Memories are Made of This

An hour and a half ago, Bill asked me what the blog was going to be about. I told him I had no idea, but I was going to think about it while I was out getting my steps—8300 steps in 83 minutes.(Yes, I’ll never be one of those three-minute milers, but I always loved that story about the turtle and the hare. Guess who won?)

According to the weather report, it was supposed to be raining by now. It isn’t, but I went out fully prepared. I put on a jacket and a warm cap. Partway in, I shed both in favor of a hat and sunglasses. In the course of that 83 minutes, I repeated that process three separate times. I believe you could say that Seattle’s April weather is nothing if not changeable.

During one of my wardrobe changes, rather than actually donning the jacket, I simply slung it over my shoulders. In that instant I was transported to the playground at Bisbee’s Greenway School back in the fifties. During each twenty-minute recess, one of the teaches—the one who drew the short stick for the week—was handed playground duty. They generally stuck to the paved part of the playground where girls were playing dodge ball or jacks or jumping rope. The boys—the ones playing blood sports out on the dirt part of the playground—were generally left to their own devices.

But the teacher I was picturing in my mind’s eye today was Mrs. Spangler, my second grade teacher, and the one I credit with my becoming a writer. It was on the bookshelves in her classroom where I encountered the works of Frank Baum. From the moment I realized that someone was responsible for putting those words on the pages, that’s what I wanted to be and do—the person writing the words.

But the image I had of Mrs. Spangler today had nothing to do with the Wizard of Oz. I remember her standing guard on the playground one chilly but sunny spring morning with a fur jacket of some kind slung over her shoulders. From my second-grade point of view, she seemed dreadfully old at the time which I’m sure now she wasn’t. She might have been in her forties at the time. Mrs. Spangler was a dead ringer for Spring Byington, and that fur made her seem wonderfully sophisticated. If my mother, Evie, ever had a fur of any kind, I never saw her wear it.

But that playground memory got me to thinking. Do girls play with jacks any more? Do boys still play with marbles? Back in those days, the latter part of April and the first part of May was squirt-gun season at Greenway School, and we all picked up our weapons at our favorite store, Mrs. Browder’s Five and Dime at the corner of Congdon Avenue and Arizona Street, across from the drug store. I believe they sold for something like 29 cents. These days squirt guns are outlawed, and I’m pretty sure dodgeball is, too, those of us of a certain age share many of these same memories.

So today, feel free to share some of your playground experiences, because that’s why memories exist—to be shared.

69 thoughts on “Memories are Made of This

  1. Not a playground memory – but playing jacks memory. We were in Utah at our grandparents cabin on Panguich Lake. Grandpa was playing with me – and I reached out to grab the jacks, and a bird crapped on my arm. I was so embarrassed but Grandpa said” Don’t worry Christy – it’s just a boide the tuided on your arm and he made me laugh. Good Memory – I was about 7.

  2. My memory isn’t about a playground either, but you mentioned squirt guns. When my sister’s children were small, I hosted her and the kids in Penticton, where I was house sitting. There’s a big lake there, so we bought the kids squirt guns–BIG squirt guns, about the size of rifles (yes, probably not allowed these days), and we’d go to the lake every day for hours of fun. On our way home we’d stop at the 35-flavour ice cream place for cones. Nowadays THOSE children’s children have no end of fun with a different kind of gun (also as big as a rifle) that shoots sponge bullets (which the dog gobbles up if it is anywhere nearby). But do they play with marbles–haven’t seen marbles around for years! Might be a healthy alternative to electronic devices!

  3. While the sun is peaking over the U district at 6:30 on the 14th (today) and reading your blog, I recall just minutes ago wishing for a Brady novel about the family and how they grow. My first and last visit to Bisbee was 2018, my trail of tears RV trip to see friends and family in the south western states…my last RV trip. The stress of driving that rig was getting to me.
    Seattle is no longer that friendly town my company sent me in 1976, Our children are grown and their families have families. Too what end? social problem so enormous the authorities refuse to call it by it’s correct name, VAGRANCY, instead throwing taxpayer money at homelessness, a element like joblessness.

  4. We would play marbles each spring. for keeps, of course. Then some kid would actually lose his marbles, complain to his mom who would complain to the principal who would ban playing for keeps, thus ending marble season !

