When I was a kid my mother, sister and I used to frequently visit my aunt who lived out in the country in the southeastern part of Ohio. She had four kids. Nick was the oldest followed by Larry, Mary Liz and Bernard. My older sister Teresa and Mary Liz were close to the same age and so were Bernard and I. My sister Karen was the youngest.
When you get that many kids together it's inevitable that they will want to play games and were no different than most. For a time it was friendly games like hide and go seek. After we grew out of that the game we wanted to play the most was called Hotbelt. I have no idea where the idea for this game came from or why we wanted to play it as badly as we did. I mean we would literally beg our parents to let us play and even though they didn't think it was a good idea eventually they would give in against their better wishes.
So just what does a session of Hotbelt consist of you may well ask yourself? There was a very large tree in the front yard that was the "base." As long as you were touching it you were safe. A belt was hidden in somewhere in the area, it could be behind the house, to the side of it but never too far off. The idea was that you could either look for it or find a place to hide. Once it was found you would have to make your way to the base. Sounds pretty simple right? Except of course that's not everything, there's one more piece of the puzzle left to talk about.
The person who found the belt would then try and catch the rest of the kids as they (usually) would run to the base. As they chased them they would whip them in the buttocks area with the belt. Seriously. This is the game we would beg to play. I don't think I'll ever understand what was wrong with us mentally but we always wanted to play it no matter how afraid we were (and I was quite afraid) of being whipped. My skinny butt got whipped quite a few times. Maybe that was when I first got an inkling of the value of being quiet and sneaky.
After everybody had made it back to the base the "whipper" would then go hide the belt and we'd do it all over again. We would play this game for hours. For some reason Nick and Larry always seemed to be the ones who found the belt. In fact I can't remember a single time that I myself ever found it. There was a reason for that if you can see where this is heading. It wasn't until many years later and we were all older that I found out that Nick and Larry were cheating. They would tell each other where the belt was hidden with the understanding that neither one of them would use it on the other.
With hindsight in now seemed so clear. Perhaps we were blinded by the stupidity of youth. After all, it was simple to reason that they were older, bigger and faster than the rest of us. I myself was short and skinny, two things that you cannot say about me today. Why wouldn't they always win against the rest of us? I tend to chalk it up to being naive. At that age you don't realize that people cheat, they don't always tell the truth or try to follow the rules. Sometimes they'll do whatever it takes to win. Sometimes they'll do things just to be mean just because they can.
Personally I'm kind of glad that I was so clueless, that it took more time for me to learn those lessons, some of which in just a few short years were drilled into my head in a rather cruel manner. Then the reasons for that treatment would be for where I lived, my lack of stylish or cool clothes or how I looked. Kids can be quite cruel when given ample opportunities. I don't think my cousins put a lot of thought into what they were doing, it was probably just funny to them and they didn't mean any serious harm.
No, I am glad I was able to hang on to my naivete,, to stay innocent and stave of the realities of the world just a little bit longer. The harsh knowledge of real life would come knocking altogether too soon. That's just the way it was and honestly it's part of what made me who I am today. Not every memory or story can have a happy ending after all and we aren't owed anything. It's what we do with it and what we learn that ends up being most important. Life is life.
Written and Published by Don Leach.
May not be used without permission from the author.