Third grade began with a momentous Christmas. First, I caught my parents assembling bicycles for Mick and I. Then I told Mick and destroyed his faith in Santa. Actually he held on for about six hours until we came downstairs and found the gleaming new bikes. Then I got a bike! A beautiful red bike, a two wheeler, a giant red bike...so big I could barely get on it. Mick received a smaller black bike. We were both really excited but it was too cold that Christmas to do more than look at them. What a curse. Then there were little men. Army men. Plastic figurines of WW II soldiers and Civil War soldiers. Mick was entranced by the Civil War and both of us were fascinated by WWII. These were the years of war movies and heroism, japs and jerries getting blown to bits by brave GI's.
We set up our men throughout our room or the second living room or outside in the digging yard and made gun noises. I can still do a creditable machine gun. Later in life we bought Airfix HO scale soldiers from nearly every army in the world. Suaves and grenadiers and doughboys marched everywhere in the Wiler home. They were melted and torn apart and lost forever down sewers and drains and in holes. My mother and father unearthed them for years in the vegetable garden they planted in the digging yard once we'd moved out.
The figures frozen forever tossing grenades or half crouched firing tommy guns. Officers urging the GI's to greater glory, pillboxes to hide and fire machine guns. Planes and rafts and cannons and mortars and barbed wire all to serve our brave soldiers as they moved across the roots of a great black maple or tunneled deep in the digging yard.
The Airfix men became part of great tableaus we created in a box that had once been a baseball game. It had sides about two inches high and was roughly 3' by 6' and we'd fill it with dirt and rocks and create vast battlefields. We strung model planes on thread from the basement ceiling and lit them afire to have molten plastic land on our hapless heroes. All to the chatter of guns and the shrieks of children playing at war.
We played at war constantly. We invented our own game for the summers, based loosely on Kick the Can or Capture the Flag, which we called "The Gun Game". One person was it and had a gun. The others scattered in hiding to evade capture. The person who was it simply had to see you and call out your name and rough location. "Mick, behind the bush" or "Jack, in the tree" or "Chris, in the sewer" and you had to go back to the base. All the captured or basically living dead players could be freed by one person running in while the person who was it was away and touching the base. No warning or siren gave notice this was happening. This meant it could be a long night for the person who was it. Sam Stewart was our prize chump. He must have spent thousands of hours patrolling my yard looking for us in the garage or in the crawl space or up a tree or just beyond the porch. The borders could be expanded to include the McQuades yard but that was it. Even with just two yards it was tough to win. Almost like being on patrol in the Nam or walking a line in Korea. Except people laughed at you instead of trying to kill you.