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That leader instinct

Everyone in town calls our district the "core area." Until two years ago we were quietly busy picking old candy wrappers off the sidewalks, reporting broken streetlights, and minding our own business.

Then the corner house, a big gray stucco, was sold to a young family. OK, I thought, just another bunch of kids to be absorbed by the street gang and to yell at when they tormented the dog. The fact that the house was only two doors from my home worried me.

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This part of the block used to have only adults. The families with kids lived at the other end. Our main connection with these children was when they trooped past to the variety store or sauntered by on their way to school. Destruction and chaos seemed to settle behind them.

However, the gray house didn't have just four more youngsters. Within the week the gang was revamped with three new members and a new leader. Every night this small, scrawny guy had them doing wheelies up and down the road behind him. Every weekend his hoarse, foggy voice roared directions in their games. Suddenly, without benefit of a licensed supervisor, the whole street was an organized playground.

The neighborhood fact finder across the road was scared. More of her flowers were going to be ruined, she stated. I made sure my car in the driveway was locked.

There's a big schoolyard a block away. Why didn't the children use it? Or even the new playground the resource people had opened up? Although only one streetlight was broken, and our newly seeded grass wasn't trampled on, I sat back and waited for things to happen. I mean -- kids are kids, especially around here.

My cautious attitude of noninvolvement was quickly shattered. To my surprise it was a pleasant shock. Foghorn didn't tease our dog. He stood a few cautious yards away and talked of his own moppy cock-a-poo, his eyes big and happy behind his plasticrimmed glasses.

Soon he was knocking on our door at least once a month selling tickets. Everything from minor hockey draws to the church raffles was offered. Sometimes a younger boy was peeking around his shoulder, unable to sell his own tickets, but willing to part with a few pennies to get rid of them.

That winter we had the Big Storm. We eventually got used to regular requests for our snow, and huge snowballs were rolled to the corner house. The youngsters built a snow fort and used it as a clubhouse until the end of April. After a winter thaw Foghorn would send seven or eight kids to ask for our large icicles.

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That's what finally got me, I think. Here was this super little wheeler -- dealer shaping up the best gang in the East End and doing it politely.

I realized why he was such a good leader without being a troublemaker. It was sheer persistence, plus his assumption that the whole world enjoyed being as involved as he.

A year ago he kept pestering me about the wild pigeons that visited my bird feeder. They were his "pets." Last spring he brought around a pair of doves in a cage that had been given to him. Would I keep his pets for him? His mother wouldn't have them in the house. Regretfully, because of my cat, I had to say no, so someone else is looking after them now. Lately he has managed to get some tame pigeons he can keep in the garage. All summer the children have been busy chasing these birds from roof to roof.

The library -- resource center had been slowly infiltrating the area with its programs, but people were slow in showing interest. Foghorn's arrival speeded things up. He told the elderly widow across the street that the seniors' center had sold some terrific plants to his mother. She joined the center and soon expanded from plants to trips and cards. It wasn's long before two other ladies joined her. Their absences have not hurt their properties at all. The young flower pickers have been too busy with street hockey to bother about gardens or salvia borders.

I wonder what's going to happen when Foghorn grows into girls and cars. The only sure thing about it is that the whole street will be involved.

It is surprising what two years will do to an area. Even if the family on the corner moves away next week, the neighborhood will never be the same. Sure , there's an occasional incident, when the whole crowd roars down the street, forgetting that laws aren't sidewalks. But the old feeling just isn't evident. Everyone isn't waiting for something bad to happen. Kids aren't so automatically belligerent, and adults don't seem as hostile or defensive

If anyone ever told Foghorn that he has had a profound sociological impact on his environment, he'd likely just say to give it to somebody else, and race up the road to organize a bottle pickup c rew.

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