Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Giants on the Playground

It is hot-august.

I am 9 years old.

I am sweat-stuck to the flowered sheets. My bathing suit is pretending to be my pajamas. I am blanketed only in the hot-august heat that has laid its heavy self across the plains of North Dakota, covering this house, my bed, my toes, my sweat-sticky hair…
It is 7 AM.

I am spending another summer at Grandma's house. I wake slowly in my mother’s childhood bed – listening to the prairie town come back to life in the early morning stillness.

It is so… quiet. Nothing like my own home. Nothing like my loud city mornings.
First, the breeze – the curtains dance around the windowsill – and now, the slow, rhythmic clanging of metal against metal.

The wind has woken the Giants on the playground.

We all hear them. Rusty, Donny, Dopey, Shawn, David, Shannon and me – each of us in our own home - each in our own bed - we all hear them. And we know without asking that the others have heard the Giants, too.

Today is the day.

I suck in my breath – hold it for a moment – then I unstick my sun-freckled self from the bed and reluctantly trudge outside.


The wind is picking up – stirring up the Giants. Twirling them, metal against metal, steadily twirling them. Tinging, and taunting every child who's ever been defeated by the Giants...

Silently, our gang of summer-best friends gathers in the dusty street in front of Grandma’s house. It feels like the rest of the world has gone into hiding, waiting out a storm. The birds seem to have stopped singing and the crickets have gone quiet. We are alone, the bunch of us, on this hot, dusty road.

We begin our walk to the playground. No one whistles today. No one flips a nickel or kicks a stone. We kids are quieter than we’ve ever been in our lives. Silently, somberly walking to meet the Giants, a cloud of red dust kicking up behind us.

All I can hear is my heart in my ears!
All I can see is the end of the street.
The playground.
The wind picks up.


The Giants!
We all know the rules by heart. Every kid who's ever challenged the giants knows the rules.

Rule number one: Only one try per kid per summer.

This is it!
Our one shot at defeating the Giants for the whole summer.
There is no going home now.
We keep walking.
Then, suddenly, we are here.
The playground.


I scan the playground.
The slide…
The swings…
The merry-go-round…

And there,
Off to the side,
Stand the Giants.


That’s what we call them. Two really tall silver poles with twirling chains and handles to hang on to, like metal may poles, with dangling human-child ribbons.

The Challenge: run as fast as you can and grab the handles at the end of the chains and twirl around – feet off the ground – at least 3 FULL turns.
If you let go before 3 turns, you are out.

This is really. Serious. Business!

Rusty – the oldest – goes first.
He runs really fast. He grabs the handles and twirls.
One time around.
Two times around.
Then, his hands slips. He falls. He dusts off his school-new sneakers, and blows a raspberry at the metal Giant. He didn’t beat the challenge.

Donny and Dopey go next.
(You can do that. It’s in the rules.)
Donny misses all together and Dopey let’s go after one time around. They end up in a boy pile underneath the mighty Giant. They didn’t beat the challenge.

David and Shawn are too little to reach the handles and Shannon chickens out at the last minute.

That means it’s my turn.

“C’mon, City Girl!” Yells Donny.

“She won’t do it, I bet. She’s too short.” Says Rusty.

I step back, wiping my sweat-muddy hands on my cut-off shorts.

I take a deep breath.

I give this Giant a long, hard look.
And then,
I run.

I run faster than I’ve ever run before.
I jump for the handles.
(I’ve got them! I’m twirling.)

One time around…
My feet kick at the hot air, encouraging my circular journey.
Two times around…
(Hold on! Hold on!)
Three times around…
(I am doing it! I am doing it! I am beating the challenge!)

“Wow.” Says Shawn.

I go for a fourth twirl...
(This is like flying. I am twirling and flying!)

I twirl-fly around the Giant four and one half times before I choose to let go. I’ve hardly picked myself up off the red dirt ground before Dopey, Rusty and Donny all give me stinging, open-handed slaps on my back.

“Way to go, City Girl!” They are laughing and happy.

Shawn punches my arm. Hard. Shannon is jumping up and down, clapping and laughing and shouting for joy!

Me? I am kind of stunned into silence.
(That was really, really fun!)

The 12 o’clock train whistle blows, calling the men and children home for lunch. The gang of summer-best friends scatters, running home, thinking about how they will go around and around the Giants next summer.

I don’t run.
I walk - slowly – reluctant to leave this place.
The place of my 9 year old’s victory over the Giants

I turn and face the big metal Giants before I too go home.

I suck in my breath – hold it for a moment – then I twirl my sun-scorched self around and skip-hop home.

For one short hot-august afternoon on the North Dakota prairie,
I am the Giant on the Playground.


by Johanna Brandvik said...

love this.

did you get my email about summer dates?

Anonymous said...

Oh that is lovely. So good to hear from you again. I've missed you.

Angela Williams Duea said...

Woo hoo! Great story of triumph...and you told it so well!