Living at the Edges
January 31, 2008

In Austin, we had lived miles from both elementary schools I attended, the beloved Pillow Elementary and the much despised St. Louis. After just six weeks back at Pillow for third grade, we moved to Arlington (in between Dallas and Fort Worth). My mother was ecstatic that they'd found a good school for us ... and just six blocks from our new house. Once again, my father had chosen a home with a backyard that was bounded by a fence ... and behind that, no other houses. In Austin, we'd lived in Balcones Woods and behind our fence was a wild tangle of woods untamed, unkempt and beautiful. Here, it was simply an empty field, but at least it was not another home staring straight into ours. I suppose this was Dad's response to living "in town" ... I don't think he liked the 'burbs any more than I did.

At any rate, Mom was ecstatic that I would be able to walk to school or ride my bike and she could be relieved of that burdensome chore.

There was a playground outside the school, but it seemed it was always reserved for the younger children. The older kids went out to the field to the south of the school.

Since I'm strolling around the elementary school stomping grounds, I thought I'd show you the climbing tree I mentioned in my previous post. This is shot from just south of my climbing tree ... a little west of the other day's dreaming valley ... and looking northward to the school. Clicking the image will open a new window with a somewhat larger version .. you know you can refer back to the big images whilst I point out details. :)

Elementary school tree

Hit Play to listen to a song that always reminds me of this time period ... and just the general feel of my warm woodsy places.

Things have changed both more and less than I had thought when I went back for a look a couple of years ago. My personal playground of trees were all still intact, including my climbing tree here. It's just a scraggly ole twisty pine tree. Resin would "bleed" out of the tree and stick to our hands and clothes. And as you can see here, being up in the tree, you really had little cover to hide from the teachers if they happened to come by that way. The funny thing is ... I'm horribly allergic to any of the aromatic trees. Cedars are the worst, but pine trees will set me off, too. But I don't recall ever getting an allergy attack from this tree.

In the middle area of the picture, you can see a fire lane. That wasn't there back in the day. Instead, there was a little run-off. We called it the dry creek ... unless, of course, it was raining. I would pretend it was a canyon for my Fisher Price Adventure People (these were the precursors to the Star Wars action figures), even though I wouldn't bring my prized toys up to school. The various undercuts and sediments in the "canyon" there made me think of my beloved New Mexico and cliff dwellings and I often lamented the fact that we didn't have such a cool run-off in our backyard so I could play in it properly. My parents, of course, were flabbergasted that I would want such a nasty trip hazard in the backyard. Parents are so short-sighted sometimes.

The other fun we would have in the creek was "mining for lead." Until we realized that lead was a metal and not the stuff inside our pencils. Then it became "mining for graphite." The dirt was a brown-red colour, tan in places, darker in others. And buried in the hard sediment were "pebbles" of graphite. We'd take hardened sticks and perform our digs ... sometimes grabbing sharp rocks to help break apart the hardpan dirt. Suddenly, you'd get this red-brown marble to pop out, usually showing some of the graphite where your stick had burst the outer skin of dried mud.

For some reason, the school did not really appreciate our graphite markings on the sidewalks and bricks. It wasn't vandalism to us, we'd do it right in front of the teachers. It was decorating our home. Leaving our mark on the place where we spent so much time.

Adults, truly, were unfathomable at best. So picky. So many stupid rules just for the sake of rules.

For a suburban school, we had a pretty "rural" playground unfettered by an overabundance of metal apparatus or being restricted to the concrete and asphalt. The soccer field to the left of the picture? That was mostly an area of no grass and had deep creases in the land from rainwater run-off ... nothing like our dry creekbed ... but enough to make playing soccer there a bit more complicated than the norm. Back then, our goal posts didn't have the diagonal outcross where the net is attached now. We had just a rectangle of thick pipe delineating the goal. Most of the time, there would be a mob of boys on the soccer field, standing in little groups here and there ... and then a huge mob with a cloud of dust, scrabbling over the ball. Girls were not really welcome on the field, although I did play a few times. I mostly got yelled at for kicking the ball in the wrong direction. Which was interesting, really, seeing as I was not on anyone's team. Girls were not picked for sides in soccer there ... so I became my anarchist, oppositional self and simply kicked the ball wherever I wanted to kick it.

I can recall one day in fifth grade, hanging from my hands ... I was perhaps an inch or so off the ground, just dangling from my grip on the huge pipe. There were probably six or seven girls pretending to do some sort of arcane gymnastics off the bar, but in reality, we were all just kind of hanging around. The boy who was goalie on this end got mad and wanted us all to go away. He hollered. We ignored him. The ball was waaaaay down the field on the lower end. It was not coming up here for quite a while. I think he was bored more than he was mad at us. He paced. He groused.

