Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Bocce At Guerin Playground

I've been thinking back on pasttimes lately, and started thinking about my grandfather and how he would take my brother, sister, and I to Guerin playground every Sunday and once or twice a week during the summer months. The weekends were ours, he'd sit and watch us play or push us on the swings as high as he could. My grandfather really enjoyed taking us out, and probably had at least as much of a good time as we did.

Grandpop was very protective of us too. I remember a boy had pulled my sister's hair as she came off the sliding board one Sunday afternoon. My grandfather chased him, fired up with rage that a boy would do that to a girl, especially his granddaughter. Fortunately, the kid was naturally faster than the older man, and he made his escape. Well, those things didn't happen too often, the times there for us were typically enjoyed.

During the weekdays, Grandpop had his fun too. Not like us kids on the playground equipment. He and the older Italian men would gather at the bocce courts at Guerin and spend the better part of the day playing bocce, talking, and at times drinking wine from bottles they brought in. It was a great way for them to spend the last years of their lives after retirement, and it helped keep their community alive. I only knew the names of a couple of the men who gathered to play and talk, but the faces were very familiar. I don't think there was a man among them who was timid, all were involved in something by the courts.

As time takes it's toll, things dissapear. It saddended my grandfather as his friends started to die off. The community of the bocce courts started to dwindle in the mid-70s, and by the end of the decade, most of the men had passed away or were unable to make the walk to 16th & Wolf to play or talk, my grandfather included. By the dawn of the 80s, he was confined to the house or to the bench on the front porch, sitting and watching the world go by with faces he didn't know. Around the same time, the outdoor bocce courts disappeared from Guerin.

My grandfather died in February 1983 at the age of 90. Because of him, I had the pleasure and privilege to experience the Italian culture, if only by sitting and watching him and the other men. What may have seemed like a waste of our playtime back in our childhood is now a fond memory.

UPDATE - 9/4/2006:
It seems I've posted in haste regarding the demise of bocce at Guerin Playground. With the outdoor courts gone, I figured bocce went with it. But a number of folks noted at phillyblog.com that bocce is alive and well at Guerin, only now it's inside rather than out, and many who play in the leagues there speak Italian. I'm always glad when someone tells me I'm wrong when it comes to things like this. It's good to see the game surviving.

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