bioStories Blog is an extension of the online magazine bioStories: Essays from the magazine, news, updates on contributors, and other features appear here.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Childhood Concrete

by Ruth Lehrer

            Squatting on New York City pavement, I was queen of jacks. Onsies, twosies, my red ball bounced until it cracked white and crumbled. We huddled in little girl packs, sitting tirelessly on school playground rock. We hop-scotched up the numbers and back. We sang slapping, smacking songs until they were ground into our brains like multiplication tables.  I still know seven times six, and one middle-aged clap still triggers every word of “Miss Lucy had a Steamboat,” dirty parts and all.
            How did chants about asses and shards of glasses get past the recess monitors? Maybe schools cared less back then, the real world in such a turmoil—Vietnam and Malcolm X and Nixon saying it wasn’t him. Maybe the teacher’s aide was worrying about her draft-evading son in Canada and she didn’t notice we were singing about steamboats bound for hell.
            I have visceral memory of failing at double-dutch—a twist, a slap, a fall. I was teacher-less, since all the great double-dutch masters were black girls in fourth grade and I was only in second, my friends only white or Puerto Rican. I could skip to one hundred, but the flip-flip of two ropes evaded me. Something about turning your knees in and your feet out.
            Boys didn’t play jacks and didn’t clap songs. I think they played marbles but I didn’t care about boys. I just wished I could be hopping double-dutch, up by the chain-link fence where girls sucked on cigarettes that friends poked through crisscross metal mesh.
            Then we moved upstate and there was only green grass and no concrete. No one cared I was queen of jacks. My hopscotch skills withered without chalk and cement. There were no double-dutch athletes.
            Now, I am almost fifty, still double-dutchless. Maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, when I drive out of the hills, down the north-south highway to a concrete urban school, I will look and see—do they still twist ropes on city pavement?
            Maybe a ten-year-old girl will notice me, watching, and take the time to teach what I missed the first time around.

Ruth Lehrer is a writer and sign language interpreter living in western Massachusetts. Her poems and fiction have been published in Meat for Tea and Wordgathering. She received third prize in the 2009 Hampshire Life Short Story Contest and Honorable Mention in The Binnacle 8th Annual Ultra Short Competition. She is currently seeking a publisher for her first novel, I Love You More Than Cinnamon Toast.

No comments:

Post a Comment