Saturday, February 10, 2007

Google Earth Meme #1, Vidalia Upper Elementary School

I originally wrote this post, planning just to present the text to y'all, but I remembered the times I've seen on other blogs I read, like Hammer's, who find a place on Google Earth, capture the picture of that place, and tell about it in the post.

So I'm adding a Google Earth picture of the town I speak of in this post. I think this is one of the better memes going around BlogLand. (Though my approach to this was backward.)

Also, Google Earth doesn't have detailed photos of Vidalia, Louisiana, so I could only put an overview of the whole area. It's kinda cool looking at the Mississippi River there anyway.

You'll definitely need to enlarge the photo. The school I talk about in this post would be right below the letters "i" and "d" in Vidalia.

When I was a kid in Vidalia, Louisiana, I attended Vidalia Upper Elementary from fourth through sixth grades.

I remember having a pretty good time there. I was a decent student. I had some decent friends. They had a gi-normous playground. The worst thing was P.E. (phys. ed.) and the dreaded rope climb. But I survived even that humiliation.

In my earlier years there I was a monkey-bars kinda guy. That's what we called the big, hump-shaped connected set of climbing bars. I loved racing out there when the bell would ring to mark the beginning of one of our precious recesses, trying to be the first to the bars and climb to the top and sit there, master of all I surveyed.

We played games on the bars, like tag where you couldn't touch the ground and other stuff we would make up on the spot. It was a blast.

There were also several empty 55 gallon drums on the playground, and we would try to stand on them and "walk" them. The best I could ever do on these were to get up there on one, and hold my balance for a bit, but as soon as I would start to try to walk the barrel, I would lose it and have to jump to safety.

I also liked the bars we always called the "cat walk", which was our name for the one that was essentially a horizontal ladder about six feet off the ground. And I was actually pretty good at that when I was a kid, and after we had warmed up on them for a while, we would try to see who could do the length of the bars by skipping as many rungs as we could on each swing and grab. Similar in nature to taking the stairs either two at a time or three at a time.

Those of us with long arms could stretch, if we got our rhythm right, and skip two bars, grabbing every third rung. That would get us from one end to another in only three grabs.

But there were days when even the long armed among us were tired, or the sun made the bars almost too hot to grab, where we would go from one to the next as they were designed, each grab and release done as quick as we could to keep from scalding our hands.

And then there were the daring ones. They might not be able to skip two bars at a time naturally, but they would do it anyway, having enough physical skill and courage to make up for having shorter arms by letting the first bar go and, for the briefest bit of time, be air born before catching the next bar.

I could reach past two to the third bar, but never had the courage to try to let completely go and grab the fourth bar. I just didn't have that innate physical courage.

The other thing I remember doing there was jumping off one of the 55 gallon drums and catching hold of the big main side bar of the "cat walk", swinging hugely while trying to hang on from the jump across the void, and when our swinging died enough, to simply drop down onto our feet on the ground. We would immediately get out of the way of the next person jumping and get back in line to climb atop the barrel for another jump.

Why I could do this, and not the skipping three rungs thing I mentioned earlier, I cannot say. I have no good reason. One just scared me but the other didn't. Go figure.

I do remember though, a miserable failure that eventually happened to all of us who did the barrel leap thing to the bar several feet away.

When you least expected it, after your leap and attempt to grab the cat walk's bar, you would grab on, your feet would swing forward with the momentum of your jump, but you would lose your grip on the bar.

Maybe it was sweaty hands, maybe just a lack of concentration, but that first realization that something was amiss occurred when your body was pretty much horizontal, about 5.5 feet above the ground and your hands had let go.

Ker-plunk! A fall flat on your back from 5 feet up will knock the breath out of anyone.

There's the shock of the pain of hitting your back and the back of your head on the hard-packed dirt, and then followed immediately by the panic of not being able to breathe exactly when you most need to so that you can scream, cry, or both.

After that, you might sit out a few turns while you got yourself back together, but before long, you would climb back on that barrel for another jump.

It's been a long time in my life, since I've had the courage, physically or mentally, to jump out and test myself.

I'm kind of in a place right now wherein I don't even know what I'm capable of any more; mentally, physically, or spiritually.

Also on that same school's playground, at the very back, where almost no one went, was an abandoned swimming pool.

Our school's playground was completely fenced in, and along the farthest back edge of the playground, on the other side of the fence, was the swimming pool. (The school was literally along side a levee separating us from the Mississippi River. I reckon the fence was to keep us from going over the levee and to the river.)

I remember standing there, this would have been around 1973, and looking through the cyclone (chain link) fence and into the old, empty pool. There was a derelict building adjacent to it. I guess that once upon a time they trucked in enough dirt to build a pretty good hill and then dug a hole in the hill and made a nice swimming pool and building. I don't know about other parts of the country, but in Louisiana, there are swimming pools in neighborhoods that one can pay and join for the swimming season. This was probably an old one from the 50s or 60s that had been abandoned.

And dead center, growing out of the swimming pool was a willow tree. I think it was what is usually referred to as a weeping willow. (The principal, Mr. Lindley, used to make himself a "fresh" switch every morning from one of the willows in front of the school to use for that day's necessary corrective measures and attitude adjustments among the students. Ah, the good old days of corporal punishment...) The same kind of tree grew all over the school grounds, but I remember standing there and looking at this mature tree in this old empty pool and trying to figure out how old the pool and building were.

Abandoned and decaying buildings and things have always frightened and intrigued me. Looking at this old pool and building and the tree gave me the same sensation as watching a scary movie; I knew I was safe on the school side of the fence, but I was spooked nonetheless. Plus, I would imagine what it must have been like new, with people enjoying the pool.

This is yet another post without much of a point, but I was just remembering the monkey bars, getting my breath knocked out in daredevil stunts, and that creepy pool with the tree growing in it.

I guess I've been trying to dredge up some of the zest for life and the courage I had back then. I could use some of that pep in my life right now.


Travis said...

Great story about playing during recess. Those were the days when we knew we could do anything. Those brief moments when we missed a step and had the breath completely knocked out of us - well those were just quick rest periods, like you described. Soon we'd forgotten and were back to the challenge.

Hammer said...

I remember those really tall skyscraper jungle gym monkey bar things that were seated into the concrete. We would climb all over thatr thing. I remember daring each other to hang upside down by our knees on the top bar about 15 feet up.

That got your the adrenalin going.

Old abandoned places used to spook me too. These days, I'll walk into anything just to prove I can. Still spooked though ;)