Monday, May 31, 2010

Hopscotch

Hopscotch. Behind the school, 75 metres away from the wartime house.

Our hopscotch grounds started on the sidewalks. Nobody had chalk, so we drew with pieces of gyproc that had paper on two sides. Holes were punched in walls by wrestling and kicking and sometimes doing somersaults. Our “chalk” was the fringe benefit of our rambunctious natures. Eventually, we graduated to the yellow painted hopscotch patterns in the schoolyard.

Originally, the school that was the first sprawling brick bastion of Shaughnessy Heights had only one hallway running north-south through it. The gym was at the back of the school, on the west side of the big hallway, and the big kids, the grade fives and sixes, were at the far end of the hall in Rooms 11 and 12. Before I was old enough to be in scary Mrs. Palishock’s class at the end of the hall, the population of Shaughnessy Heights had exploded. The kids from Rosser had joined us by school bus and the kids from The Development had joined us from the new row houses that had been built in the fields. They were even building some other boxy places called Willow Park further out in the fields. Because of all of the building, we couldn’t see DeGrave’s anymore.

We embraced this huge neighbourhood improvement.

The downside was the skating rink. It was getting moved north, from behind the school, to way over, past The Development.

“Mom,” I’d call from amid the pile of coats and boots in the front hall, when I was almost ready for our winter outdoors. “I’m going to the Shack!”
We called it the Shack. Sometimes I'd wear my skates over so I wouldn't have to change them outside because you could never be sure if the Shack was going to be open. The snow was pushed into plies at the edges to keep the puck and the kids in the rink, but I can never remember holding a hockey stick. Sometimes there were nets, but there was never a coach or a real team. When we got there, our obsessions were pom pom pull-away and crack the whip. Minus twenty Fahrenheit was nothing to us. Flying we would go, into and over the snow banks. We were lucky. Ours was really just a skating rink. Northwood, way across the tracks, had the hockey rink, so at the Shack we could race and wrestle and skate every day from the minute supper ended until we could go no more, long after dark on those long winter nights.
It stunk of fuel oil in the Shack so none of us spent much time in there anyway. When they moved the rink to the end of The Development, they put up hockey boards and lights for the main ice, and on the other side, they had some open ice for skating. Nobody from around my wartime house used it anymore.
But the asphalt? Now, that was a welcome addition.

I had a scare when it was being laid. To roll it flat, right after it was poured, they used some gigantic concrete hollow cylinders. If you asked me today what they were, I’d say storm sewer segments. The diameter of those pipes was up to my armpits and the inside was almost big enough to run through. They were about four feet long. They were fun and because they had poured the asphalt during the summer we had the freedom of the hot summer afternoons to play in this urban Disneyland. We would curl up and roll each other until we’d smash into the concrete “coal bin” attached to the old school, or into the brand new steps of the new addition. They were heavy buggers, I remember. In grade four I was still only a six-X and weighed about 50 pounds. But I was game. I had barely the strength to get them started when it was my turn to push. Because I was smaller, I often had the joy of seeing the world cycle around me from within. But everyone wanted their turn.

This time there were only the two of us. She crawled and braced herself. Was it Debbie? Was it Shelley? I kneeled to get my shoulder under it to see if I could heave some momentum into this thing. Barely. Hardly. I wanted to give her a really good ride. I wanted to really send her flying and rolling and smashing into the coal bin. Finally, it started to roll. But slowly. And I needed to speed it up. So I gave a little push and took a couple of quick steps back and gave a wicked run for the concrete to push it high and hard. My hands hit it and stuck and up I went. My feet left the ground and time stopped. I hovered on top of this rolling death trap. Arms forward, legs back, balanced like a trapeze artist, seeing the imminent crushing deathblow that awaited my head as the rolling behemoth pulled me down.

I’d seen enough Popeye cartoons to know what the steamroller could do. I wasn’t na├»ve enough to believe that I would pop back out of my flattened state, see the spinach burst forth from my shirt pocket and eject itself directly into my mouth, causing my emaciated arms to suddenly burst into biceps and swing forth in defiance.


I was discovering danger and for the first time in my life, my blood ran cold. I had never known the dry-mouth fear of danger. I shivered uncontrollably at what might have been. What a sheltered life we lived in Shaughnessy Heights. We had laughter and freedom, food and plenty. There were no shackles, no rules. And here I was, bringing it all to an end.



I screamed. I sausage-rolled. I kicked, and I hit the pavement to the right of the rolling monster. There had been no witnesses. The ride was uneventful for the passenger but for me a near-death experience. I became a cautious girl. I did not want to die the fool. I’d heard about those kids who lived by the river and went out on the ice. Everyone knows not to do that. I was glad I didn’t live in EK – East Kildonan.
But the asphalt? Now, that was a welcome addition.It stunk of fuel oil in the Shack so none of us spent much time in there anyway. When they moved the rink to the end of The Development, they put up hockey boards and lights for the main ice, and on the side, they had some open ice for skating. Nobody from around my wartime house used it anymore.We called it the Shack. Sometimes I’d wear my skates over so I wouldn’t have to change them outside because you could never be sure if the Shack was going to be open. The snow was pushed into piles at the edges to keep the puck and the kids in the rink, but I can never remember holding a hockey stick. Sometimes there were nets, but there was never a coach or a real team. When we got there, our obsessions were pom pom pull-away and crack the whip. Minus twenty Fahrenheit was nothing to us. Flying we would go, into and over the snow banks. We were lucky. Ours was really just a skating rink. Northwood, way across the tracks, had the hockey rink, so at the Shack we could race and wrestle and skate every day from the minute supper ended until we could go no more, long after dark on those long winter nights.One benefit of this growth was a new expansion of the school and a gigantic asphalt slab behind it, painted with every version of hopscotch you could imagine.


Next week: The Brightest of Lights

No comments: