What I remember - Pt. 2 / by Jerald Pierce

I started writing these mostly because I have an awful memory (reiterated below), so I could have at least some record of things that happened in my childhood as I remember them. But it also serves as a way to force myself to write for fun more than I usually do. No idea how regular this will be. But here’s what I remember:

So I left off somewhere around second or third grade and my inability to distinguish between first through third grades. It certainly doesn’t help that we were all pretty close together in those grades. Fourth and fifth grades are easy to distinguish in my mind because we had classes on the second floor. The second floor was like a privilege. No one really went up there unless they were a fourth or fifth grader. It was a right of passage. One of a few that came along as we neared the end of what was called “lower school”. (I assume we didn’t call it elementary school because it just wasn’t pretentious enough.)

I do remember second and third grade being in the same hallway. Three classes for the second graders and three classes for the third. But the more I think about the divide, the more I’m convinced there wasn’t one and I’m misremembering. I blame that on Mr. Lacy. His…niece(?) was in our class and he always managed to get moved to a new grade right when our class got there. It felt like it happened a lot, but in reality, I’m pretty sure it only happened when he moved from second grade to fourth grade. It was most likely because of some logistical needs on the school’s part, but it certainly felt like he was sent by Kylie’s parents to spy on her. He just seemed to follow us. 

Outside of that, I really don’t remember much from third grade other than the Native American necklaces we made. We were all given “Indian names” and we got to decorate our necklaces with beads and whatever art we wanted. I have no idea if we did it in any culturally sensitive way, but I’m pretty sure the school wouldn’t have cared either way. There weren’t enough minorities around to raise any sort of fuss.

I also remember third grade being right next to the doors to the playground. We’d head out the doors and down the stairs and out onto the open blacktop to play basketball at the full length court, or four square, or get a game of kickball going, or head down to the lower level to play on the jungle gym and swings, or play that game where you throw a ball into the top of this bucket thing and you’d get points for whatever hole it just happened to come out of (no idea), or play tether ball. 

Quick aside about tetherball: It’s a bullshit game that frustrated me to no end. If you were the first person with the ball and you mastered the angles of the game or were just playing against a short person, you would always win. Just hit it so it always went above their head. Easy. I enjoyed games where there was more legitimate competition. Like four square and kickball. Four square had the same potential pitfalls as tetherball if the “king” decided to make rules that benefitted him more than the game. (If that isn’t the perfect representation of the current political climate, I don’t know what is.) Like, if the king said he could spin bounce the ball or slam the ball as hard as they could so the person they went after had to go sprawling to get to it, whatever person he wanted out, was out. Every time. So it became a game of bargaining and trying to win the king’s favor. Which is pretty fun and funny in its own respect.

I was a master at kickball. I kicked harder than most everyone else, I was relatively athletic, and I could throw with enough accuracy to usually hit people. But recess kickball was never as much fun as California kickball in gym, but I’ll get there.

I’m thinking about kickball because I’m thinking about Winston. 

Winston was the lanky, nerdy kid who no one really liked and was the butt of a lot of jokes. It was the way he walked, with this sort of bounce. His legs were unenthusiastic pogo sticks. Long strides, bouncing him up and down and always in a hurry. I feel really bad. Not just because I can’t remember his last name, but because I know Winston started school with us way back in around kindergarten, but I can’t remember for the life of me when he left. I just know that by 6th grade, Nick had taken the mantel from him. Again, we’ll get there. 

I didn’t realize how mean we were to Winston until senior year of COLLEGE. That’s when I heard a friend tell the story of how she suffered a seizure (I believe—again, bad memory) as a child which stunted the grown of a ligament or muscle in her leg. Which caused her to bounce a little when she walked. A little like Winston. It was in that moment I realized that I never took the time to learn about Winston or his bounce. We all assumed it was some weird thing he just did because he wanted to. Not once did it ever cross my mind that it could have been because of some medical issue. That hit me pretty hard. I wonder where Winston is now.