  5. My worst playground memory is that I was at recess and licking on a Tootsie Pop, not paying much attention, and when I took what ended up being the last lick there happened to be a yellow jacket on the candy when I put it in my mouth. Boy, that sting really hurt. One of the nuns took me into the convent and got me cold water. To this day I’m not a fan of bees. Our playground was asphalt, so we girls mostly played tag or jumped rope. We did play jacks.

  6. I teach 2nd and 3rd grade. No jacks or marbles, no hopscotch or kickball. They play a chase zombie apocalypse game they have made up. Some but not many still swing or play on bars. Every now and then someone goes down a slide, but that is usually because of a zombie chasing them. Big sigh. Absolutely NO games involving shooting or guns.

  7. I grew up with squirt guns as well, but judging from the variety available on Amazon and watching kids playing in our condo’s pool I’d say either they are still allowed or we’ve got a whole generation of juvenile criminals. I grant you, unlike many of the BB guns on the market today none of the squirt guns I saw online are likely to be confused with an actual handgun. I can easily see how a law enforcement officer could confuse some of those BB guns for a lethal weapon, even on a bright sunny summer afternoon.

  8. At my grade school…Horace Mann in Kansas City, Mo….our playground was made of bricks. We had jungle gyms on the playground and my memory is of climbing to the top numerous times, standing up and balancing on the top rung!!! I would be horrified to watch my grandsons do that today, even on a grass playground! Different times! ?

    • Another KC girl here – Independence (Harry Truman’s hometown and mine). We had those metal jungle gyms too, and an asphalt playground beyond which what had to be at least an acre or more of grassy area with lots of very tall trees. If you ventured all the way to the property line, no way the teacher could see you. Good memories!

      • When my kids were young there was a jungle gym at our church which also had an 8 grade elementary school. One Sunday morning after church my son was playing on it and whacked his head on an exposed bolt resulting is 3 stitches. I looked at it later and discovered that it had been assembled with bolts long enough that about 1″ protruded on all of them. I took a hacksaw to them and replaced the regular nots with acorn nuts. they have a rounded smooth surface.

  9. At my grade school…Horace Mann in Kansas City, Mo….our playground was made of bricks. We had jungle gyms on the playground and my memory is of climbing to the top numerous times, standing up and balancing on the top rung!!! I would be horrified to watch my grandsons do that today, even on a grass playground! Different times! ?

  10. Play grounds have changed over the years with new materials available facing parent’s aversion to risk and law suits a benefit to law firms. Designing and building them was/is a nightmare.

  11. My childhood playground memories are overlaid by my playground memories as a teacher. I taught for 36 years, a lot longer than I was in elementary school. Twenty of those years were in kindergarten. I loved kindergarten. Things.definitely changed playground wise in those years. The merry go round disappeared. We certainly had to police it carefully. Otherwise children would jump off while it was moving. But the children loved it. They also took half the swings out to prevent kids from swinging sideways and.bashing into each other. That was a problem that we did not have in kindergarten.

    I am reasonably certain that squirt guns are.still around. I will have to check next time that I am in Wal-Mart. Which reminds me of my favorite day of our kindergarten year. Wet and Wild Day. Which was the last day of school. We would flood the playground, had wading pools, made the slide into a water slide among other water related activities. And yes we had squirt guns. I’ve been retired for awhile now. Doubt that Wet and Wild Day still exists at my school. It was a lot of work prepping and cleaning up.

  12. My memories of Spring recess was the small pink rubber ball and a game we played called “wall ball”. It was seven different games that we played against the brick walls of the school, the first one to miss in the succession of plays was out and the next girl tried. The boys were on the other side of the building, they played too rough. Sometimes we would jump rope, but only the older girls play “double Dutch? — I was never very good at that one.
    Because of the cold, snowy weather in Buffalo, being able to go outside for recess was a treat!

  13. I have so many memories of the playground at All Saints School (which no longer exists) in Bridgeport WV. During my visit back last summer, for the 50th HS reunion, I took my lunch to the place as it is now and sat there reminiscing.

    Jump rope was my favorite activity. I’m terminally challenged when it comes to interactions with flying balls of any sort and size.

