Putting on the Big Boots

All I really need to know I learned at recess

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“It is recess time, students. Please leave your papers on top of your desks.” Pencils clinked into their slots. Eyes lit in anticipation.

“George (name changed to protect the innocent), remember you must stay in and write sentences.” The teacher deftly pulled the five-line chalk holder across the middle of the black board. With a single piece of chalk from the metal shelf on the bottom, she neatly scribed cursive within the lines, “I will raise my hand for permission to speak in class.”

George sat across from me, and I glanced over to see how he was handling the news. Head bent nearly to his desk; he wrote in his spiral notebook. Numbers lined the whole left side of the paper. I noticed that he had already written in an “I” next to each number. I wondered how he could have done that so fast. He glanced at me with a grin and whispered, “Got started during reading time.” I shook my head and rolled my eyes. Why would anyone be so dumb to waste recess time writing 100 sentences?

In a very serious voice, the teacher announced, “Remember, third graders, you are NOT to throw snowballs.” A few boys groaned, but we all knew the reason for the snowball ban. A first grader got a shiner last week when one of the big kids hit him with a snow ball. Someone said it had a rock in the center.

At last we had permission to leave our desks. Shoes squeaked on the wooden floor as we hurried back to the coat rack. We pulled on coats and stepped into overshoes or rubber boots. Hats and mittens came next. Soon, the clomping of boots was heard in the halls of Erwin School. We pushed down the brass bar to unlatch the double front doors and rounded the corner for the playground.

The boys converged on the swings. They tramped down the snow under each wooden board and soon legs pumped back and forth over the snow. Hoots of laughter and puffs of steam filled the air as they competed to see who could get the highest.

Mrs. Sprang had recess duty that morning. Her long coat came down to the top of her boots, which was a good thing since she didn’t wear jeans under her dresses like we girls did. When we were in her second grade, she would help us with our coats and tell us that recess was just as important as class time. Today she smiled as a group of us gathered around her. Addressing each by name, she inquired how our studies were going. Soon, she pointed forward with the bell in her gloved hand, careful to hold the clapper. “You girls run along and play now,” she encouraged as she glanced at her watch.

We passed the merry-go-round and the teeter-totters. Finally, we stopped to gaze at a wide expanse of untouched snow. We looked at each other and shouted in unison—“Fox and Goose!” Yvonne took charge, and we followed in single file, creating a huge circle path. Two of us turned toward the center, and later, two more until an X crossed the circle. We quickly established the “safe” zone at the center.

Nila volunteered to be the fox first. She was a fast runner; I knew I would soon be caught, but we ran around that circle for all we were worth until Mrs. Sprang rang the bell. Hurrying inside we made plans to continue at noon recess.

After lunch we were soon bundled up and outside again. As we negotiated who would be the fox, three second grade girls watched from outside our circle. We all remembered way back when we were little kids like that last year and invited them to play.

One girl didn’t have boots, and her worn saddle shoes kept slipping in the snow. By silent agreement, when we older girls were the fox, we ran slower to allow her to get to base. Her eyes sparkled at being part of our group, and everyone laughed and shrieked as we played.

Suddenly, the playground grew quiet, and two tall boys sauntered over to our circle. We all huddled in the safe zone in the middle and stared at them. One smirked and started kicking snow with his boots, destroying the path.

Never one to keep my mouth shut, I yelled, “Hey, you stop that! It’s our circle.” The other kid reached down and grabbed a glove full of snow. I am pretty sure he was aiming at me, but the snowball hit little no-boots girl right on her ear. I was so mad I grabbed a clump of snow and packed it with the other mitten. I wound up and threw that snowball at those big mean boys—just as the noon duty teacher rounded the corner.

I did not say a word as I stepped out of my boots, unbuttoned my coat and laid my wet mittens on the heater at the back of the room. I strode to my desk, opened the top and grabbed my spiral notebook. I numbered down the left side, ending with 100.

Kruempel’s newest book release, Once Upon a Midwest Sunset, as well as her 5-book series, Promises to Keep, are available on Amazon.com. Once Upon a Midwest Sunset (an excellent gift) is a compilation of the stories from her NOOKS AND CRANNIES column, which was published in five newspapers in 2020-21. Contact her at deannkruempelauthor@gmail.com and receive free stories, recipes, photos and updates

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