I heard the song as I drove to work this week and smiled. The positive, upbeat tune triggered a happy memory that had been hiding in a dark corner of my mind for decades.
I’m on the top of the world, lookin’ down on creation, And the only explanation I can
Is the love that I’ve found, ever since you’ve been around — Your love’s put me at the top of the
Suddenly, I was in third grade again and found myself on Bonaire Elementary’s humble playground at recess. I sat on a swing next to Pam Blazewicz and Brenda Holland, singing a song by The Carpenters and pumping my feet so I could go higher and higher and higher. We sang and swung and giggled like little girls do. We were young and free, without a care in the world, and we were literally “on top of the world” and didn’t realize how wonderful we had it.
In those days, I lived for recess — those ten or 15 minutes each day when the teacher would assemble my classmates and me into a line and march us out into an open field next to the building to “turn us loose” like a bunch of wild animals. Some students sat down on the grass and ate popcorn or corn chips out of snack-size bags. Others migrated to the monkey bars and swung from their arms like apes. Others raced around the merry-go-round then jumped aboard to spin around until they got sick.
Still others would play with a folded paper known as a cootie catcher that had messages hidden beneath flaps of paper. We used those little creations to tell fortunes.
My girlfriends and I often faced each other and played a game where we recited a poem or sang a song and slapped each other’s hands in a sequence to the lyrics.
Say, say oh playmate, Come out and play with me, Bring out your dollies three, Climb up my apple tree, Slide down my rainbow, Into my cellar door, And we’ll be jolly friends Forever more, more, more, more! Some kids had a string tied together that they looped around their hands and fingers to form string figures like, “Cup and Saucer,” “Jacob’s Ladder,” and “Cat’s Cradle.” Like the hand slapping games, it was fun to learn how to create each figure with our hands, as our friends guided us through the steps, and as for the formations, well, they took a bit of imagination to see the final product (kind of like looking at seven stars in the sky and saying it looks like a big dipper). Some kids found sticks and simply drew in the dirt, while others created grids for Hopscotch.
Sometimes kids would congregate and gossip, and yes, sometimes fights would break out on the playground, but the teacher usually intervened, and luckily for us, no one died on our playground. The teacher usually had a rubber ball about the size of a basketball, and many days, the boys in our class would organize a makeshift game of kickball or dodgeball, and all of us would join in the fun. I loved dodgeball. The schoolhouse was a red brick building, and my classmates and I would line up to form three sides of a square — the fourth side was the brick wall of the building. As we slung that rubber ball with all our might, we used that wall as a ricochet point to surprise kids fleeing from the ball. It created a fun element to the game.
We played hard, and after the teacher blew the whistle and summoned us back to the line to march inside, we returned sweaty and tired — and that was precisely the point of it all. Recess was a time of free, unstructured play — a time set aside for unbridled physical and mental activity, creativity, imagination and social interaction. The classroom was for learning, but recess was where we burned off our excess energy. It’s how we blew it out and calmed ourselves so that we could get down to the business of school. And that’s what that Carpenter’s song reminded me of when I heard it in the car last week — friends, games, being on top of the world, and the joy of recess. I sure miss those days.