    Sister John Francis would play ball sports with the students.

    Kathy T and I started a playground war in 4th grade. Our shared trip to the principal’s office is its own story.

    The black walnut tree that overhung the playground was a source of snacks and toys and stains on our hands.

    The shale surface under the playground equipment caused much pain to anyone who fell or tripped, yet it took years for it to be supplanted by something smoother (blacktop!).

    My children got much softer surfaces to play on in the 90s. But even the play structure we helped build in Lexington MA, where they grew up, has been replaced by modern, safer and more accessible, equipment.

    Maybe next week I’ll walk by the local school and see what happens at recess. If I stop to watch, though, I might get labelled a stalker and chased off.

    Times have changed. (uh, oh, earworm!)

  14. We moved from rural New Jersey to the Bronx where the playgrounds were made of concrete. Holy Cow! How could you play on concrete? We moved from the Bronx to Miami Beach where, on the playground during lunch on my first day of my new school, I had a really great conversation with a tall skinny sixth-grader. The next day we moved again. I always wondered whatever happened to him. 65 years later, I read his autobiography: for a while, he was one of the most famous men in America.

  15. I was a marble champ in 3rd grade. I played at recess and in the neighborhood. One day my mom spied me with my heavy coffee can full of marbles and asked where I got so many. When she learned I’d been playing for keeps she told me I had to return them! I don’t remember how I figured out how to do that, but I’ll never forget the sadness of a 2/3 empty coffee can.

  16. Thank you for the playground memories, what fun they were!
    I’m a girl (of a certain age) that had my own marbles and “jacks’, many a recess was spent on my knees enjoying the competition.

  17. Grew up in a suburb of Cincinnati. Playing jacks was a playground favorite, as well as jump rope and dodge ball. But we spent hours trading cards. Making pairs or triplets of the same design. Still have my cards, packed away with other memories. Thanks for the memory boost, back to those times.

  18. I totally agree about memories! Am now living in an independent living facility & we often share memories, often followed by laughter. The laughter, often many times a day, was what first struck me when I moved in. I had no idea how much fun it would be to live with people in my age bracket! We connected easily because our experiences of long ago were so often similar, of a world that no longer exists. I would not trade my life now for what it was before I downsized, living alone & with far too much to take care of.

  19. It was 4 square and tetherball for the girls mostly and the boys played football or baseball on a blacktopped playground.
    Of course there was that very “safe” jungle gym sitting on that blacktop also! I think I always came home with at least one skinned knee or palm!! LOL

  20. My favorite recess memory had nothing to do with the playground but across the front road of the school were fenced fields and the horse we kids would visit and feed. I only had apples as I couldn’t convince my mother that cubed sugar was better, but other girls had cubes. Everyday a group of about 10 of us would visit, pet and feed the horse. As the horse got fatter and fatter we kids got banned from crossing the road during schools hours and the owner got smart and keep the horse in the stall before and after school. We moved to the other side of town after 5th grade and I attended a different elementary school.
    Many, many years later when my middle child was in different elementary school in a different city she had a sleepover with a friend from school. The friend’s uncle was a teacher at the school and took the girls after school to the grandparents for the sleepover (maybe a birthday?). The next day as I drove to pick up my daughter following the written driving instructions I started to experience a sense of nostalgia driving into the city I grew up in and then sadness as I turned on to their street. Across from their house was my old elementary school and in place of the fields and horse stall were track homes.

  21. I grew up on a farm in Central Iowa and attended a school a couple of miles from the farm from Kindergarten thru 7th grade. There was only grass around the school building. No sidewalks or paved playground. We had a merry-go-round and
    made up ball games. There weren’t enough of us to make full teams. It was a simple world then.

  22. Playing on the monkey bars, hanging upside down with knees bent, holding your skirt UP in this case so hopefully the boys couldn’t see stuff. Never thought to wear shorts under the skirt!

    • The chant of ‘I see Paris, I se France, I see someone’s underpants’ by the onlookers of the girls on the jungle gym. Wearing shorts under their skirts was unheard of at the time.

