Elementary school is hard to recall in detail for most…particularly as age makes it farther away. For some reason my elementary school memories are more vivid than Jr. High ( people tend to block out Jr. High years). I remember my teachers from 1st to 5th grade (Jr. High was grades 6-8 in my time) and I remember the classrooms themselves. You stayed in one classroom from the start of school to the end. My school was close to home so I either walked or rode a bike as was common in those days. I remember kids throwing up in class because at that age you just threw-up…no warning signal, just a sudden barf that gave the rest of us time to leave the classroom while the janitor cleaned up. I also remember my pretty 4th grade teacher, lice break-outs, and running for class office. My slogan was ” Take the right step with Kinney ” as Kinney Shoes was a major shoe outlet in the 60’s. I vividly remember the Fire Dept. having to come to school as a boy got his wanger caught in his metal zipper. That was a scary day as the kid went ballistic in his screaming and teachers ran out to see what was wrong, we were all scared. What I do remember with great fondness was how I anticipated the words, TIME FOR RECESS. Time to immediately stand up, get out the door and onto the playground. The playground was basically a big dirt area with some asphalt but it had all we needed. There was a kickball area, a tetherball pole, 4-square court, swings, and my personal favorite, the handball courts. The handball courts were two big green walls standing in open space with one white stripe on them and you could play on either side giving you a total of four courts. The playing surface was done in asphalt and each court was unofficially designated by grade…5th graders had the best court, followed by each successive grade. The ball was a big round red ball, the same as used in kickball and 4-square, but here it was a handball. The object was to hit the ball to the green wall on one bounce, then hit it again after one bounce coming off the wall until someone faulted and went back to the end of the line. The winner would continue serving until he also got beat. Some of the handball studs could hold the serve for a whole recess. The premier shot was the slice, where you would hit the ball so hard and low it was impossible to return, often leaving your knuckles scraped and bleeding from the asphalt. But this was good, it showed that you could slice and were an experienced handball player. I loved handball…life was good.
My next favorite game was kickball, but it also took the most organization. It usually took a teacher to get it going. First was the choosing of sides with two team captains. This was a very traumatic time finding out when you would be picked and I honestly felt bad for the last kid chosen…that is tough on the ego, standing alone only to hear the captain sigh and say “OK, I’ll take Winthorp”. You knew he was playing the deep outfield. The part that cracks me up to this day is that you could either throw to the base to force a kid out or throw the ball directly at the kid at any point in the baseline to get him out too. Kids would take shots to the head, have their legs knocked out from under them, see you coming and try to fake you out because if you missed, the ball would keep rolling while the runner kept running the bases. It was one of the few activities both girls and boys would play together. If you kicked it far enough into the lunch area, it was a Home Run. That was very impressive. Scores were usually like 34-27, depending on how many innings you got in before the whistle. Yes the whistle meant two things, 1) one whistle meant to immediately freeze wherever you were or 2) double whistle meant recess was over…Major bummer.
Tetherball was a game I hated. The tough of the tough ruled here. That deflated ball and rope could do serious damage to your wrist and hand particularly on cold mornings. Seeing the ball sail over your head until there was no more rope left was tough to watch. Some of the kids loved this game, but I wasn’t one of them. I would play occassionally so I didn’t appear to be a pussy, but my best tetherball move was to stay away from that dreaded pole so I didn’t have the chance to hear my name called…you couldn’t say no. Four square was fun for about 4-minutes. It was just too easy to get people out, especially if you teamed up with a friend who would set you up to smash one in the opponents box and bounce about 20-feet away so it could never be returned. Besides losing your turn, the loser also had to go get the ball. The swings went basically empty as they were looked on as baby play. Occassionally you would get some kid swinging as high as possible then launching himself off at the peak and sailing through the air. It looked cool to watch but inevitably the whistle would blow before he hit the ground…NO JUMPING OFF THE SWINGS. I learned that I enjoyed games where a ball was included, particularly the classic red kickball. Our school must have had a surplus of them because I never remember running out. Later in life when I would try to buy a similar one but they would pop within days. Many of the girls loved jump-roping. While I wouldn’t be caught dead doing it, I did enjoy seeing their ability to jump so well while running in and out with the rope still going and the chorus of voices reciting a clever play song. My saddest memory of recess was the school yard bully. Yes, bullies were very much present in the 60’s and went unchecked because no one had thought of anti-bullying then. Poor Winthorp would have his face turned blood red from a shot to the face at point blank range in kickball and some kids would stay in the protection of the lunch area and never come out. I was never a bully, but I also never stopped them or spoke up either. I think elementary kids are most concerned about their own survival on the playground. After graduation to Jr. High it was no longer called recess, but breaks, and it wasn’t cool to play handball or kickball, they didn’t even have courts. Puff was gone.