Playgrounds were real testing ground before safety was invented

The summit of the gleaming playground slide towered above me. The only reason I kept clomping up the 3,000 steps to the peak was the shouts and jeers of the crush of fellow kindergartners pushing me upward even as I wriggled for an escape.

About a half-mile up, I stammered, “I… I changed my mind. I’m allergic to thin air.”

“Keep going, scaredy-cat,” the big, mean kid behind me bellowed. Marcella, I think her name was. “We want to get there before the recess bell rings.”

She shouldered me onto the platform. I peered down the forever length of the descent. And nearly fainted.

What kind of school lets little kids climb into the clouds and hurtle themselves at sonic speeds back to earth on a metal chute sun-baked to 400 or 500 blistering degrees?

Playground safety hadn’t been invented yet in the early 1960s.

Before I could give voice to my concerns, the big, mean kid — I’m sure it was Marcella — hollered, “Goooooooooooooo!” She planted her palms between my shoulder blades and shoved.

“Moommeeeee!” I screamed in as manly a way as a terrified kindergartner could muster.

In three seconds that felt no longer than 17 months and four days, I dropped from outer space, reentered earth’s atmosphere, and shot off the bottom of the metal slide. I slowed to 200 mph as I tumbled through the dirt and grass of the playground.

I gathered up all my assorted body parts that had flown off in the crash, reassembled myself the best I could, and rolled out of the way before Marcella and the rest of the kids behind her could rocket down on top of me.

It was the most fun I’d ever had. “Let’s do it again!”

Years later, I discovered that the behemoth slide had shrunk. At 6 feet, I was a smidge taller than what used to be a metallic Mount Everest Jr.

It was the same slide. Put your ear on it and you still can hear the echoes of shrieks and screams past. Or maybe that was just the sizzling of my ear frying on the hot metal.

Across the playground — which also was a miniature version of its former vastness — the high-rise, head-rattling metal monkey bars had disappeared altogether.

I can’t remember if the merry-go-round remained. It probably had grown seat belts.

Playgrounds today are tiny things full of plastic, rubber and low-fat, gluten-free braided ropes, none of which move faster than a speeding turtle nor jump higher than a snail. You have to try pretty hard to hurt yourself on today’s safety-filled playgrounds.

“That’s the point,” I was informed by a sweet and petite veteran teacher I know — Marcella. “No third-degree burns from sliding. No merry-go-round splinters harpooning tiny bottoms. No swellings or bruises from teeter-totter falls.”

“I didn’t fall. You jumped off your end at the bottom and let me crash to the ground.”

“Are you sure? That was about 60 years ago. You took a lot of thunks to the head back then.”

“You caused half of them.”

She giggled. “It was fun, wasn’t it?”

I grinned. “Yeah.”

She pointed across the tiny, sawdust and rubber-matted playground. “You want to jump on the swings? I’ll push.”

“You’re not pulling that one again. You swing, I’ll push. But I’m not doing an under-duck.”

“Still a scaredy-cat?”

“Nope,” I said. “Old and creaky.

“How about if we both swing and nobody pushes?”


Cousins are cool, even ones who used to be big and mean. And yeah, a little playground safety doesn’t hurt, either. For us old kids..

Climb the monkey bars with Cole at burtseyeview@tribtoday.com.


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