I Saw the Whole Thing!

A Kindergarten Memory

For those of us whose children have left the nest, there are only two ways to be reminded that school has started back once again. One is to pay a visit to Wal-Mart, where the aisles are jammed with notebooks, pencils, Spiderman backpacks and crayon boxes. The other is to receive an unexpected speeding ticket for blithely sailing through a school zone that most assuredly was not in effect yesterday!

But enough about my morning. I'd rather talk about something more pleasant, namely Kindergarten. Just about this time last year I happened to be at my daughter's house on the very week her five-year-old started school, so I decided to share with him an old photo of my very own Kindergarten class at First Presbyterian Church in Midland, Texas, that was taken way back in 1959. After pointing myself out to him (I'm seated in the middle of the front row with my foot sticking out) Aidan studied the picture carefully and said, "Grammy, how come everything was gray when you were little?”

"It wasn't really gray” I explained. "That's just how things looked in the picture. In fact, the world was every bit as colorful back then as it is now.” And nothing (I thought to myself) is as colorful as my memories of that year, including one incident in particular that I can recall as vividly as if it happened yesterday. And I am not alone. I recently attended my 40th high school reunion and in the course of reminiscing about our childhood, this one story was mentioned by no fewer than four of my fellow Kindergarten classmates!

It all started on an ordinary Thursday morning. As was our custom, following our graham cracker and juice break we were enjoying some outdoor time on the play equipment that was situated on the lawn at the corner of the church property, when our teacher noticed that a huge (and I mean HUGE) crane was in the process of lifting an enormous (and I mean ENORMOUS) steel cross up to the top of the giant (and I mean GIANT) steeple.

Figuring we'd all get a kick out of watching it, she summoned all twenty-six of us from our various positions on swings, monkey bars, seesaws, slides and jungle gyms, and gathered us around her on the sidewalk near the church sign. It truly was a remarkable sight – the silvery metal cross catching the glint of morning sun while dangling from the end of the crane. As it rose higher and higher, the old hymn "Lift High the Cross” would surely have been brought to mind, had I been old enough to know it back then. As it was I just gazed in awe at the marvelous spectacle. That is, until… everything suddenly went wrong.

For some reason, just after the cross was deftly maneuvered into place, the crane lost its power, and the weight of the massive arm became impossible for the controller to manage. I can still see it in my mind's eye as the whole thing, almost seemingly in slow motion, gently swayed back and forth for a few seconds and then came crashing down, bouncing a couple of times with a deafening thud of metal against metal – right onto the jungle gym – the very same jungle gym where moments before a whole bunch of happy five-year-olds, including me, had been playing!

You know, to this day I cannot tell you what my teacher's name was or even what she looked like, but I will never, never forget what she sounded like in that instant. Hysterical shrieking doesn't begin to describe it, but for the moment it'll have to do. She just literally fell apart, right there on the sidewalk in front of God and all the rest of us. At the time I was baffled by her behavior, but later on when so many of our mothers (who were hastily summoned to the church to retrieve us) had exactly the same reaction, it occurred to me that maybe this was a bigger deal than I originally thought!

I'm told that the episode actually made the front page of our local newspaper the next day, and there was even a picture of the crane where it had come to rest on the jungle gym, like some slain giant mutant praying mantis from an old Japanese monster movie. But even though I somehow missed the write up and its accompanying photo (in black and white, no doubt), I can say without hesitation that this single event still remains one of the most vivid, and most colorful memories of my entire life!

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