich fantasy world all around athletics and sports, and to this day, I love the stories within whichever sport I am currently involved. Baseball and softball are still my favorites, although hockey and football certainly have their fair share of stories, as well. I just don’t understand the “language” of those sports like I do the language of baseball and softball.
    (Photo of Toner Boys flying kites, courtesy of Carnegie Libraries of Pittsburgh) The part of a house to the right in the picture with a chimney was my friends’ Billy and Regis’ home on the grounds, just down the hill from the institute.
    • Share

    Connected stories:


Collections let you gather your favorite stories into shareable groups.

To collect stories, please become a Citizen.

    Copy and paste this embed code into your web page:

    px wide
    px tall
    Send this story to a friend:
    Would you like to send another?

      To retell stories, please .

        Sprouting stories lets you respond with a story of your own — like telling stories ’round a campfire.

        To sprout stories, please .

            Better browser, please.

            To view Cowbird, please use the latest version of Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, or Internet Explorer.