Sunday, June 14, 2015

Playing in the weeds

This is from 2003

Playing in the weeds

By Bobby Neal Winters

I began kindergarten in 1967 and graduated from high school in 1980. All of these years, nearly half my life, were spent at the same school, McLish. It was named after the layer of sand they found oil in.

I recall very few of the hours I spent in the classroom before the seventh grade, because kindergarten through the 6th grade was all housed in one building that was surrounded by a magnificent playground. We had a swing set, teeter totters, a slide, and monkey bars. There was also a genuine dirt basketball court. During the summer, grass would grow back in and try to take it over, but as soon as school started back, the grass would start looking ground again.

However, these amenities were just the beginning. There were other things to play with that required a bit more from us but paid back so richly.

There was a huge storm cellar with a flat roof that was an ideal location to play king of the mountain. The doors—one on the north and one on the south—were made of iron that had been painted silver, and on cool days they had soaked up enough heat from the sun that you could lay on the south door in the lee provided by the cellar and stay reasonably warm.

There was also the building itself. We would break into groups and play cowboys and Indians. As there were quite a few Chickasaws at the school, there were a lot of Indian cowboys and cowboy Indians. We didn't know who was what most of the time, but there was a lot of running and screaming, shooting and dying.

Then there were the weeds behind the school. After frost had killed the grass, the tall weeds dried up into what we considered good building material. We took them and made them into forts that we then destroyed. The Indian boys were particularly good at this sort of construction.

We weren't always allowed to do this, and it seem to me now whether we were depended upon who had playground duty. You see the reason there were weeds there was because it wasn't mowed that often. The reason it wasn't mowed that often was because it was frequently wet, and I suspect the reason it was frequently wet was that was where the sewer drained. I don't know whether some of our teachers weren't aware that we were playing in the sewer and had to be told, or whether they all knew and just gradually gave into the inevitability of it.

I left that part of the world behind me physically over twenty years ago, but the spirit of it lives on within me. As more of the outside world, by which I mean "outside of there," has been forced upon me, the more I have come to know what a rare place it is in this country. Think about it. How many people can say they had a graduating class of eighteen? Not very many, only 18 per year times the number of schools that small not to put too fine a point on it. We who have come from such a place are a rare breed and look at the world as if we are just playing cowboys and Indians. You might get shot, but you get right on back up.

They can never take that away.

The rains come in the spring and seeds shoot up from the ground. They grow into plants, they bloom, have seeds, the seeds fall into the ground, and the plant dies. This is the way of the world, it is the way God made it, and it is good, but it's not always easy.

Late this may, the doors of McLish School will swing shut, and they won't reopen as McLish School any more. Even things like schools can grow old and die, but like the flowers of spring, McLish has planted seeds in the ground. They are all around you, but you can't see them. The winter will come, but it will be followed by the spring, and it will rain, and those seeds will grow. And little cowboys and little Indians will play among them.

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