Memories have a funny way of seeming more important when you realize you’ve forgotten them. It’s kind of silly, because if they were really that important, you probably wouldn’t have forgotten them in the first place.
Before I moved to Great Falls toward the end of my kindergarten year, Carla Patterson was my best friend, which is really saying she was my only friend. Like most kids in our class, she was a little bigger than I was. She had the same mousy brown hair I had. Freckles she hated as much as I loved them dotted her face and arms.
We were in Daisies together for what ended up being my entire five months of membership in Girl Scouts. Her older sister Tracy was a Brownie, much to be admired. It was Tracy and her friends who were ultimately responsible for most of the trouble we got into back then, and we managed to get into quite a bit for being just five years old.
Carla and Tracy lived about a block up the street, in safe walking distance. There were quite a few kids our age in the neighborhood and we all played together. It was close to the K-3 school we attended. Rents were cheap and a lot of families with kids in K-3 wanted to live within walking distance. School was only a block the other way from Carla’s, so in my case, Beatrice, my babysitter, would watch from our porch while I walked by myself.
The Pattersons used to have a tree swing hanging from a big elm tree in the yard in front of their house. Carla and I watched Tracy jump from the swing one day while we awaited our turn. It’s a natural thing to try to do the things you see your big sister do, and so in short time, both Carla and I were swinging up as high as we could get the swing to go and jumping out, and we really thought it was great fun. It was difficult to get higher than about six feet, high enough to be scary, but the fall was to a soft lawn. We must have jumped from that swing a hundred times each.
Carla’s next-door-neighbor was a boy named Brian. Brian was kind of an annoying little jerk who like to rub it in our faces that he was in first-grade. Kindergarten babies, he called us. He used to stand by and talk to us while we played on the swing, which often included some sassy talk both directions. Among the things he said was that swings were for babies and pre-schoolers. It wasn’t until Carla said he was jealous because we could jump farther than he could we realized he was scared to do it.
Brian offered excuses. He just didn’t want to take the swing away from us babies. Any boy could out jump a girl and there was no sense in proving it. Stuff like that. We began to tease him. It felt good after all the teasing he gave us to be able to tease back. We called him a fraidy cat, and a chicken. We said he was too much of a sissy for a baby swing, and finally, Brian had enough. He was not going to be hazed by a couple kindergarten girls.
I jumped from the swing and Brian confidently took the ropes and sat. Within a few moments, it was apparent that Brian didn’t even know how to swing. I guess he thought he’d watched us enough, or that it was so simple anyone could do it. Once he sat however, it was plain that just sitting on the wobbly wooden seat scared him, and leaning backward to pump was terrifying. We laughed at him at first, and then started telling him what to do.
“You gotta lean back and put your feet out,” I said.
“Shut up! I know what to do.”
“I thought swinging was for babies,” Carla chided. “Babies can swing and you can’t.”
“Shut up! I can too.”
“Then do it,” I said.
“I will. I’m just not in a hurry like you babies.”
He began to lean back a little, but when he kicked his feet forward, the ropes bent and he slipped backward on the seat nearly falling out of it before catching it with his knees. Carla and I were in fits.
“You have to get started first before you lean back that far,” Carla laughed. “You want me to push you, baby?”
“I don’t need any help,” Brian snapped.
“Just walk yourself back as far as you can and jump into the swing,” I said, honestly trying to be helpful.
“I know! I know!”
Finally he got himself going. He still wouldn’t lean back very far, but he got the feet part right and eventually, he was able to get high enough to attempt a jump.
“Just let go and jump when you get to the end,” I called out.
“Don’t do it when you’re going backwards though, make sure you’re going forwards,” Carla added.
Back and forth. Back and forth. Every time he would get the right spot, Carla and I would both call out, “Now!” Back and forth. Back and forth. “Jump!” Back and forth.
“He’s too scared,” I said.
“Fraidy cat, fraidy cat,” Carla began to chant. Back and forth. I began to chant it with her.
Then Brian must have realized he didn’t know any other way to stop the swing. He made the decision to jump, but then had no confidence in what to do. Carla and I watched in shock as he reached the pinnacle of his swing, and then tried to scoot out of the seat with his momentum beginning in the wrong direction. He panicked and changed his mind, grabbing for the rope which slipped from his hand and he fell awkwardly on his side to the ground.
As he landed, all his weight fell hard on his other hand. His forearm bent instead of his elbow and the jagged end of his bone pushed through his skin. I screamed. Brian screamed. Carla got dizzy and fainted. Carla’s mom came running out of the house at the screaming. She saw Carla lying on the ground and she screamed too and ran to help Carla! Brian’s parents came out and they began screaming. Everyone was screaming, and all the whole while poor Brian lay there under the swing with his bone sticking out of his arm. Finally, an ambulance arrived, and Brian was mercifully carted off, his bone set, and he was in school the next day in a cast.
“Kindergarten babies aren’t allowed,” Brian said, when Carla and I wanted to sign his cast at recess. He made a point of declaring it publicly and loudly. I was furious. I wanted to tell everyone what a fraidy cat he was, but somehow, his plaster trophy of honor, signed with all the respect of the first grade class, seemed like it deserved my silence.
Kids will be kids, I guess. I can’t say it was the last time I ever teased anyone. I can’t even say it was the last time I goaded anyone into doing something they probably shouldn’t have done. Fact is, I didn’t really learn anything from it at all. I moved not long after that, and I pretty much forgot about Brian until my first summer of high school, when I stumbled upon a Girl Scouts exhibit at the county fair that said Tracy Patterson on the credits.
© 2013 Anne Schilde