I used to love recess in elementary school, but I have to admit, I have very few memories from those moments. I can remember playing soccer in one huge game on a dusty field, where a blob of people chased the ball all over the field. Our soccer coach would have cringed to see such an undisciplined game. That game became far less fun when Pablo arrived. He was from Brazil. He knew very little English, but he knew soccer. Now the game turned into “Chase Pablo around the field.” Invariably, if you caught up to him, he made you look silly by putting on some incredible move. Those of us who had previously considered ourselves good soccer players soon learned otherwise. It got old.
When I was in fifth and sixth grade, I used to go home for lunch. This now seems like such a preposterous thing, but it was normal then. Without a note, I was allowed to stroll out of the building, cross the playground behind the school, and walk the almost-mile to my house. I would then let myself into my empty house with the key I wore around my neck, because both of my parents worked. I’d proceed to cook lunch. For much of sixth grade, I was accompanied by Tom Seward, who really liked the fact that I knew how to fry a hot dog. He rode the bus to school, so he wasn’t allowed to go home for lunch, at least not to his house. Did his parents know he was doing this? Did the school know he was doing this? Was he pocketing all of his lunch money? These are questions I ask now. I didn’t give it a moment’s thought back then.
We would have a glass of chocolate milk and a hot dog every day. Very nutritious! Then we would try to play along as we watched the tail end of Jeopardy and most of some game show whose name I can’t remember. I do recall that at the end of the show, the winning contestant got the keys to a car, but there were three cars in the studio. He or she had to choose a car, sit in the driver’s seat, insert the key (can you stand it?), and crank it. If the car started, lights would flash, confetti would fall, and the crowd would go crazy. It rarely happened.
I always wished that the person would pop it into reverse and crash through the set and just drive right out of the studio. It never happened.
Then, I would clean up, and Tom and I would walk back to school. Sometimes we got there at the tail end of Chase Pablo. Sometimes we barely made it back in time for class to start again. It never really occurred to me how many of our hot dogs Tom consumed. I know that my mom knew about it. There were always two plates from lunch.
I know I loved recess in elementary school, but I think at a certain point in childhood, the thing you start to love more is freedom.
Postscript: I just looked up the game show. Found it on a list of game shows from the 70s. It was called Split Second. I hadn’t remembered the complicated rules.