“Stoepranden” – a ball, a curb, and a neighbor
Living in an urban area in the Netherlands, our home was fairly small and we spent much of our time outdoors. There was a large church across the street where we played four-square on its driveway. It had a large field perfect for frisbee and kites. There was even a “forest” in the back: a patch of maybe 20 large sweet chestnut trees. The neighborhood next to ours was designed to reduce car traffic and so was perfect for roller-skating. There were some neighbors who got beautifully upset when we played “ding dong ditch.” All in all, a perfect place to grow up.
One of our favorite games was “stoepranden,” which a quick google search reveals is similar to “curb ball” in the US. Though said search pinpoints it as having originated in Rochester, NY in the early 1980s. Wikipedia (the Dutch version) talks about it having been played since the 50s. Either way, it’s a fantastic game to play on narrow city streets. Two players each stand on the curb, across the street from the other. One player tries to bounce a ball off the other player’s curb, then runs into the street to catch it. If that happens, you may try again. The goal is to get across to the other person’s curb. If you miss the ball then your opponent makes a dash for it and tries to throw it at you, like in dodgeball. If that happens your turn is over and they get to start at wherever they were when they threw the ball at you.
Several elements combine to make the ideal “stoepranden” spot: a section with no parked cars, not too much traffic, and most importantly, two sidewalks that are about the same height. Good spots are rare. The best spot of all time was down the street and around the corner. My mom could see one player from the front window, and the couple who ran the laundromat also kept an eye on us, I’m sure. Next to the laundromat lived an elderly lady whose name I have never known. We’ll call her Mrs. S. The perfect, and always-available “stoepranden” spot was right where her house abutted the laundromat. So all summer long, at all hours of the day, kids tried to play on this little stretch of perfection, maybe 3 feet wide, where the curbs were both in perfect condition and completely equal, making the game absolutely fair. Mrs. S hated “stoepranden.” She was usually home to come shoo us away. Needless to say, she wasn’t our favorite person. On the other hand, it added an extra dimension of excitement to place bets on how long we could go before being sent on our way.
Once, my younger sister and I were playing. Mrs. S came out, fire blazing in her eyes and steam coming from her ears. “Scram!” My sister ran, but not me. Today, I was mad! Who was this old lady to keep me from enjoying my game on the perfect little spot to beat my sister without having to hear about “it wasn’t fair, your curb was higher!” So I stood there. “Good morning to you too, Mrs. S.” “Get out of here or I will talk with your mother!” I noticed my mother was coming out our front door with her shopping bags, presumably about to run to the store. “Ok then,” I said, “she’s right over there.” I quickly introduced my mom and made myself scarce, but not so scarce that I couldn’t spy on them.
And guess what my mother did? She served her coffee. With a cookie. Using the good china!!
When Mrs. S left my house she patted my sister and me each on the head. “You’re good girls.” My mother patiently explained to us girls that Mrs. S has a bit of a tic and the sound of our game really sent her over the edge. If we could kindly not play in front of her house anymore that that would certainly be appreciated. Off we went, with our ball, looking for a new, perfect spot.
It’s a little late, but Mrs. S, wherever you are, I’m sorry we bothered you.