Vignettes from OWLTOWN - March
Author: Dennis Malick
The handbell Gertie Kramer rang did have something in common with its city cousin in Philadelphia, but it was by no means a “Liberty” bell to us. It was a shrill call to the wild kids running around the playground, hill and woods to get inside Owltown School and quick. Liberty—otherwise known as recess—was over. In your seats; and get quiet. Quick.
Like the bullet hole in the blackboard, the bell had a mystery of its own: a crack. Unlike its cousin four hours away, this cracked bell was rung every day and created a sort of recess fence. You just didn’t go outside its ringer’s range.
Except, it seemed, for Honey Deer players. That’s another mystery I didn’t understand until much later in life.
Honey Deer was a game like Deer Hunter, only in this one the girls were the deer who hid in the woods and the boys tried to find them. It seemed that only the Big Kids—s seventh and eighth graders—played it. The girls must have been pretty good at hiding, because neither the deer nor the hunters seemed to hear Mrs. Kramer’s bell very well and they’d be gone a long time.
Cousin Mabel June, 10 years older than me, also ran when the bell (probably the same one) rang, but Teach then had an extra incentive for you to be on time: a piece of rubber hose. Boys wore bib overalls to school then and hightop shoes which held a pocket knife.
The small creek (“crik”) running beside the Owltown school ground sometimes became part of the playground, like for pole vaulting. Getting across required a good pole. Before my time, one of the big kids, John Yost, tried vaulting the creek; but the pole broke once and he didn’t make it. Teach told him to go home and change clothes. John said he would but he was going to tell his dad about it and suggest that Teach be fired. Daddy, who was on the school board, listened to John’s story, took off his belt and provided a harsh ending to the tale (tail?).
A lot of our games involved hiding—from other kids, from the teacher, whomever. “Kick the Can” was one in which the kid who was “IT” put his or her foot on an upright can and, with eyes shut, counted: “1, 2, 3,” as every other kids ran, “4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Here I come. Ready or not. Anybody ’round my base shall be IT.” The point of the final command was that you couldn’t just stand next to the can and kick when “IT” opened his/her eyes. (Okay, let’s face it. “IT” most always was a boy; there weren’t many “IT” girls in grade school.)
So, “IT” would look around and look around, spot Clumsy Clark, run back to the can, put his foot on it and shout: “1, 2, 3 for Clark,” and Clark was sidelined. “IT” would wander farther and farther from the can, trying to spot someone else. Then there was the sprint to the can and “1, 2, 3 for Red,” and so on, until “IT” caught everyone or some speedy kid beat “IT” back and kicked the can, freeing all the sideliners and forcing “IT” to start over.
Like most any game, “Kick the Can” had wise guy fun-spoilers. “IT” would get the easy kids, then five or six others would bolt out of hiding all at once. With foot firmly on the can, “IT” would be rapid-fire shouting: “1, 2, 3 for Jim, 1, 2, 3 for Jean, 1, 2, 3 for Ron, 1,…” CLANK, would go the can, airborne off Cliff’s clodhopper.
The best “Kick the Can” was played after school—at night.
Next Issue: End of the Games