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Jump to Harry "Bump" Shelton's profile
Mirror of my mind
Reflections on Central Gardens circa 1972

by Harry "Bump" Shelton, class of 1973
August 11, 2006

Growing up in Richmond, Virginia, Central Gardens was a pivotal part of my youth. Some thirty years later, I make my home in southern California, but memories of my childhood still flood my mind. I can visualize those days as if they were yesterday.

The corner of Holly Drive and Cleary Road—the intersection across the street from the playground—is clearly the hub of activity in this community. The older guys, those in their late teens, sing and harmonize like a doo-wop group from the late fifties or early sixties. Children of all ages marvel at the soulful sounds radiating from their vocal cords, wishing their voices were mature enough to join in. The younger teens, including me, practice stand-up comedy. We engage in adolescent routines comprised of storytelling and teasing rituals, and ultimately establish an unofficial hierarchy of comedians, dubbing the top three The Jokesters. You never challenge any of the top three, or you can count on being “food” for their comedy material. Some guys do it anyway, but only after practicing at home, or with younger, more vulnerable kids.

Adolescents are normally quite cruel to one other, and we are no exception. All of the children in the neighborhood are given nicknames, usually derived from animals we see on TV’s “Wild Kingdom” program. If you are fast, you may be dubbed James “Cheetah” Irving. Some kids are given labels corresponding to names of famous entertainers, either because they look like them, or because they have similar talents. One such example is an individual named Big John, who not only looks like the sexy talented Teddy Pendergrass of our time, but also has the his vocal range. If you are fortunate to be one of the latter kids, others beg and plead for you to sing and entertain them. This usually results in a large crowd, standing around enjoying the moment. Girls and boys do the same things, but separately—usually across the street from one another.

Every evening is centered on basketball. Guys from other neighborhoods come to the Gardens and challenge us to play. Whatever is happening up to this point abruptly ceases. The basketball court takes precedence over all else. This is where many of my friends and I hone our skills that will eventually bring Highland Springs High School three straight Colonial District Championships.

As an adult, I often revisit that corner of Holly Drive and Clearly Road, both physically during summer vacation trips, and in my mind. Either way, I lift my head and focus on a specific place. As I close my eyes, the memories rush in quickly, flashing images and faces of the people I once knew. These are accompanied by the rich harmonizing melodies of soul music, the high staccato sounds of a well-worn basketball being dribbled across the asphalt, and the quick cruel wit of The Jokesters. All these memories compete in my mind, each one determined to be remembered and cherished.

Most days, when I remember, I play with the sounds and images as a juggler might, lithely tossing one aside in favor of another. After a time, my gaze shifts. I awaken. I wipe my brow clear from beads of sweat, smile at the incessant beckoning of days gone by, and take pen to paper to capture the life of those sweet days.


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