Sunday, March 22, 2015

After-School Loitering

The farm kids always stayed an extra half hour in the schoolyard each day, waiting for buses to arrive from the highschool in the neighbouring town. At the same time, buses would depart westward filled with elementary school kids to complete the process in the opposite direction. When they arrived, the buses unloaded their town kids and picked up the farm kids on their way to the country.

The space in front of the school was not where students (except Kindergarteners) spent recess, but we farm kids waited for the buses there every day. We were required to stay on the sidewalk until the first buses had left and the presiding teacher gave the signal for us to swarm into the playground.

In the winter, the lawn on one side of the walkway would be turned into a snowscape. Once enough snow had accumulated, a giant hill would be pushed up in the centre of the lawn by a tractor. Over the course of the winter, we would transform the little hill with tunnels and slides.

In the spring when the snow had melted and we put away our winter boots, long skipping ropes would be dug from the depths of the gym's equipment room. Feeling light in our fair-weather shoes, we would line up on the walkway that led to the road—around eight children, however many could squeeze in—and jump, jump, jump, jump on and on while two unlucky kids swung the rope at either end of the line.

The other side of the walkway was dominated by a playground apparatus that can only be described as "old-school." It was a large installation made of green, treated wood that would give you splinters if you weren't careful. One of the slides was gleaming metal that became scalding on sunny days; the other was a steep segmented tube that you were sure to either bash your face on, or catch your pants on one of the bolts connecting the segments. There was a fire pole that would burn the skin off your palms as you slid down. There was a tire swing suspended by three plastic-covered chains that held three children sitting in a circle, as likely as not being given a "spinner" push by a fourth child. There were monkey bars a little too high off the ground and a little too far apart to be used by anyone smaller than a grade fiver.

Beside the main structure was a swingset, which was where everybody wanted to wait when the weather was fine. There were only eight or ten swings, and kids would line up on the sidewalk as if they were at a trackmeet, waiting for the teacher's signal like a gunshot starting a race. The bigger you were, the likelier it was you'd reach the swingset first; so, the swings were typically dominated by the grade fives. Grade sixes seemed to prefer lounging against the building where they would chat or read.

One day when I was in grade four or five, I sat on the concrete in front of the school, shaded by a section of roof that jutted out from the building. I felt unhappy in an apathetic sort of way—something I had felt once in a while, but didn't know why. I sat there staring at nothing in particular and probably wearing my angry/unfriendly/melancholy expression (aka my resting face), when a girl in my grade strolled by. She stopped in front of me and studied at me for a moment.

"Stressed?" she asked.

"Depressed," I replied.

She nodded and continued on. I'm not sure I knew the difference between the two, at the time. I doubt I really knew what being depressed meant, for that matter. Despite my nostalgia and the simplicity of childhood, however, I do remember very well that life began to shape me into a melancholy creature, even at that early age.

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