  23. When I was a freshman at Creighton University (1966), I lived on on the fifth floor of Gallagher Hall. One night two of my classmates sat on the hall floor, playing jacks. The rhythmic bounce of the ball on the floor brought people from all the lower floors up to find out what the noise was.

  24. I grew up 50 years ago in north Seattle and have strong playground memories around the kickball “field” which was asphalt. Back then, the best boys(by skill, it was kind of a default that we all understood who that was) chose the teams, alternating picks between boys and girls. Luckily I had a good kick so was usually picked first or second….but I look back and wonder about those girls(and boys) who were always last. Being very competitive, I still remember thinking “ shoot we got stuck with P or J, she’s a sure out”. They acted like it didn’t bother them that they were last but I’m sure it did. Wallball with a big red rubber ball against a red brick wall was another one that I recall, along with dodge ball. You cannot believe how hard they could throw those balls but I did not care, I was going to catch it for my team…..then there was Mrs Woods the lunchroom/playground lady. Like you said, she seemed so old but was probably 40 and was always smiling and surrounded by kids…not me as I was on the kickball field!

    • Since my vision problems meant I had no depth perception, I never caught a ball or hit one either. So I was always one of the last ones chosen, and yes it did hurt.

  25. I used to play jacks and do hop-scotch. I learned to play marbles with the boy who lived next door.
    Wonder about jump rope too?

  26. Great memories. I remember tetherball at B. F. Day Elementary School in Seattle, WA.

  27. My favorite playground experience was Teatherball! Usually played by the girls but sometimes a brave boy.

    Second favorite was the bar where we slung one leg over the bar, held on to our ankle and got to spinning. No real concern for the dress we were wearing.

    Grade school was in the late 50’s and early 60s.

  28. My favorite playground experience was Teatherball! Usually played by the girls but sometimes a brave boy.

    Second favorite was the bar where we slung one leg over the bar, held on to our ankle and got to spinning. No real concern for the dresses we were wearing.

    Grade school was in the late 50’s and early 60s.

  29. At our tiny grade school in rural Wisconsin (125 kids, 1st-8th grades) in the ’50s, the playground equipment was great, but has long been outlawed. The two times I remember getting hurt at recess happened in the winter. One time, I rounded the corner of the school building and was hit with an ice ball between the eyes, resulting in two black eyes. The other time, coasting down the snowy hill on a saucer, the saucer hit a dry spot. I fell forward and got a bloody nose. I don’t remember any of the three teachers at the time performing playground duty! Not that it would have prevented injuries.

  30. I definitely played Jack’s, but I also remember having a pretty nice marble collection and playing in 5th grade with the boys.
    Think I still have some of those great marbles.
    Oh, memories. Thanks for your blog, J.A.

  31. 5th grade was my favorite year with my first male and favorite teacher. It was mostly his involvement with us at recess that earned him this favored status. He roamed the asphalt and grass field at recess, joining in the various activities after asking permission. On the field he would award a stick of gum to anyone who could hit a home run from their non dominant hand position and on the asphalt he would double Dutch jump rope and play hopscotch. He conveyed that playground duty wasn’t just a duty, but that he liked us.

  32. Back in the 60’s I attended Arminta Steet School in North Hollywood, CA. It was less than a block from my house so when summer vacation rolled around I spent many hours playing hand ball, tether ball, dodge ball and when it was really hot, Carroms. In those days they hired a young adult to be in charge of the equipment. We signed out a ball, or game or whatever they had and spent hours playing. Good memories.

  33. I attended Greenway School and also had Mrs. Spangler as a teacher. Brought back many memories. Also remember Mrs. Browder’s store. Thank you for sharing yours!

  34. My mother gave my granddaughter the fur coats that had been her mother’s. My grandparents came from Oslo Norway, thru Minneapolis to northern Montana and a land grant close to the Canadian border. My grandfather called it Little Norway. My grandmother’s fur coats were all home made for warmth, including a beautiful mink. There’s four fur coats all cleaned and stored for my granddaughter who has only worn one for a couple of hours. Real fur you know so – soooooo not in style. Sometimes you forget that those furs were very necessary for the cold winters – in Little Norway Montana:-)

    • I still have a fur coat given to me by my mom’s friend who got it from her mother-in-law. I wore it to an event several years ago and felt SO elegant until I arrived at the event and saw all the glaring strares from the folks there. That was the last time I ever wore it. Must be over 100 years old by now. I always envied and admired those women in their coats, so beautiful.

