Who didn’t like playtime at school as a wee kid? I loved it. Although the little kids had their own area and some equipment to play on which was separate from the big kids, the two groups often spilled over into each other’s areas.
I admired the big kids. They were confident, could do things I couldn’t and seemed so much more grown up than us five-year-old Primer 1 kids. They were a bit scary too. They had big cheeky voices, would say mean things to us such as calling us ‘babies’, and they could run into us if they or we weren’t watching.
Both the littlies and the big kids loved the jungle gym. On rainy days before school, we littlies would copy the big kids and drape our coats over the top bars to make a roof. It was fun to play in the dry little house we had made.
Our coats would get very wet and then the nuns would have to drape them over the hot water heaters on the wall to dry before we went home. They’d be cross about this but as littlies we would look innocent and say, ‘The big kids did it’. So, only the big kids got the growling and they’d look at us with fierce ‘I’ll get you later’ looks. But they usually forgot about it and didn’t.
We played ‘tag’ on sunny days and when we got puffed, we’d call out ‘Pax’ to temporarily stop the game. This usually happened as the chased person was about to get caught. ‘Pax’ was the word we used on the West Coast of the South Island.
Later when my family moved to the North Island, I discovered that the kids used the word ‘Fans’ which I think was really ‘Fin’. Pax of course was Latin for peace and la fin was French for finish. I never realised this until I was an adult.
Collecting things was a popular activity in the 50s and in my first year of school, diamond collecting was the rage. The more bits of cheap, cut glass gems one had, the more one could show off. Mum had a beautiful, posh, going-out-at-night, deep red, velvet coat which she had made herself. It had a huge diamond buckle. I pleaded for her to give that diamond buckle but to no avail.
However, a slightly older boy at school decided he’d had enough of diamond collecting and he gave me a whole matchbox full of different coloured glass gems. What an amazing treasure and what a kind boy! I wonder what happened to him. I bet he’s as kind now as he was then.
Not all kids were nice, and I remember when drinking from the playground fountain with my head bent over the silver bowl drinking the little spurt of water, an older boy rang past suddenly pushing my head into the bowl. My mouth hit the water nozzle and my teeth bled for some time. I cried and another kid looked after me until the bleeding stopped. I didn’t know the boy and I never told ‘Sister’ what had happened.
Friends were made and we swore undying commitment to our friendships. Of course, at five these changed frequently. It wasn’t until later that I made strong friendships.
But that is another story.