Houston, TX 77075
January 2004–In a small suburb in Southeast Houston there is a pleasant little park called Beverly Hills Park. I began playing soccer there when I was ten and I fell in love with it. I remember every Tuesday and Thursday nights, the park was full of soccer players of all ages. On the weekends, parents would fill the sidelines, screaming their heads off and praying on the inside that their kid would not be the one that missed the goal. I remember a mother at every game being kicked off the sidelines for yelling too much, promising that she would not do it again and then the very next Saturday returning with the same attitude.
Beverly Hills Park is very versatile, I can go there to relax or have fun. When I first exit my car, I can hear the sounds of birds chirping and dogs barking. In the distance, I hear another sound not so pleasant to the ear. On the old worn out basketball courts, vulgar words come streaming from the mouths players that lost shots or ones that fell. The courts are full of various races from blacks to whites to Asians and ages from ten to twenty-five to forty. The baskets are so old that most of them do not even have nets anymore and the ones that do are chains. As a child, I was scared to go near the basketball court, fearing the men that seemed so hateful, until one day a soccer ball from our field rolled onto the basketball court and it was my turn to fetch. So I gathered all the courage I could and walked myself to that court. As I was keeping my eyes on only the ball my worst nightmare came true. A man with arms bigger then my head picked up the ball and brought it to me. It took all the courage I had to stay and not run. The man walked over to me and handed me the ball with a smile. I walked away feeling happy and stupid at the same time, now knowing that my fears were just a figment of my imagination and stupid.
Inside the park’s recreational building next to the basketball courts there are various meeting rooms filled with karate or dance classes, or the usual sports club meetings. Inside the front door, there is an office where the building manager answers the phone or conducts business. I remember a woman that used to work in that office. She was short and plump with orange frizzy hair plus a bad manicure and had a five-year-old daughter that would watch cartoons in the hallway and eat popcorn. Every day that I had soccer practice, we would go into the building to fill our water jugs in the water fountain or get a coke from the vending machine and the woman would always sneak us candy or free sodas. I remember years later coaching her daughter and sneaking her the same kinds of things. The rooms in the building are actually all one room separated by a paper-thin partition. Most nights there was a karate class on one side and a meeting of a sports league on the other. I remember many meetings canceled because the karate kids were too loud. In the building, there is no air conditioning and a strong scent of sweat in the air. Many of the basketball players would go inside the building and use the phone or get some water. Outside the building, there is a beautiful mural that a neighborhood children’s art class drew. The mural was very colorful and was drawing of the diverse neighborhood.
Next to the old paint-chipped building and the concrete courts, is a peaceful play area where the neighborhood children come to swing or throw rocks while giggling and fighting. The gravel underneath is filled with plastic bottles and old t-shirts left by the sweaty basketball players. The swings are set in the middle of three rusty, dirt filled barbeque pits, and broken picnic tables where teenage girls would sit and gossip for hours. Occasionally there was a small family or birthday party. I remember an older man that would sit on a bench every day at seven o’clock. He was about sixty or so and had an old tired face and frizzy white hair. He would sit there every night and just stare into the distance. After about a year of wondering what he was doing, my friend and I decided to ask him why he did what he did. He answered by telling us that he and his wife of forty-five years used to come to the park and walk their dog until one day she died of a heart attack. He came to the park to relive every day that they went to the park.
Set next to them was a third of a mile long asphalt track where runners run their daily runs or the neighborhood kids zoom by on their bikes. The track took me around the entire park. On the inside of the track, there are about six soccer fields. On weeknights, the local Hispanic men come to play with many friends and the soccer club teams practice to make perfect. The sounds of whistles and yelling coaches or kids cheering echo through the air. On the weekends, those same kids play games during the season and the Vietnamese men play during off-season. As I keep walking, I pass the only covered bench, full of graffiti and is the popular make-out spot for young teens. The bench was placed under a tree that bloomed beautiful pink flowers that rained down like a scene out a movie in the spring. Next to the infamous bench is an old overused and neglected tennis court. The fence surrounding it is rusted and falling apart with a net so worn out that most of the balls that hit it just go right through. There are hardly ever any tennis players there, except for one teenage girl that would go there everyday and practice for three hours straight, never taking a break.
In the early summer weeknights, cheers can be heard from the baseball fields beside the court. As I walk by the field I constantly hear concession stand workers yelling out the prices of their last deal or the sound of port-a-potty doors closing as mothers rush back to watch their little boys hit a homerun. In the fall, I hear the grunts of little league football players on that same field and the cheers of the preteen cheerleaders learning new cheers for the next game.
As I keep walking on this track, I pass the backyards of various houses. Each house has a specific sound. One house may have a dog barking, a cat meowing, a kid crying, or even a rooster crowing. I remember this one house that every time I walked by a puppy would whimper, calling me over to pet it or rub its belly. Over the years, I got to know that dog and still to the day visit it when I take my daily walk.
As I end my first lap around the track, I pass an old pool where kids will ride a mile just to swim in and where high school teens get their first job lifeguarding or cleaning. I remember as a kid, always wanting to go there as we drove by but then having my dreams crushed when my parents or my grandmother told me that we were too small. Years later, I remember being yelled at for being late or missing practice because I was swimming in that same pool. In addition, kids I knew would swim there competitively.
As I walk a few steps, I am back where I started. Back to the beginning of a place where differences are blinded and for just a moment, people can feel like they belong. Back to a place where childhood memories were made or relived.