Wow, remember recess in the ’70s? That was crazy. As a kid who hadn’t reached double digits yet, I was dying to get out of my classroom and run around. Thinking back, there sure were lots of hazards out on that playground – a blank canvas of concrete for us to skin our knees and elbows on. In fact, I remember one specific recess in the spring of 1971 when I skinned my elbow righteously (not sure how) and some random school employee led me back to my classroom door where I had to wait, literally dripping blood, until the teacher came back from break. Nobody rushed me to the school nurse, or a hospital, and I certainly don’t remember any ambulances showing up. She just slapped some mercurochrome and a bandage on it and made me go in and finish my spelling lesson.
Sure, nowadays I imagine there are all kinds of safety measures set in place to protect little children from the horrors of the elementary school experience. But when I was a kid? Not so much. Oh, I’m not saying we didn’t look forward to those precious 15 minutes of respite from learning our ABC’s and smelling chalk dust. But there were certainly a million ways for us to maim ourselves out there.
First of all, let’s get this out of the way: Dodge Ball. As a bona fide shrimp of a kid, this was not my favorite recess activity. Not only was I always picked last, but I was also knocked out first … usually catching at least five feet of air in the process.
Next, the monkey bars. It wasn’t so much the monkey bars that were the problem; it was the HARD concrete below them that didn’t necessarily cushion your fall when you missed a rung. Last time I saw monkey bars at a school, I think they had those fancy cushion-y black puzzle-like pads under them. Today, I think they have feather-bed mattresses below them … or spotters from the US Olympic Team.
Let’s move on to that crazy spherical metal-climbing thing. You know the one. Kids would climb all over that thing, and at least one would fall through it, tumble over it, or get strangled in it … usually resulting in a lost front tooth. Or how about the merry-go-round? That was only fun until some kid puked on it … which was always within the first five minutes.
The slides always promised a little excitement, only our slides in the ’70s were glistening steel; on a hot, sunny day, you could get third-degree burns on those things – that was if you actually sled down the thing instead of running down it full speed.
Tetherball was fun. I played that all the time. Well, I stood there all the time while my taller opponent wrapped that ball around the pole again and again, often bopping the side of my head while they did.
If you didn’t care for the fancy playground equipment, you could always get a jump-rope, lasso some kid smaller than you, and make them be your “horse” so you could gallop around like an idiot.
Whatever Hunger Games-type of adventure we decided upon during recess, it was usually fun until the bell rang … signaling you only had about two minutes to get your ass back in your chair in your classroom. So you either had to choose to pee (and if you were a girl, get freaked out by crazy fourth-grade girls staring in the mirror and reciting that “Mary Worth, Mary Worth, I Believe in Mary Worth” creepy game) OR try to get some hydration at the water fountain. Usually I tried to get a drink of water. However, our elementary school drinking fountain had a protocol: it had four spickets, and they were unofficially designated as: Coffee, Tea, Soda Pop and Pee. Oh man, by the time recess was coming to a close, those lines were deep: Coffee had at least three kids – Tea had about four. And the Soda Pop line was a mile long … so, sometimes you went without water.