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Saturday, January 16, 2016


We used to put our arms out and spin.  We'd get so dizzy we'd fall down and couldn’t stand up again without wobbling and staggering, often running into our playmates and making them fall down too.  Or, sometimes they’d push us so we wobbled more.  We laughed a lot because it was all so silly.  We used to hold our breath and hope to faint too.  I’m not sure if we caused brain damage.

Most of my childhood lacked toys.  I know this sounds impossible for today’s young’uns, but we often just played with our bodies.  Tag, Crack the Whip, Mother May I?  It was kind of a big deal when we got a Frisbee or a Hula Hoop.  Now that I’m thinking about it, a lot of our play involved rotation.

I was expected to go outside to play, without bothering adults, but Grandpa had actual toys. There was a mechanical tin top, a cast iron truck that escaped WWII recycling, games, cards, wooden enigma puzzles… Grandpa liked playing all sorts of things, especially Jarts when they came out.  Flying, lethal weapons were great.  You just wouldn’t suspect it from him since he was so quiet, gentlemanly, and civilized.

I kind of wish I’d kept more of Grandpa’s toys, but there’s only so much stuff I really need to keep.  My plumbing disaster a few years ago went a long ways towards curing me of some of my hoarding tendencies.  There’s nothing like looking at blooming mold on something to break my sentimental attachments to it.  (You know when mold is “blooming” when it gets colorful and lethal.)

I talked of teeter totters a couple of weeks ago.  On the same school playground we also had a merry-go-round.  I loved it.  You push it in circles and then jump on to delight in the momentum.  If you have a group of kids, a designated kid(s) pushes while the others enjoy the ride.

Not my merry-go-round, but close enough
Sometimes I remember myself as a solitary kid.  I felt alone too often -- then I think of swings and teeter totters and merry-go-rounds and know that I played with the other kids often enough to have a world of happy memories.

Mom threatened to keep me home from school if I didn’t cooperate with her.  "NOoooooo!!!”  I’d eat lumpy oatmeal on my deathbed to "get to" go to school.  One time I had to walk, which was miles of pretty much vertical climbing since I lived in the deep river valley.  School was half over by the time I got there, but I still took my turn pushing the merry-go-round with my tired, rubbery legs even though I was criticized by my peers for a lackluster effort that day.

When I substitute taught, I was surprised to see that most kids don’t play on the playground.  They cluster in 2s or 3s and text.  They do that in gym too.  They don’t look happy, and I’m sure they’re missing important life lessons.  Our society says “safe” is more important than play, and I think that’s dead wrong.  Okay, maybe padding under the playground equipment is a good idea, or teeter totters that aren’t quite so high, but take away the cell phones and push kids into the cold to play.  Running will warm them up.

I can still hear the squeals of laughter at my school.  Nice children with active bodies and cooperatively competitive natures.  I wish that for today’s kids too.


  1. Nostalgia....right. Today's children are just unlucky even though they do not agree to it. Even, I never had any toys ( even a doll) when I was growing up. Those were good days.

    1. I had a hand-me-down teddy bear, but that's about it. I'm glad you found ways to play and have fun.

  2. I envy your very lucid memories of childhood, Linda! Maybe it comes from living in the same area your whole life? We moved thirteen (!) times before I hit tenth grade, and much of my childhood is a blur. But I do remember playgrounds! Really high see-saws, iron-chained very tall swings with rubber-tire seats that one could fly out of at the highest point of the arc (read: skinned knees and gravel scars), and merry-go-rounds just like that one in your picture. Also monkey bars, tall slides, hopscotch games painted on the cement, and the sound of recess bells. And fire drills too. Fond memories...but still always the New Kid, with all that moving from state to state. No regrets: I am an Expert now at packing up belongings and making a house (anywhere) a home! Thanks for the trip down Memory Lane, Linda. :-)

    1. Dang, that link I used above didn't work right. Here's another:

    2. Ah, hopscotch! Another favorite. Maybe you're right, staying in one place may have made it easier for me to remember things? The school is gone now, but I used to be able to go back and take a few turns on the merry-go-round even as an adult with nostalgia. For what it's worth, I always enjoyed it when we got a new kid. It helped break up the monotony. Thanks for the comment Susan. Now you've got me on another string of happy associations and memories :)

  3. I was on a playground with my kids a few years ago when we were visiting someone in the suburbs. A couple of little boys (eight or nine years old was my guess) came through talking to each other. One said, "I don't play. I hang out." He wasn't joking. I laughed inside, but it was tragicomedy, for sure. Or just tragedy. Kids hanging out and texting at recess--what a sad sight. I must admit, I was such a bookworm I occasionally took a really gripping book to recess, but mostly I remember merry-go-rounds, maypoles that could smash your fingers if you didn't watch out, long chained swings that could go really high, nice tall jungle gyms with fireman poles to slide down or climb up. I think it's dangerous for kids to be so protected from the thrills of height and speed that they generate with their own bodies and a certain amount of danger in their play. It makes at least some of them more likely to do really dangerous stuff. That's my theory, anyway. I was always proud of my play induced bumps, scratches, bruises and callouses. Thanks for evoking memories!

    1. I was proud of my injuries too. I was glad when I was daring. I'm so glad we got a chance to stretch our wings on the playground!