We'll workshop this in class an awful lot-- and this is just a rough draft-- but I'd appreciate opinions. Names have not been changed to protect the innocent or the guilty.
Magnolia School’s Playground
On the inside, there were grown-ups with long skirts and pierced fingernails and new-age ideas, like having kids write stories and tell them that spelling didn’t matter. We’d call teachers by their first names, like Noel and Sue. Sometimes we’d sit in a circle, pass around a teddy bear, and tell our feelings. Feelings were big at Magnolia School, we’d also write them on little pieces of paper we’d call Warm Fuzzies.
The students were a myriad of misfits. Some had discipline or learning problems , some were old hippies, and others were snotty avoiders of Public School. I went there because my mother was a teacher there, and probably fell mostly into the hippie category.
We’d spend a semester on insects, and then a semester learning about Japan. We learned Spanish, we made recycled paper, and we played dress-up with clothes in a box that included silver shoes that I accidentally took home one day. But mostly, we played outside.
Indira had always taken her shoes off. When it was time for recess, we'd walk to her cubby and she'd take them out, slowly. The rumor is that we met because I tied her shoes for her. I think this is something our mothers made up, but I probably did tie her shoes for her once or twice, just because she was so slow and meticulous about it.
After her white Keds were on, we'd run outside to the place where we had freedom, and the one and only place that I've ever been popular. The playground didn't have a swing-set. There were stories that a kid had fallen off, and the grown-ups decided the swing-set wasn't safe. But it didn't matter, we had plenty to do.
The Big Kids almost always were at the turquoise playhouse before us, and we were relegated to the fort-type structure nearby. The limbs and branches made two small rooms, one for family room activities, and one for the bedroom. When playing House, there are never any mothers or babies, there are only sisters. In our case, there were sisters and a maid.
At Magnolia School, you have to share. Everyone has to be nice, and everyone has to play with each other. If you don't have anything nice to say, you aren't supposed to say anything at all. Carole was a small spindly child with buck teeth and a funny stench, and her biggest goal was to be our friend. Carole was the maid when we played house. We had to play with her, but we were careful not to talk to her. She swept the back room with loose branches while we whispered our gossip in the front. "Venice is a lesbian," Indira would say, and we'd wonder what that meant. Really, we would. I know because I wrote it in my diary.
When we'd take a break from playing House, we'd play Horse. This is how to play Horse: Stretch both your arms behind your back and clasp them. These are your reins. Your friend grasps onto your hands with both of hers. Run. Hope that your friend runs just as fast as you, and hopefully not any faster. I always got to be the horse. This was something like being queen, only better.
As long as we shared, there weren't many other rules. The back of the playground (which was really the backyard of the house-turned-school) was full of plants that were interesting and delectable. We'd pick the clovers and we'd eat them. We'd pick the purple flowers, and we'd eat those too. Just as long as we shared.
The thing we weren't allowed to share was lunches, which we ate on the deck of the house. My mother would have packed whole grains and lots of vegetables, a piece of fruit, and some cheese. I would trade my lunch under the table with my friend Kia. Well, not so much trade as that she would pass me her delicious sugary fruit snacks and I would allow her to be my friend. This was much better than trading with the kids who brought seaweed for lunch.
The only disease I remember getting back then was from sharing, but it wasn't with my friends. I had mononucleosis, and I liked to say the whole name to prove I could pronounce it. I got mononucleosis with my sister, and I wasn't allowed to go on the bars anymore. This is when Indira got better than me. We both used to do flips and backflips, but when I was gone, she mastered the pinwheel. I probably never could have done it anyway, and I'm pretty sure being sick was a great excuse.
If we were lucky, we'd get to play in the small turquoise playhouse. I'm not really sure why we wanted it so much, except that we didn't normally get to have it. We'd mostly spend our time outside, gardening around the border. We planted orange seeds that I would save from lunch, and we planted lint, to see what would happen.
In one corner of the playground, there were trees. They had orange painted lines near the top, and we weren't allowed to go past them. I'm sure we did, because we were fearless. Our legs were nimble and our hands were rough, embedded with dirty calluses and broken blisters.
There was also a pulley, which I could grasp from atop the treehouse. There was always a line, and after waiting what seemed like hours, I'd either scream "Geronimo!" or "Cowabunga, dude!" depending on my mood. Hippie entrenchment could not keep me away from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
The playground was filled with other interesting things over the years, like when we kept the chicken coop and the rabbit cages. There was an open space where we'd wear tye-dyed pillow cases and learn to do African dances, like something called Funga Alafia or Fungus: A Lot Of It.
When I started third grade, my parents moved me into public school, where I had to learn things like the Pledge of Allegiance, and how to spell. Recess was fifteen minutes, and we weren’t allowed to climb trees. Eating random plants from the playground was now a federal offense, and the playground had a swing, and mean fifth graders with orange badges to keep us from doing anything wrong.
Sometimes I’ll visit Magnolia School. The playground is much smaller than it used to be when I was three feet tall, and there’s no evidence of a chicken coop. The pulley is gone, as are the neon orange marks on the trees, trees which now seem to exist purely for decoration. The turquoise playhouse is gone, and there’s a tree where it used to stand. I hope it grows oranges.