I ATTENDED KINDERGARTEN in a one room schoolhouse about a mile from the ranch, alongside the Illinois river. It was run by Mrs. Green, the wife of a small, quiet auto mechanic. The classroom had students all the way up to eighth grade, but mostly the kids were little ones. Mrs. Green got crazier and crazier over the years, but at that time she was still okay.

I learned to count from a chart on the wall, where the numbers were arranged in columns. Whenever I think of numbers, I think of them spatially: 1 to 10 go straight ahead, and then the numbers turn to the right and go on until 20, when they turn to the left again and go in the same direction as before until 50. At 50, they turn to the right again, and continue straight on until they reach 100. If I'm thinking of numbers in the sixties or seventies, the numbers begin in a vertical column to the left of another column that contains the numbers from 1 to 59. At the century mark, they turn to the left and go on that way in a straight line until 10,000, where they turn to the right and go straight until 100,000. Then to the left again and straight on forever.

Idly curious, some years ago I took a survey of people's images associated with numbers and counting, and by golly, everybody was different. Some were clearly influenced by children's wooden blocks or illustrated books, a few associated numbers with smells or sounds, to some numbers had textures or even emotions. Some people had favorite numbers, and some people were actually uncomfortable with certain numbers, or combinations of numbers. But everybody was different, and nobody had given their associations a thought until I asked them about it. Fertile field for somebody's doctorate, I can't help but think.

Anyhow, there was this little bratty girl who would often turn around and go "Ummmm! I'm gonna tell on you!" even though I wasn't doing anything. She was so silly that I can't say that I paid her much mind.

The playground was a large grassy-edged stamped-earth expanse between the schoolroom and the house, carpeted with pine needles and surrounded by great beetling redwoods. We played Red Rover and tagball games. I'm not sure that I learned much, but it was a good experience to be around new kids for the first time, and it was fun to get away from home.

June 13, 1994


"Red Rover," is a children's game which we played as follows: Each team has a captain, who chooses players for his own side. Each captain alternately picks, trying, of course, to get the best players for his own side but since he is in competition with the other who is trying the same thing, each side gets about an equal number of good players as well as the less suitable players. When choosing up is completed, the children form two opposing lines about twenty feet apart, alternating a weak player with a strong one, and join hands. The captain of the first team calls out, "Red Rover, Red Rover, let (child's name) come over!" The child selected rushes the opposing line, and tries to break through the linked hands. If he succeeds, he gets to pick any child from the opposing team and bring him back to his own team to become a part of the line. If he fails, he is captured, and put in a prisoner's area behind the opposing line. The second team follows suit.

Naturally, the weakest will be called first from each line, and will be captured. As strong players are called, they head for the weakest part of the opposing team's line, thus capturing a strong player. The weak players are rapidly eliminated, and strong players more evenly distributed. The game ends when one team has all the strong players, and all but one of the opposing team's players is in prison. Usually, recess is over before the game ends, and is thus never really resolved.

In other versions, the child who fails to break through the line becomes part of that line. That's not how we played it.

Because, in my little rural school, there were so few children to draw upon, girls played too, but with some reluctance, usually voluntarily parting hands as soon as an attacker approached and cheerfully becoming prisoners, where they contentedly played jacks until the game ended. In larger schools, girls did not play.

I really enjoyed Red Rover and King of the Mountain and Knights, rough-and-tumble games that only very small boys can play without danger.


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One Room Schoolhouse

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