Thursday, February 22, 2007

Recess; September 1958

Here we are in the schoolyard of Wenonah Elementary School. Twenty or so spindly kids with our nice clothes on. Girls with peter pan collars and dresses just below the knees. Boys with plaid shirts and khakis, all of us wearing one style Buster Brown's or another, all bought at Ernie's Shoe Post. Standing in line in order of height on the edge of the yard. The schoolyard was yellow gravel with a raised and asphalted section at one end. On the asphalted section there were two basketball hoops, a tennis net and a swing set. Monkeybars too.
We were ready for our first recess. All but one of us is white. The lone black kid, a girl, Michelle Smith, stands out even more as she's the tallest.
Wenonah school is a mish-mosh of three buildings; on each end are the older school buildings dating to the1880's and in the middle is a one story fifties set of classrooms.
Most of us have never met until today. Now we'll spend six years together.
We have recess twice a day. Once in the morning and once in the afternoon. In first grade recess is fairly simple. We play Dodge Ball or we play Kick Ball. No football, basketball, baseball, or track. Both sports are horror shows for kids. They're all about hierarchy and torture and pain. Plus they're good exercise. For someone. Not for me. We pick sides for our games. The boys and girls play separately. Good plan. We're picked by children the teacher names as captain. The captain picks kids who can do well. He picks children based on their physical abilities. While all of us have some limitations a few of us are severely limited. The worst is Tommy Woods. He must have been borderline retarded. One day he got his leg caught in the bars of his chair. His agility rivaled a milk carton. Then there were the one or two fat kids. Then the skinny and half blind. I was skinny, inept, and full of drive. i always got picked close to last.
That didn't mean I wasn't popular on the field. Dodgeball involves hurling a rubber ball as hard as possible at several chowderheads lined up against a chainlink fence. Like an execution but you never die. Kids seemed to like throwing the ball at me, the ball seemed to like hitting me and so Dodgeball became one of the joys of my youth. That and vomiting.
Kick Ball wasn't quite as bad. I just got picked next to last and fucked up repeatedly on the field and then was reminded over and over again by my peers what an idiot I was. Nice.
After recess and our hour of fun we went inside to study. Outside recess took place everyday unless it rained. It never rained often enough. Our studies started simple. The ABC's. Sentences. Then "Fun With Dick and Jane". Oh Spot! Oh Jane! Oh Mother! Oh Father! Oh great stories spun out each day the winter of 1959. The world began to open. Then each day, twice a day, it would close again in an onslaught of brown rubber balls.
I walked to school each morning after that first morning and returned each afternoon with my friends, Terry and Dottie. Over time they found a way to expand the joys of Dodgeball to walking home. They called it Rough Tough Creampuff. Guess who was it?
Next post...what to do with your weekends when you're six.

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