And then he came up behind me, shouted "GET DOWN AND GO AWAY!" and he pushed me in the small of the back.

I landed on my ass, my arms out behind me propping me up. The left arm hurt and I wanted to cry ... not from the pain in my arm which was not that bad - I'd felt worse ... but because I had been singled out. There were a bunch of girls still hanging around. Why was I different? Why was I a target?

I stood up, dusted myself off and headed down the hill.

I didn't realize that my arm was broken. I thought at worst it was sprained and I dutifully told my mom that night at dinner that I thought I had sprained my wrist. She rolled her eyes, always certain that my sister and I were making up any maladies, because, well, that's what kids did. In the eleven years as my mother, she had yet to realize that when I said "ow" ... there was a serious problem afoot, probably more serious than I thought. So Mom rolled her eyes and asked how bad it hurt and I said, "Not that much. I think it's just sprained." Instead of upgrading it from "not that much" to "crap, my kid is hurt," Mom downgraded it from "not that much," to "kid is exaggerating it."

And with a great many kids, that's not a bad guess. The thing is, you have to know your child to make this call, and of course, sometimes you still get it wrong. But I would have thought my dramatic eardrum bursting at age 4 or 5 would have been the one incident to point out to her that I have a very high tolerance for pain.

After three days of trying to use my left hand as little as possible, I finally told Mom that I thought I needed to see a doctor. This was a big deal in our family, and it often felt like I was making a huge imposition on Mom's time and budget. She fussed, but agreed to take me. I could hear her telling the nurse that no, she didn't think my arm was broken, but that I wanted it looked at.

The doctor sent me in for an x-ray and as we drove back to the doctor's office ... Mom pulled out the x-ray and looked at it. Well, okay, not while she was driving, but as we sat in the car before returning to the doctor.

"It's not broken," she pronounced as she looked at the film. "All of this is for nothing. Do you know how expensive x-rays are?"

"I thought we had health insurance," I protested.

"Well, yes, but it still costs something."

Chastised and down-hearted, I stared out the side window all the way back to the doctor's office. Once there, he took the film, put it up on his light and pronounced quickly:

"Yep, it's broken, all right."

My mother was in shock.

So was the nurse. "You told me there would be no casts today!" The doctor was a little surprised at her vehemence. "I wore my black slacks today because you said there would be NO CASTS."

Since the break was at least 3-5 days old at this point and since it did not need to be set, the doctor decided on a compromise. They wrapped my arm and then made a U from the elbow out to the wrist. Then they put an ace bandage over that. The doctor was proud of the lightweight cast. The nurse didn't get any plaster on her black pants.

And I missed out on the rite of passage to have your cast signed by all your friends.

And to add insult to injury? They gave me a crappy square of some kind of cotton-thin canvas material to use as a sling.

I was floored. No plaster cast for everyone to sign. No cool, form-fitting sling. Just a painful knot at the back of my neck.

I had had enough. Mom refused to buy a "cool" sling and I was not going to take any more "good enoughs" that day. I dove into Mom's fabric basket and came out with a decent sized piece of blue corduroy, some thread, a needle and headed back to my room to sew myself a nice, form-fitting sling. Took quite a while to sew it all by hand with one arm in a sling, but it came out pretty well.

The next day at school, all the teachers wanted to know where I'd gotten that cool sling and their eyes bugged out when I nonchalantly answered, I made it. ... no, I didn't have a pattern. No, I didn't have any help. I didn't like the sling I had and I got mad and made the kind of sling I wanted.

I was stubborn that way.

At recess, I sat at the base of my climbing tree, my t-shirt getting bark and resin on the back ... and I watched the boys playing soccer, my eyes constantly scanning for one.

I never did know which boy broke my arm.

I spent the next six weeks reading books under my climbing tree until the cast finally came off. At the edges of the playground. On the edges of the kids playing. Watching. Reading. At the edges.

Posted by Red Monkey at January 31, 2008 5:53 AM | Storytelling: She was, of course, supposed to be sleeping. | Vacations and Photos | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |


Huckdoll said:

Wow. A novel is born. Seriously, that was an amazing read. You should write, write, write. I was so engrossed in this post.

February 1, 2008 2:10 AM


newnorth said:

that was awesome, definetly a good read. And, wow you do have a high tolerance for pain. I have a very low one generally. :)

February 2, 2008 11:12 PM


Nola said:

You need to publish your work if not for you, for us. Your writing is beautiful and strong and engrossing. We want MORE!

February 25, 2008 3:05 PM
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