LONGFELLOW'S PLAYGROUND OF LIFE
It didn't then, but now in retrospect, it does seem odd: Just that one little gray rickety house in the corner of the playground. Longfellow Elementary occupied the whole city block except for that one little corner where the witch's house stood surrounded by a picket fence – with THE lone crabapple tree next to the house.
Next to cowboy matinees, recess was our salvation from parents and their fourth grade surrogate, Mrs. Bing, my frazzled teacher. The red clay playground was the altar where we worshipped football, softball, marbles, yo-yos, basketball AND those painfully-slow-in-ripening crabapples in the witch's backyard near first base.
Crabapples grow on a small tree. They follow a beautiful pink and white flower that falls off to reveal this incredibly hard little green apple. For the record let me state that crabapples are never anything but sour – we're talking really, really sour! When they are little, they are so sour and bitter that they will turn your tongue into the shape of an hour glass. Once they mature – after about ten years in kid-time – they are still danged sour enough to pucker up your whole face plus make one eye water. I don't know what they are good for, but to us they were: Free Food!
But we just couldn't wait. You would have thought, the way we slobbered after those things, that they were a five star Boston lobster dinner with all the trimmings. Maddeningly, slowly, in never-ending slow motion they would just hang there swelling ever so slightly each day in the hot Alabama weather as we played softball or shot marbles right next to the gray and white, peeling picket fence. We would sneak peeks in between turns to see if they had grown even just a little since morning recess. But they NEVER, EVER did.
Everyone has a breaking point. Sooner or later one of us would reach his and would screw up the courage to ignore the sign that menacingly announced, 'STAY OFF THE FENCE' and proclaim bravely, "I'm going in!" The rest of us would rally behind the valiant one and creep with dry mouths up to the slats to watch the drama that was about to unfold.
Rumor had it that several children had 'gone for the apples' a couple of years back never to be heard from or found. But, again, poor children are always hungry. Not that kind of hunger where you want a little snack. We're talking the kind of hunger where you are willing to risk becoming the main ingredient in Hansel & Gretel stew.
So, the year I am talking about - the infamous Mrs. Bing year - Mitch Duncan, a cretin schoolyard bully, reached the breaking point first and quickly removed his shoes and socks because, as every nine year-old knew then, you can run faster without the modern encumbrances of socks and shoes. About ten of us crept up low to the fence and were peering through the pickets gauging the distance between the buffet and the fence – eagerly anticipating the harvest.
Loud whispers of,
"Get me one, too, Mitch!" and
"Yeah, Mitch, me, too!" announced that suddenly, magically, we were all Mitch's friends. This, of course, is just good business practices learned early!
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