When I was in the first grade my family lived in a farmhouse in the hilly southwest corner of New Hampshire.
Everything was old. To get to our road from the country highway, you had to cross an old, red, wooden covered bridge. We had an old chicken coop my friends and I used as a clubhouse. Across the road was an old cemetery with old headstones, guarded by an old stonewall with an old wrought-iron gate.
At first I was afraid to pass through that gate, less because of ghosts and more because, well, it was a gate. I was 8 years old, and I knew a gate meant that some people were allowed inside and some werent. You had to have a reason to be there, like a funeral or visiting a dead parent or placing flowers on a grave or mowing the grass.
But our farmhouse was a two-family, and my best friends in the whole world, Duston and Cally, lived in the other side. Their parents owned the house, and they had lived there longer, and they said we could play in the graveyard. I took a little convincing, but I came to see that no one else paid any attention to that cemetery, there were no other houses around and our parents were the only ones who would ever notice we were there.
That cemetery holds my most vivid childhood memories of tag, hide-and-seek and even eeny-meeny-miny-mo to decide who was it.
In Cartoon Tag where you had to pose as a TV character to avoid getting tagged, I froze as Scooby-Doo over someones grave. The tombstones were perfect if you wanted to skitter from hideout to hideout while it was looking the other way.
The games would last forever. Im not sure how we would have spelled the word, if youd asked, but ghouls was the word we gave a tree that served as a safe zone in case it was after you.
Ive got ghouls! meant you couldnt tag me. At the time, I dont think we knew that word also meant ghosts. We would have thought that was funny.
For one formative year of my life, that cemetery was my playground. It was an ancient, sacred place, with its worn stone grave markers, giant hardwood shade trees and that granite wall keeping the spirits in.
Its hard not to think of that now, when I jog three blocks from my house to run the gravel trail around Duke Universitys East Campus, central Durhams own sanctuary of antique buildings, giant trees and expansive lawns.
Ive never seen anybody playing tag, but they do play volleyball or disc golf. They walk their dogs or let them run free and teach their kids to ride bikes or picnic in the grass.
When it snowed a couple of years ago, East Campus was where I found a little hill to take my girls sledding. If you live in the surrounding neighborhoods, you probably think of East Campus as your public park.
But its not quite that simple, is it? Just like at my cemetery back in New Hampshire, that gray stone wall suggests some people are allowed on campus and some people arent.
There is a mythic joke that when it was built back in 1916, Dukes trustees wanted a 10-foot wall, and namesake benefactor James B. Duke compromised with seven feet of stone underground and three feet on top.
Sometimes if Im jogging and too lazy to run to the next exit, I can hop over that wall and be on my way home. With more than a dozen openings around the wall, it has always offered more symbolism than security: This is where Duke ends and Durham begins and vice versa. The boundary is permeable but a boundary still.
They say good fences make good neighbors, and that seems to hold true in this case. The university gains no particular benefit from inviting the community to use East Campus, other than good will.
In fact, one neighbor I met there recently thought the privilege might go away with the Duke lacrosse scandal, when too many people jumped to too many conclusions and brought the university under a level of shame it didnt quite deserve.
It didnt shock many people when the allegations came out, confessed Mark Montgomery, a criminal appeals lawyer about my fathers age who was walking the trail at mid-day on a Thursday.
Montgomery has lived in Trinity Park for 15 years, and neighbors had long been complaining about Animal-House behavior by off-campus students like the lacrosse team.
It highlighted the tension, he said. [Losing access] was one of the things we were afraid of, [but now] everybodys pretty much beyond it.
Not only that, but Duke opened two new gaps in the wall along Main Street this summer, one at the corner of Broad near Whole Foods and one at the Brightleaf end just a few blocks from where the lacrosse house has been razed.
That makes the boundary between Duke and Durham even more permeable. It might even send a message to a kid that its OK to come inside and play tag.