Surviving Childhood

My grade school’s playground offered many different ways for a kid to maim himself during recess

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I am reminded from time to time how truly lucky I am to have survived my childhood. Hell, as far as that goes, so were most of my friends, my willing partners in crime.

Safety

Ha-ha, what safety?  Growing up in Greenville during the 50s and 60s was like starring in a B-grade action movie, proliferated with casualties.

Enter East grade school.

My grade school’s playground offered many different ways for a kid to maim himself during recess.  We had a few teeter-totters, a slide, monkey bars, and a merry-go-round.  And all of these wonderful contraptions were firmly anchored – into asphalt, no less.  What were the adults responsible for our safety and well-being thinking when they concluded that any of this approximated a good idea?

My favorite way of injuring myself during recess involved the merry-go-round.  We would take turns as the person standing on the merry-go-round as the other kids pushed the round iron disk as fast as they could.  This usually involved two or three other boys grabbing the handles of the ride and running in a circle as fast as possible, spinning the go-around on its axis creating as much centrifugal force as possible.

When the boys spinning the ride let go of the handles it became mandatory for the boy standing on the ride to jump off the spinning wheel of death and onto the asphalt beneath.  And if you fell during this launch process you were considered a loser.  If, however, you survived the jump and stayed on your feet you were lauded.  Needless to say, when I leaped from the spinning wheel, I didn’t always stay upright.  Occasionally, I would kiss the asphalt with my knees, elbows, and sometimes, my head.  I remember seeing stars a few times, as well as taring holes in my pants.  Mom always loved that one.

But as dangerous as the playground was, there were at least a few teachers milling about trying to enforce some rules because when we boys were left solely to our own designs, wishes and desires, the games became even more harrowing.

I wrote an essay a while back discussing how we used to play army, as teenagers.  We had a favorite wooded area where we played flashlight tag and hedgeapple wars.  The rules were simple – we would wait for the sun to set and then one team would hide in the woods and wait for the enemy to show its face (it was good training for Nam).  If you put your flashlight beam on an enemy combatant and held it for a few seconds, he would be dead.  Flashlights were our M-16s. Likewise, if you hit another kid with a hedgeapple, he was dead.  The hedgeapples served as our grenades.  Death by flashlight was my preferred way of greeting the next life.  Death by grenade might still hurt the next day.

BB Gun Wars and More

I received my first BB gun during late Jr. High.  It wasn’t very powerful, but it got the job done.   When I played war with the neighbor kids, we all owned BB guns.  Getting stung by a BB was one way to die but there were more ways than one.  You could also kill the enemy with a bottle rocket, a roman candle, and/or a finely placed cherry bomb.  Let me explain.

First of all, we all wore flack vests (a medium-heavy coat), and army helmets (football helmets).  Jeans were the preferred pants of the time but if you got hit in the leg, it would hurt.  What we didn’t wear, though, was any sort of eye protection.  We also didn’t wear gloves.

You could kill the enemy by hitting him with a bottle rocket.  But this was tough to accomplish because bottle rockets mostly flew erratically.  Roman candles on the other hand flew in a straight line.  Plus, they had the added advantage of rapid-fire.

But the craziest thing we did during our war games involved the use of a slingshot, lighter, and cherry bombs.  Cherry bombs were like RPGs.  They packed a wallop, and you didn’t have to hit someone with a cherry bomb to kill them, all you needed to do was land it in their general vicinity.

Here’s how it worked along with the reason why we eventually made this weapon illegal to use.  It was our equivalent to a nuclear arms treaty.

Firing a cherry bomb at the enemy took two people.  It involved both a lighter and a shooter.  One person would place the cherry bomb into the small leather rock holder and pull the rubber band back to his ear, at eye level and then aim it at another kid (this completely insane activity was one of the dumbest things I ever did as a kid).  The person with the lighter would then light the cherry bomb and the shooter would fire the weapon.

During one of our war games, while I was aiming the cherry bomb at the neighbor kid, a member of the other team shot me with a BB gun.  He was to the right of me, and I didn’t see him hiding in the bushes.  His BB hit me in the right hand (and yes it penetrated the skin) forcing me to let go of the slingshot’s handle.  The hit forced me to let go of the grip causing the lit cherry bomb to be fired into the ground a few feet from our fire team.  Without hesitation, we both ran and were not injured by the explosion.  Following this event, I quit for the day and returned home.  The BB did not penetrate deeply so I was able to remove it without much trouble and mom never knew.

What if anything, did we (I) learn from all of this?  After that day we all started wearing gloves, for one thing.  Plus, we added sunglasses to the equipment equation.

During boot camp, the Air Force taught me how to kill the enemy (for real this time) with my M-16 set to semi-automatic.  And when I first landed in Nam, the Air Force taught me how to kill the enemy with my M-16 set to full-automatic.  But nothing prepared me for real combat like growing up in G-Ville with permissive parents and other clueless adults.  I mentioned this before but at the tender age of 13, I walked into the general store located next to the old State Theater, plopped down ten bucks or so from my paper route money, and purchased a 22-caliber starter pistol.  And that 22-cal. starter pistol has quite the story attached to it but that’s a story for another day, perhaps?

Until next time, keep those home fires lit.  And may the force always be with you.

That’s all for now, Alan over and out.