|Bogeyman in the outfield
It was a tool shed. Nothing more.
But in a childhood that ended 50 years ago, the wood, tin and tarpaper shanty was something far more sinister. It was the home of the bogeyman.
We called it Cy-Yi’s Shack. The spelling of Cy-Yi (pronounce it Sigh-Yigh) is my own. I never saw it in print. Whether Cy-Yi was a man’s nickname or the invention of one of the older kids, I don’t know. I never figured out the name. Perhaps it was Cy Eye, which makes no sense to me, but then I was a child with little curiosity – I seldom bugged my parents with a "Why? inquisition – and so I pretty much lived by the "It is what it is" philosophy so popular at the time.
What I did know about Ci-Yi was fear. I pictured him a growling, troll-like creature who attacked children and imprisoned them in his shack, letting them only when he forced them to weed his garden or harvest his crop.
That shack was near the base of a hill behind houses on the north side of Russet Lane, a one-block dead-end street in Solvay, NY, where I grew up. The hill was owned by Solvay Process Company, a chemical plant that was the village’s economic heart. The hill stood between our street and a Solvay Process factory that belched smoke and threw soot everywhere. The factory complex went on forever, filling much of the view from the top of the hill. Beyond, to the east, you could see buildings in downtown Syracuse, about 5 miles away.
Most of Russet Lane’s men – and several of the women – worked at Solvay Process. During World War II families planted Victory Gardens on the hill. The largest garden, and one that continued long after the war, was said to belong to Cy-Yi.
THREE HOUSES up the street from us lived the Mathews family. Their lot was much deeper than any other on our side of the street. A stiff wire fence enclosed the back of their property, which included a 75-by-75 foot field behind their garage. Beyond the fence, maybe 100 feet to the north, was . . . Ci-Yi’s Shack.
For years that back section of the Mathews lot went unused. Then, in the mid-1940s, Dan “Red” Mathews, his younger brother Jimmy and several other kids turned it into a miniature softball field where you could play with just three or four players per team. First base touched the right field fence, second base was inches from the center field fence. It was so easy to hit a ball out of the park that a fair ball over the fence was ruled an out. The only way to get a home run was to hit a ground ball through the hole in the fence left of second base. Chances are you'd clear the bases before the ball was found.
To further discourage fly balls, hitters had to retrieve anything they hit over the fence – fair or foul. However, when a ball landed near Cy-Yi’s Shack, there was a group search. Safety in numbers.
YEARS PASSED. The shack remained, but the garden disappeared under a tangle of weeds and wildflowers. Surely the shack had been abandoned. Perhaps it was time to claim the shack as our own.
Wait, cautioned one of the older boys. “What if Cy-Yi is dead and his body is rotting inside the shack?”
Finally, Jimmy Mathews did what until then was unthinkable. He went to the shack and forced the door open. There was no body inside, only a few tools, old and rusting. One by one the rest of us went forward and took a peek.
Our parents would tell us that Cy-Yi had lived a few streets away, but that he'd never return. We listened, but resisted the inevitable. Yes, we feared him, but we mourned his passing. Bogeymen are supposed to live forever.