      Please no negative comments, I’m an animal lover and get it!

  35. I am loving Collateral Damage and that isn’t a surprise because I have enjoyed every book you have written.
    Did I miss the call for sending SA #10 envelope for the traditional bookmark?
    With the price of stamps now I don’t want to send my request and use 2 stamps if the bookmarks aren’t available.
    Hope you and Bill are doing well.

  36. another game we played was stretch. You threw a knife into the ground on one side or the other of your opponent and they would have to move their foot to touch it. then they did the same ot you. the first one tofall or not remain vertical lost.We also would play war. This was during Korean war and we made grenades out of gravel wrapped with aluminum foil. GOOD TIMES !

  37. I have pictures of my Cub Scout troup on that playground. I remember one day we were playing vollyball and one of the guys drop-kicked the ball (a major no no – you don’t kick a vollyball). As he did it he said “Drop kick, take a lap” and Mr. Thorp, the principal, who was standing right behind him, said, “You’re right, take a lap.” There was a pile of bricks in the far southwest corner of the playground and when I was very young I use to take my cars out there to play during recess. Not many kids went that far out, so I had the area all to myself most of the time. Lots of memories of Greenway.

  38. And our swings swung above dirt, asphalt or gravel. Metal slides with no handrails, metal or wooden carousels….how did we survive the school playgrounds back when?!

  39. My grandfather, Logan Sydney Adams, was the Principal of Horace Mann School, and I met a man a few months ago who is in his 60’s now. When he learned who my grandfather was, he said grandfather still had his squirt gun and he wanted it back!

  40. Your blog reminded me of the old bumper sticker -“Seattle rain festival – November through May.” Bob Glass

  41. The jungle gym! All those metal bars straddling a thin layer of sawdust hiding the rock infested dirt, and cement anchors.

  42. Spring time was the season I got back onto the turning bars. Seems like I lost my nerve over the winter for it took me several days to get brave enough to do forward and backward turns. Now 75 years later I recall how sore the back of my knees could get.

  43. Jacks, hop-scotch, jump rope….I hated the mandatory ball games as I could not see the ball coming. We also had folk dancing days which I remember as being quite fun, although I probably was terrible due to lack of rhythm/coordination. This was late ’50s.

    In the late 80s/early 90s we introduced our kids and their cousins to jacks and hop-scotch, which were novel and entertaining, during an endless rainy week at a mountain cabin with a big cement porch. My mom played cards with them for a penny a point and my dad went to the nearest town’s bank for rolls of pennies as no one wanted to trade their penny stash in for boring old paper money.

    I wonder if they remember about jacks now. I stepped on one and it punctured the flesh on my heel and had to be jerked out. Two fascinated kids entertained the group by repeating what I said, which was felt by their grandmother to be unladylike.

    Thanks for uncovering those memories!


  44. Thanks for sharing & I can recall ‘deadly’ dodgeball sessions, ‘Mother May I’ & chasing games (later w/6th gr. boys & ‘If u catch me, u can kiss me’ by 1 of the braver girls!) Thanks for those memories!

  45. My first scary memory on the playground, in Wichita, KS, is when I was 5 or 6. I had climbed on top of the bars you crossed from one side to the other, and all of a sudden my hands were so sweaty I couldn’t get down! A lot of kids walked to school, so I had to stay up there until one of the kids went home and brought a parent back with them to rescue me! I don’t remember if I ever did that again. Our days were spent riding bikes, roller skating (with the key to change sizes or tighten them), and walking on stilts my dad made for us! Before we had stilts we walked on upside down cans with a rope through the top sides to hold them onto our feet as we walked. Precious memories! It’s so sad that today’s kids don’t know the simple pleasures of being so creative ?.

  46. I loved that day in early spring when the hopscotches were freshly painted. In 4th grade I remember I was hopscotch champion at recess!

