14 January 2010


I don't remember who started it, but it was finals week in fifth grade, in Mrs. Stitzer's basement classroom in the oldest part of the school, and somehow, after an easy exam that many finished quickly, some boys joined the girls playing jacks on a space of floor cleared by pushing aside empty desks. Naturally we lost to girls our own age, but it was fun picking the small sharp metal stars — so alike in shape to the scrap-metal barricades littering the beaches our fathers had stormed in the last war — off the worn but shiny yellow linoleum.

And when I took my new skill home to try out on my younger sister, it didn't take long for me to beat her at that, too, as I did with checkers, Sorry!, and Fish. (She made me pay, of course, later, by teasing me until I slugged her, requiring our mother to whack me five times with the wooden spoon on my bare bottom, because there's no hitting in the house.)

I remember the girls kidding us, mercilessly, and some were really angry that we'd invaded their turf. And a couple tough guys sneered & called us sissies. But the girls we were playing were loving it, & put them down sharply, which got at least one of us beat up on the way home.

To me, though, the fun was in picking up something new, as shiny & sharp as a new jack, finding sudden joy in an unexpected place.