When the summer got warm, the kids would all drag out their bicycles and pedal up and down the block. The younger kids in my family were allowed to bike “between Perl and Itzkowitz,” each a few houses down from us. The older kids (determined most often by the lack of training wheels on their bikes) were allowed to go all the way to the end of the block in both directions.
At one end of the block was a grocery store, owned and operated by one of our neighbors. The kids would all stop there for a 10-cent freeze-pop when the summer got really hot. On the other end was a public school with grades from pre-school through sixth grade.
The public school was the kind of space that elicited curiosity from us kids. We were never allowed inside, of course, because we didn’t attend the school, though we did often use the playground when it was open after school hours and on weekends. Oddly enough, one of the favorite shabbos haunts for young mothers and their babies has become the public school’s playground.
One early summer evening, as we biked back and forth, we heard interesting sounds coming from the public school auditorium. A few brave and brash boys tried to sneak into the open doors, but a few adults halted their progress and turned them out.
They organized themselves – two boys held tight to a bike to steady it, while one boy clambered up to stand on the bike seat and peer into the window.
“A play!” he reported to the others on the ground. “Ich mein az es iz a play!”
More groups steadied and clambered and we took turns craning our necks, unsure where the stage was and what we were looking at. One of the more worldly kids of the block identified the music as The Wizard of Oz, and those of us who knew the story pretended we knew which part they were up to.
We couldn’t actually see anything, of course. We could see flashing lights and we could hear muffled loud music and singing.
One bar mitzva boy scoffed at the boys standing and listening to frauen singing, and took off. The rest of us ignored him.
After a while, one of the adults at the auditorium door noticed what we were doing and came out to shoo us away – we hadn’t paid for tickets, after all, so we shouldn’t be watching the play, as muffled and obscured as it was to us.
In hindsight, I wish some kind-hearted teacher or adult had allowed us to sneak in to the back of the auditorium and watch, even for just a few moments. None of us had ever seen a live musical that wasn’t a Bais Yaakov play or Purim shpiel, and we were obviously fascinated and entranced.
But still, the memory of standing on our bicycle seats and craning our necks to peer in while the sun set and it got dark around us – it’s one I cherish.