  47. Monkey bars! I was all over them every which way. Which leads to my next memory of my teacher basting the skirt part of my dress back
    to the bodice. Actually, make that memories. I more than once ripped my skirt off and went home with the skirt pinned(straight pins too, ouch) or loosely basted back together. My wonderful mom would sew everything back together. Stay off the bars? Never happen. They were my Sirens call.

  48. I’ve had lots more fun reading the comments than I did writing the blog. Thank you one and all.

  49. I had way more fun reading the comments than I did writing the blog. Thank you one and all.

    • Yeah, well we have fun commenting. 8300 steps in 83 minutes = 100 steps / minute or roughly 100 meters / minute. This is moving along quite nicely when you figure that the average 75 year old can’t sprint 100 meters in 30 seconds. Or, put another way, you’re doing 5 miles or so in one hour 23 minutes. That is roughly a 16 minute per mile pace. By way of comparison, I am one of the fastest men my age in the country (83) and my normal walking pace on a track is about 15 minutes / mile. So you are doing really well.

  50. In grade school, the boys did not like me beating them at marbles. A girl classmate and I formed our own “herds” playing horses; galloping around and whinnying. We both thought we each knew more about horses than the other; then we became fast friends and are to this day. Now we take road trips together at age 81 checking out antique stores and National Parks.

  51. How I wish we could go back to the days of kids playing outside and having fun doing it. We didn’t know any better. Dodge ball, jacks and bike riding were what we did. The neighborhood was safe and we always made it home on time. Today it is all electronics and scary things. We had it better

  52. Oh how I remember Dodge Ball. One of the few playground, (or P. E.), games I was especially good at.
    I could hit and catch a softball too.
    We had a half year of gymnastics that I truly failed at. And because I was born with a condition called Dislocating Knee caps,(the knee cap didn’t have enough bone under it, and the knee under the cap didn’t have deep enough groove, so any running, jumping or hard landings were just trouble for me.)
    Thanks for the memories, though.

  53. Last year my grandson was in 2nd grade. During recess the boys spent a lot of their time trying to flip a water bottle in the air and have it land upright and stay that way. They were persistent and successful after a time! We live in the desert (Las Vegas) so water bottles are ubiquitous.

  54. I do remember dozens of kids sitting on a smooth concrete surface playing jacks. We also played four square, jump rope, and hopscotch. In the kindergarten and first grade yard, there was a merry-go-round that the boys would spin as fast as they could. In 2nd grade I was swinging between 2 rings and ended up on my rear end several feet away. I must of blacked out because I don’t remember letting go or landing. When I “came to” all the kids were running back to the classroom–recess was over.

  55. Growing up in The Bronx, NY in the 1950s, we did not have any actual playgrounds, not even at the Catholic School I attended. However, I lived in a 6 story walk-up with a basement level where the supers (in fact they were my aunt and uncle) lived. All around this level was an open area (think of it as a wrap around patio in today’s standards). There, my cousins and I played hopscotch, jumped rope, played marbles and pick-up sticks, and just generally goofed off.
    There were several openings into the actual building at this level – an entrance to the super’s apartment, a laundry room, a storage room, a furnace room, and a coal room. The coal was delivered on a regular schedule, and sometimes in the summer months it was almost empty for a while. We had a lot of fun in there because it was cooler than outside – playing hide and seek, and, of course, getting filthy with the coal dust…what memories…

    • I imagine that you would be able to use a stray piece of coal to draw your hopscotch boards. I know we played hopscotch whenever a teacher would let us have a nub of chalk that was too short for her to comfortably use at the chalkboard. No pre-painted grids; just what we could draw for ourselves on the paved area directly around the school.

  56. Glenwood Heights Elementary School in the Battle Ground, WA school district. 1-4th grade. Getting really high on the swings then jumping off. Chasing the boys around the grass and trying to tackle and kiss them. (4th grade). Then at Sable Elem in Aurora, CO being one of the first picks for kickball because I could kick a mean ball. The neighborhood kids would play dodgeball and Red Rover and since some of them were older, dodge ball left a few marks. Not one of my favorites.
    I just finished Collateral Damage. I just want to say: Really, really good job. I was pleased to see Beaverton mentioned. (Lived there for 10 months). My ex-husband graduated from Gresham High School. I think my favorite part was Aly getting in the detectives faces. She didn’t let them push her around.

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