Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Muddy Hillside

So. Frank E. Doherty Elementary School. There were two playgrounds: The Upper L and The Lower L. I don't know if L was spelled L or what. I'm assuming it meant level. The Lower L was for kindergartners through third graders and The Upper L for fourth and fifth. Now, Doherty is on a lovely plot of land in beautiful West Bloomfield, Mich. That sounds like I'm being facetious, but I'm not; most of West Bloomfield is really quite delightful. Doherty especially. You drive up a longish driveway lined by pine trees on at least one side. The other side might just be regular trees. Through the stand of pines on your right you can see the big field area of the rather massive Lower L playground. Then the school presents itself, nestled comfortably in the landscape. There's a cul-de-sac designed, my mother felt, by a mad man (once those buses were in there, you were trapped). If you go off to left of the school there's a small parking lot at the base of a rolling lawn (where we played kickball). It was a good place to park and neck when in high school. That lawn then melded with The Upper L playground which swept down to a fence, a river (stream?) and the woods behind. There was a path through the woods that led to a big field and then to a subdivision. Just before the woods ended and the field began there was a snowball bush from which I stole huge white puffs for my mother in the spring. They say the woods were haunted, but when don't they say that?

Why the hell am I giving you this tour, she muttered to herself. Oh yeah! Okay. In the spring it rains in Michigan. (In the fall, winter, and summer it rains in Michigan.) The Lower L playground had it's own hillside, a bit more steep then The Upper L's rolling lawn. And it wasn't so much lawn because it was more constantly covered with children. (Why did this subject come into my head this morning? Oh, I know. It was already 66 degrees in the house when I got up this morning. It's been raining (gleefully) in LA this week. This is a good thing. It makes my garden grow. And it makes me happy. The world looks good and smells good and reminds me of home. But it's been much colder in the mornings before today. And when I let the Wiener out the back door, the air was soft and it smelled just like my youth.) (This reminds me of a letter I wrote to a guy I had a crush on when I first moved here. A bit of a lyrical description of a moment in my childhood. I'll look for it. It might interest you.)

In the spring, the hill was mud. My best friend Jenifer (yes, just the one N) and I felt that we needed to create roads to help the water drain down the hill and out the front gate. It did not need us to do this. But my, it was oddly satisfying. We spent every recess (three a day) climbing up and down, dragging the heels of our boots to make canals that connected to other canals and so on and so on. It was a messy job. The mud caked high on my hand-me-down boots. They had zippers which became useless. For a while at least, that wasn't much of a problem because they were too big. I remember one staying sucked in the mud while I kept moving. Stepped right out of it. I stood there on one leg, my little white-socked foot waving in the air until Jenifer rescued me. She was good like that.

The tenacity with which we worked on our public works project was astounding. I suspect our tongues were planted securely at the corners of our lips, to ensure the world of our determination. It was so satisfying watching our girl-made river rush out the front gate as directed by our heel-dug troughs. We may or may not have been yelled at by the recess monitors. And our mothers, for that matter. And, truth be told, this might have just happened on one day. But I don't think so. I think it was an epic project, like the Big Dig. I think our work was never done.

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