When I was young, Newark was full of frogs. Toads, really, but we called them frogs, and I’m not going to rename them now just because I know better. They were frogs then, so as far I’m concerned, they are frogs now.
It was easy to find a frog if you wanted to find one, and, being boys, my friends and I always wanted to find them. In the brick wall around my front yard, there was a gap for water to drain out after a rain. There was always a frog in there. At my school, Ruschin Elementary, there were similar drains in the cement wall around the playground. Again, you were guaranteed to find a frog in there.
There were frogs everywhere. You couldn’t walk down a sidewalk or street without finding flattened frogs. If it was a fresh kill, you left it alone because it was kind of gross. But if it had been there long enough to dry up, which only took a day or two, it was irresistible. We'd scrape it up and fling it at a friend, or a girl, or any other suitable target. They didn’t fly as well when they were still squishy, but when they were dry and hard, look out. Somewhere in suburban California, I’m sure, a kid lost an eye because of a well-aimed frog frisbee.
Every once in a while, some lucky guy would hit the jackpot and find a gigantic frog, sometimes six or eight inches long or more, not counting the long legs. I only saw two or three of those, and never actually caught one myself, but those giant frogs were better than a treasure chest, and the guys who were lucky enough to catch one were the envy of the entire neighborhood.
During the rainy season, Newark had some huge mud puddles. The puddles were never very deep, no more than a couple inches, but they could be wide. When the puddles were full, they were as big a temptation for a kid on a bike as the nickle-a-scoop ice cream at Thrifty’s drug store was on a summer day. You’d start back as far as you could, then build up speed and fly through the puddle, spraying water a couple feet in the air. Some of the bigger puddles were hard to get through after a good rain.
The puddles were good for more than soaking yourself as you rode through them. If they stayed full for more than a couple days--and some held water for weeks--they would teem with polliwogs.
Polliwogs made great school projects. They also made interesting pets. I was a preteen scientist with my own microscope and chemistry set, and was fascinated by all things scientific. Watching the transformation from polliwog to frog was even better than a good book, and that’s saying something.
Mom would help us catch a few polliwogs and help to set up a little tank for them. Eventually, we’d have a couple more little frogs to put out in the garden. I’m surprised we ever had any bugs. Whenever mom watered the garden, we could go out and find toads in the pools of water. Usually, we could also find one under the zucchini leaves or hiding in the shade under the tomatoes.
One time, things got a little out of hand.
I found a ton of polliwogs somewhere, probably either at The Lake or in that big puddle on Jarvis, near Lake Blvd. I caught as many as I could, a couple dozen or more, in one of mom’s fruit jars, then I dumped them in my aquarium and dutifully put the screen over the top because I knew what could happen if the little frogs found an opening. Before long, I had a bunch of little frogs with tails, then frogs with nubs. This is about the time when the frogs were able to climb the glass.
Inevitably, the screen was loose or something one day, and the wee beasties found a way out. I didn’t notice the problem with the screen at first. What I noticed was a pair of baby frogs climbing a wall. Then the cat was interested in something under a chair. Next thing I knew, a herd of frogs was migrating across the living room.
The hunt was on. Mom and Kevin and I combed the house looking for frogs. We found as many as we could and took them out to the garden. For several days, we’d be watching TV or reading the paper or playing on the floor and a frog would hop through the room. After while we stopped seeing them. But for months afterward, anytime we’d move a chair or couch, we’d find tiny dessicated frogs.
When I go back to Newark, I don’t see flattened frogs anymore. I guess the frog population dropped as the human population rose. There aren’t as many mud puddles these days, and there are more cats and dogs, and as the fields around town filled with houses and businesses, the raccoons moved into the neighborhoods. But I’m sure that somewhere in town, little descendants of my frogs are still hopping around.
At least, I like to think they are.
Scott Rhoades is a regular contributor to this blog. He has been a technical writer and editor since 1988, when he worked for Atari. He currently works for Adobe. He has been published in The Writer magazine and various Web markets, and has had a poem featured at the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame library. He lives in Orem with one wife, two to six children, two (and soon three) grandchildren, four cats, one dog, one serious baseball addiction and, sadly, no frogs. He is currently working on a third unpublished novel.