Finding success during recess, despite bullies, scraped knees
To this day, I can still hear the high-pitched squealing, the uncontrolled giggling and the wild shouts of glee that occurred three times a day in the hallways of Zazu Pitts Elementary School.
I don't mean to be critical. However, I still think the teachers should have restrained themselves from squealing, giggling and shouting for joy whenever the morning and afternoon recess bells sounded, and when the final bell signaled the end of yet another day.
Of course, we kids did make a fair amount of noise on all three of those bell-inspired celebrations.
The biggest celebration was reserved for the stampede that marked the final bell of the school day. It was especially sweet when Miss Frumpwaggle waited too long to give us our homework assignment before the 3 p.m. bell sounded.
My classmates and I were (usually) polite, but all bets were off when we heard the welcome ding-dong. Once or twice, Miss Frumpwaggle tried to yell out the assignments as we rushed into the cloak room and then out the classroom door.
However, after nearly getting trampled by several dozen pairs of tiny feet, she gave up trying. Miss Frumpwaggle would almost always hand out the homework assignments just before class time expired.
Even so, we kids always had the hope that she would run out of time. This was possible because Miss Frumpwaggle could not give us the homework too soon before the bell sounded without risking spending the final minutes of her day with a classroom full of cranky third-graders.
A recent article reported that some schools are eliminating recesses so the students can spend more time preparing for standardized tests filled me with sympathy for the youth of today.
I would rather see the state start testing how well students do at recess than have valuable recess time lost to test preparation.
My classmates and I eventually found out that our teachers were right when they told us we "were in for a rude awakening" when we left school and had to go to work. However, back in those innocent days, we had a tendency to view school as a sort-of red-brick prison with blackboards, chalk and erasers.
That's probably why we always considered the morning and afternoon recesses as time we got to spend in the "prison exercise yard," which was known to adults as the playground.
It also gave our poor teachers a bit of a break once they shepherded us out the doors into the macadam area in front of the school. One or two of them could keep an eye on us kids, while the rest could visit the school nurse for aspirin and cold compresses for their foreheads.
Perhaps, using the term "playground" to describe the outdoor area might be stretching the point. There was a tubular-steel skeleton of what once must have held swings.
The principal must have removed the swings when she realized that a kid could be launched from a swing over cast-iron railing and onto the sidewalk about 5 or 6 feet below playground level.
At least they left the framework, which could be used for chasing kids around and climbing up, with the tradeoff that it could also be something to run into.
While the girls brought jump ropes with them to occupy their recess time, the guys were not that ambitious. We were usually content to play "Tag" or "It" or just simply chase each other around the playground.
Recess involved about a 50-50 split of play and ground. When we weren't playing, we were falling onto the ground. As a result, our moms were experts in the art of repairing torn-up pants' knees and treating scraped knees. My mother darned my favorite pair of corduroy pants so many times that I felt as if I were wearing knee pads.
Unfortunately, knee pads were of no use to in coping with another of the main recess activities - encountering the class bully, Eugene.
You know the Washington Generals, the team that gets beaten by the Harlem Globetrotters year after year? Well, I was the Washington Generals and Eugene was the Globetrotters.
I think Eugene liked to pick on me because I had a bad temper and even worse judgment, so I would fight back. The only reason I am still alive to be typing this is that he had a somewhat strange sense of humor. He would bully me, I would take a swing at him, he would throttle me, and then he would laugh and let me go.
All things considered, I have pleasant memories of recesses spent on the playground with a swing set without swings, wearing patched pants and knees and getting sort-of beaten up by the class bully.
Recess was still much more fun than being inside the school and hoping Miss Frumpwaggle would forget to assign homework that day.
(Walt Kozlowski, a freelance writer from Mount Carmel, composes Walt's Way for each Sunday edition.)