I was never crazy popular myself, but I never had issues being picked in gym. Depending on the game we played, I was usually a pretty high draft pick. We could play any game under the sun in our gym class. Our gym building (yes, a whole separate building dedicated to gym) consisted of three separate gymnasiums: the main one where the high school basketball games happened that had a door at the top of the bleachers to our health room that I am JUST now realizing was a press box; the second gym on the first floor that had a track going around the second level of it that was also connected to a workout machine area; and the second floor gym that was the most pitiful of all. 

I have two memories of that upstairs gym: Playing on those little scooters that would run over your fingers if you got too careless and getting in trouble for calling a kid a “son of a gun”. To be clear, I did not say son of a bitch. The teacher must have thought I had said bitch and the kid who told on me was just censoring me for her sake or something. Well that or the teacher really did have an issue with the phrase “son of a gun”. I don’t remember who told on me, but I’m sure he was a son of a bitch.

The gym with the track was my favorite because we played my two favorite games there. Backboard was essentially dodgeball with foam balls instead of the super bouncy red rubber ones you’re thinking of. But what made this dodgeball better, for those who don’t know, was that you could get people back into the game by throwing the ball off the backboard on the other side of the court. One person comes back if you hit the backboard, two for the rim, everyone comes back if you make it in the basket. I was invaluable in this game. I was the Peyton Manning of this game. That’s not even me bragging, it’s just fact. The danger for most was that they needed to get close to the mid-court line to be able to hit the backboard which, of course, made it much easier for the other team to pick you off. I got picked early solely because they knew I could hit the backboard from behind the opposite free-throw line and even from the opposite baseline. My team was never out when I was on the court. This, obviously, backfired if I got hit and knocked out, but the reward was worth the risk.

The track gym was also home to California Kickball. California kickball has five bases, no force outs, and no limit to the number of people that can stand on a base at one time. The diamond was set up as you’d normally imagine for baseball, but with an extra base out in left field, slightly behind where a shortstop would line up—that became third base with normal third base becoming fourth base. This game was dangerous and we did eventually have to stop playing it. Without force outs, California Kickball quickly becomes close range dodgeball. Rules were instituted so that you weren’t allowed to throw at a kid’s legs, but kids have bad aim. Legs got taken out from under people, falls happened, the game eventually disappeared. 

A note on the idea of being able to have multiple people on one base at one time: Say person A gets a hit for the first time ever and somehow makes it to first base, but then decides they’re too scared to run on the next hit. Person B then joins Person A, but Person B is not allowed to pass them. Person A still has to lead the pack. It resulted in plenty of frustrations the times that Person A got to a base and refused to keep running.

That’s where I come in. Again, invaluable in this game due to my favorite rule. If you kick a ball onto the running track and it stays up there, it’s an automatic home run. I had many. I didn’t try to do anything else other than pummel the ball onto the warning track. Which, also was an entertaining game in and of itself with other sections of the gym class up there running laps.

Now, the largest gym. I don’t remember us being in that gym too much. We played knockout and things like that because it had a ton of basketball hoops, but the only game I really enjoyed was again a dodgeball game. The only difference was that there was a large divider in the gym that could be dropped by the teacher. I can’t remember exactly what the rules were, but I know we tried to get all the balls onto the other side of the divider before it hit the ground. I wish I could remember it more.

Honestly, I’m astounded no one got kidnapped or seriously injured during gym. There were times where we basically got run of the school grounds. Grounds that included 6-ish tennis courts, a football field, two baseball diamonds, and hills and open space galore. And they let us play games like capture the flag. There is no way they kept track of all of us. It’s insane to think about them letting us do that now. No way.

I did love Park Tudor’s campus though. A lower school building (now I believe 3 year olds through 5th grade), a middle school building (6th-8th), a high school that was connected to a science building and music building and auditorium, a building that was just the cafeteria, and the sprawling gym building and sports areas. Oh, and the apple orchard store that sold fresh picked apple goodies (killer cider in the winters).

Park Tudor’s cafeteria is still one of the most bazaar things that exist, but I’ll talk about it, 4th and 5th grade, and more another time.