MAYPOLE MEMORIES

I pulled up the red flag on my Florida mailbox and stood a moment in the driveway. Maple leaves danced in a cool breeze. It carried shouts of happy children romping on the nearby charter school’s dirt playground.

The young voices carried me back to a dusty playground of my 1950’s Indiana elementary school years. I hear the echoing clang of twelve handles against the iron maypole.

A kid shouts, “Who’s got the ‘good one?’”

Another yells, “I do!”

At recess, my favorite activity was swinging around the tall iron maypole we kids called “the giants.” I started playing there during Third Grade, the first year I grew tall enough to reach both the high and low grips on each chain.

If I got out to recess late, other kids claimed all the handles. I stood on the edge and watched, hoping someone would tire and drop their handle so I could claim it and swing.

Each recess, girls and a few boys from third to sixth grades ran to that pole and claimed one of the eight chained handles. Whoever grabbed the metal bar that had a large imperfection shaped like a bird in flight held the “good one.” It was a handle with a flaw in one of the iron grips. The dent looked like a flying bird.

Whoever claimed that handle chose which way we were going to swing and how.

A maypole of old, courtesy of the Internet

A maypole of old, courtesy of the Internet

Most of the time, we did free swinging. The girl with the “good one” pointed. “That way!”

Together, we ran five steps or so, pulled up our feet and swung.

Other times, we did a kind of crack-the-whip. The holder of the good one went first. She looped her chain over the other seven and we all pulled until everyone stopped and– whoosh –she flew over us all.

Once she took to the air, I ducked and joined everyone else at the center pole. I walked around close to the pole and held out my handle to keep its chain from being tangled.

All the while, the flier cried, “Yiiii!” and “Ayeee!”

After about three rounds, her feet touched dirt and it was someone else’s turn to fly. The flier chose the next person to ride the air. Sometimes she pointed to a friend. Others, she took the next person in line.

Eyes wide and smiling, I watched the leader’s face. Choose me! Choose me!

When my turn came, I first did what I had learned from watching others. I bent and scooped a handful of dirt to make my hands gritty so they wouldn’t slide.

Looping my chain over all the others, I ran a few steps with the rest to help get a high flight.

Everyone gave a last mighty pull and stopped. I took to the air. It whistled in my ears and lifted my hair. Glory!

Mitten weather arrived with November’s chill and I abandoned the giants. Those iron grips were icy. Through long winter months, the lonely maypole and handles clanged a sad chorus.

Come spring, my hands were winter-soft and holding on to the iron bars for a full fifteen-minute recess raised angry red lines in my palms. If I tried to swing both morning and afternoon playtimes, I often got a blister.

Waiting for my hands to heal, I sat the ordinary swings or jumped rope. But, soon calluses hardened my hands. I was ready for maypole-swinging both morning and afternoon.

I always smile to hear wind in my ears. As a youngster, I also heard it coasting down a hill on my two-wheeler. Later, I thrilled to rushing air sound while riding in a convertible or motorboat.

None of those opportunities are available now, so I buzz down my car windows about two inches as I ride across a quiet boulevard, running errands. Like kids once stood around the giants once watched me maypole-fly, now oaks and maples observe my passage.

The air whispers to me.

Is it the voice of God?

Frances Fritzie

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