It’s impossible for me to count how many hours I spent at the Janesville city park as a kid. Two hours playing a pickup baseball game. Three hours playing football. Four hours playing two-on-two basketball. Five hours alone in the summer shooting baskets. An hour alone in the winter shooting baskets. Day after day, night after night.
And all that time I probably took two trips to the park’s bathrooms. Maybe three. Part of it had to do with geography — we lived a block away from the park so why not just go home when needed? But sometimes — in the middle of one of those marathon baseball, football or basketball battles — I wouldn’t want to run home and run back. Still, I avoided them. You might dare a friend to go in them but never chance it yourself. The restrooms terrified me — if monsters, human or otherwise, didn’t lurk there, then organ-killing germs and filth did. The tiny facilities, situated just off the area used to play baseball, looked like a structure that shows up on a news report accompanied by the words, “Police say the bodies were found inside…”
I haven’t spent much time in the park the past 15 years and don’t know the current condition of the bathrooms, but it seems they haven’t improved much. The Waseca County News reported on an upgrade that is currently lacking funds. According to the story, “The current public restrooms at Veteran’s Memorial Park are outdated and not up to code. The restrooms aren’t easily accessible for handicapped people and create issues for those with limited mobility.” Yeah, those sound like the restrooms I knew. The problem now is finding the funds for the upgrade. Hopefully it comes through at some point. Also, vandals apparently spend their time going after restroom facilities around town. Kids — or adults — I know you think it’s boring in town but there was even less to do when we were growing up and most of us managed to avoid ruining public property (although not always).
Nice bathrooms would nicely complete the park, because it has everything else a kid or a small town could want. I rarely used the playground equipment, which wasn’t much more than a slide, swings and puker during my younger days but now has just about everything. On one of the rare times I did use the swings, my sister upended me onto my head while giving me an underdog. Instead we used the open spaces.
Certain games from three decades ago still remain vivid in my head. Like a football game that included just about every boy from town in grades 4-6. One kid, an arrogant kid, made a diving catch but drilled his head on a tree. My friend Brandon, extremely quick with a quip, if not on his ravaged feet, said, “Way to use your head.” It got a big laugh, though to be fair we weren’t up to date on the latest science involving concussions and football.
Baseball games took place on the other side of the park, where some dirt patches served as bases. We played many games there during Fury family reunions and then constantly during the summer, when “ghost runners” helped us fill in when we didn’t have enough numbers for full-size rosters. There was always the danger of a home run going onto the highway, but it actually didn’t happen as much as you’d think. Perhaps the lack of home run power on the high school teams over the years shouldn’t have been surprising.
That highway did cause the occasional problem. One day I found an old wooden boomerang in our basement — I don’t remember buying it and have no idea why it would have been in an old box; it looked like something you buy at a garage sale that comes with a warning of a curse from a gypsy — and brought it to the park with Brandon. Facing away from the highway, I let it fly — and watched in horror as it swung back the other direction, boomeranged if you will, and headed right toward Highway 14. At that time the highway was the main road through town, hundreds, thousands of cars a day drove on it. For a few seconds we imagined a future that included time spent in juvenile detention, punishment for the damage caused by the runaway toy. We stood silently as the boomerang headed toward a semi but drifted over it, crossed the road and somehow kept rising, eventually going over a house and its upstairs windows and settling in the same alley that went past our home. I’ve never thrown a boomerang since, terrified by their power, amazed at the engineering.
The basketball court used to be a bit higher than 10 feet. A star player from town six years older than me always said he would never shoot there because it would throw off his shot, but I guess the thousands of shots I took on it proved more worthwhile than whatever negative effect came with the hoop being a few inches off. A bigger danger lurked below, with a piece of concrete that jutted out. Sprained ankles were always possible but having the ball ricochet off it was even worse as the ball exploded out at…balls level. There was just one hoop, no full-court games, and any free throw or 3-point lines had to be marked with imagination or a rock. Games of 2-on-2 were ideal, anymore and the space became too cramped. One-on-one games thrived, or I just spent hours there alone.
The park is also home to the famed time capsule that will reveal the secret behind the Doll in the Window, though anyone reading this will be dead when that information comes out. But attendees might be able to use the bathroom during the ceremony.
Whenever I left the park I’d usually walk up the steps instead of running up one of the short hills. I’d come home to eat dinner, take a short break and use the bathroom. An hour later I’d be crossing the highway again on my return. The park had everything , even if — as those who love the park and are still trying to improve it realize — it actually didn’t.