On Tuesday, chalk came out for recess. On Wednesday the blacktop exploded in powdered gridlines of blue, orange, and yellow. Sketches everywhere charted the mental scatter-shot of eight year-olds – hundreds of secrets written in block-letter code, boy-loves-girl scandals shared in tight whisper rings, now stood out for public review. Our playground had become a 100 square-foot tell-all.
As with every week, chalk day begins with thunder- two hundred feet rumbling down concrete stairs. Chalk buckets – two of them, wait on each side of the big door to the yard. Small fists punch into the chalk as children run past. They then run to the far side of the playground and commence to draw.
This particular Wednesday, when a doubtful sky threatened rain, I stepped onto the yard to walk through sketches kids had left behind. I found dozens of word chains – “Raymond has a nasty” and “I love my mommy”. . .“Daddy Macky” written in orange and blue fifteen times, . Also I saw box houses drawn with too-big windows, crooked doors and the ever-shining chalk suns.
Also, I found dozens of huge-headed, grinning stick figures, jumping, looking happy. I got hooked by one recurring image – a stick-boy with a starfish head, holding his three-fingered hands up, one hand clutching something sharp – maybe a knife. He also had an open mouth full of pointed triangles for teeth. The same image appeared six times, the boy standing alone in every instance.
I had taken in just a bit of this transient masterpiece when I felt a raindrop. Then another. I stood my ground for a minute. Chalk darkened from moisture. My quiet reverie ceased when I became aware that I was no longer alone. Kimberly, age nine, had tip-toed onto the playground and now stood to my right.
What are you doing out here, Principal? It’s raining. Then, said I – Kimberly, how long have you been standing here? A long time, she said. Our talking ceased and we looked at the playground together. It didn’t take long before stick figures started to blur.
All gone? She asked. Soon, I answered. Soon.
I brought Kimberly indoors. We walked from the playground in silence. Her red and blue sneakers and my rubber-soled shoes rendered our walk a soundless one. When we got upstairs, I asked her to wait in the chair outside my office. Most kids wouldn’t be arriving to school for another half hour.
I closed my door and stopped moving for a second. I wanted to complete my thoughts about the way the playground must hold hundreds of stories – records that we walk on, sweep aside, wash down. Even as dust, stick-boys have resilient spirits that tuck into pores and cracks in the gravel. They may fade, but a faint essence remains, year after year.
Could that be true?
Fifteen minutes passed. I looked out the window to see that rain stopped. Sun popped out. Then, children showed up in fives and tens. Time for yard duty so Kimberly and I went outside to the damp yard. Sweet air floated in post-rain breeze. 8:40AM brought line up time. Kimberly walked to the end of her third grade line and in through the doors they went.
I looked across the yard. Nothing but a big puddle. All gone Kimberly? My hunch is that there is no such thing as all gone. I watched the kids go into the building. For a minute, I stayed among the little chalk ghosts – all friendly, all real. All here holding me up to face a new learning day.