A sun-filled summer on the playground

Hannibal Courier-Post (MO) - Wednesday, June 16, 1999

Author: MARY LOU MONTGOMERY, Courier-Post Associate Editor

Summer playground. Hot days, lazy afternoons and neighborhood camaraderie. The Hannibal Parks and Recreation Department is once again sponsoring summer activities at selected school playgrounds. As I think of this, my mind is racing back four decades, to a time when the best place to find your friends on a summer day was the elementary school playground. The swings were always filled, the teeter-totters always swaying up and down, someone was usually hanging upside down on the monkey bars, and the slide was slick enough transport a generation of children from high in the sky to the dusty ground below. I can remember stretching my legs and pointing my toes as high as I could to make the swing sail into the air, high above the ground, my arms stretched at length, my fingers clenched and knuckles white, grasping the metal linked chain. My long, straight hair blowing into tangles and my summer shorts and shirt puffing up like a parachute as I pumped to go even higher. Crowded on most any day, the two-section playground provided ample room for all to while away the lazy hours. A square wooden box on the ground, with semi-circle holes the size of a croquet ball. Bean bags tossed into a straight board filled with circular holes. The swoosh of balls rushing through the basketball nets, and the sound of tennis shoes slapping against the concrete surface. A cooling drink at the stone fountain on Mary Twain School playground's southern wall, or a trip to the nearby Adams store or St. Mary 's Pharmacy for a candy bar or a pack of gum. Hopscotch squares drawn in chalk at the corner of the basketball court, and giggling girls standing in line to take their turn at the game of balance. Neighborhood locust trees provided refreshing shade to the play-weary children congregating together from their homes located in a radius of six hilly blocks or so. DeAnn Powell and her brother David, and their neighbor Kenny Kennedy lived on St. Mary 's Avenue. Eddie Glascock and his brother Jerry, who lived on Bird Street. And of course the Antons, Sara and Flip, who on really hot days brought a supply of cold drinks from their father's bottling company in an iced wagon. Robbie Briscoe wowed the others with his baseball finesse on the playground's upper level, and while the girls played Red Rover or kickball, Mike Benn and my brother Becker stood ready to join in on any activity involving a ball or a bat. I remember as a first-grader, sitting on a swing beside Marilyn Burns - who lived next door to the school playground - discussing the white flecks under our fingernails. "They're from telling lies," she assured me, (and her dad was a doctor, so she should know) but I didn't really believe her until she pointed out that her baby brother didn't have flecks, because he was too young to tell lies. I hid my fingernails from my mother when I returned home for supper that evening. We rode our bikes to the playground, which was downhill from our house, then worn out from an afternoon of play, we pushed them up the Flora Street hill toward home. We didn't need to lock our bikes back then. Everybody had a bike, so there was no need to steal one. As much fun as we had in the dusty confines of the chain-linked playground, the granddaddy of all fun began on the hottest of the summer afternoons, when a sprinkler system was rigged to the fire hydrant at the corner of North Hawkins and Hill streets. Traffic stopped and children, drawn by the magnet of spraying mist, spilled into the street, enjoying the rush of water over their sun-heated skin. On a recent late afternoon, while walking through the neighborhood of my childhood, I ventured into the confines of this same playground, now void of children and their laughing voices. I sat in the swings, but felt too foolish to soar high into the air. I ran my fingers on the steps of the slide - the same one from my childhood - but didn't climb the steps. Our chalk hopscotch squares are replaced with a painted map of the United States. The stone fountain remains, but I didn't check to see if it was functional. Many days and nights and seasons and decades have passed since I spent my summer afternoons on this playground. As I walked through the lower gate and away from the slides and swings on this recent day, memories of my childhood swirling in my head, I realized just how much the summer playground program of my youth contributed toward my character.

Fourth-grade girls at Mark Twain Elementary School are pictured around 1958. Many classes of students have posed for pictures in this spot on the playground, with the school building as a backdrop. This image is part of an old photo collection recently found by Becker Spaun - who was in this class - and his sister, Sarah Fletcher.

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