In honor of the Labor Day weekend, I have decided to NOT work and let somebody else do it instead. And so I have called upon one of the most handsome writers I know, Mr. Greg Lee, to fill in as Guest Bleacher for today.
The opinions expressed by Mr. Lee do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this Blurch or it’s regular - and ultimately even more handsome - Bleacher, BP.
“Get outta here. Go play.”
It was a sentence I heard every day of my life as a kid. Usually it was said by some exasperated, harried, “over it” grown-up, who was getting ready to call me by my FULL name.
“Go play” was nothing like the “play dates” parents organize for their kids today. In those days, parents organized nothing. They knew none of our friend’s parents. They couldn’t identify any of our friends in a line up. They didn’t spend their afternoons delivering us to a never-ending series of karate classes and yarn spinning practice, because, as they were happy to let us know, they had “other things to do”. None of which included us.
When they told us to “go play” there was no concern for WHAT we would play, or WHERE or even with WHOM. The idea was simply for us to immediately extract ourselves from the premises and to return only when it was dark enough for the porch light to come on.
This is what is meant by it being “a simpler time”. It was simpler for the parents.
So when my cousins Bronna and Ryan and I heard these words, it was really no surprise. We didn’t feel cheated or unloved. We just picked up our Slinky and Silly Putty and headed out the door like we always did.
“Park?” said Bronna.
“Sure,” said Ryan and I.
Bronna kinda ran things. She was a few years older than us and could pinch. We headed off to the park.
When we got there, we could tell there was something big happening. What was usually a sleepy, little, City Park with a couple of swings and picnic tables was packed with all kinds of people and activity. Later on, we found out that we had unknowingly walked into a company’s private, family picnic outing. But that was later. For all we knew then, it was just some people having fun at the park.
We were people. We liked to have fun. Drive on, James.
We walked over to the main picnic table where parents were relaxing and other kids were getting instructions from a teenager for the rules of the wheelbarrow race.
“Can we race too?” whispered Ryan to Bronna.
“You wanna race? With them?” she asked back.
“Yeah! Can we? Please?” I whined.
Bronna took a quick, stealthy glance around the group of co-workers and their families, shrugged her shoulders, smirked and said, “Why not?”
Before she could change her mind, Ryan and I ran to the end of the field with the other “company kids” and took up our respective wheelbarrow positions (I was the wheel). No one from the official picnic seemed to notice that there were suddenly 2 grubby, little kids joining the race that nobody knew, let alone had never seen before.
We stood frozen in position, then the Teenager yelled, “GO!”
Ryan and I jumped to an early, unbelievable lead. As my arms churned away at the grass, I looked back between Ryan’s legs and saw that we were in the process of completely creaming the competition. Within seconds we crossed the finish line in record time, easily beating the others.
As the crowd cheered wildly, the Teenager ran over to us and said, “Nice race, guys! Here’re your first place ribbons!” and stuck two big, Blue Ribbons on me and Ryan. I looked over to where Bronna was standing at the edge of the crowd and waved.
“Check it out!” I screamed, pointing at the ribbons.
Bronna nodded her head enthusiastically. Then she laughed and tried to hide her face. She cheered louder than anyone.
“Whose kids are those?” I heard someone ask.
“I think they must be with the Carson’s,” came the reply.
“Does Carl Carson still work here? I thought he went to Denver.”
“No, no. He’s still here. I think.”
Next it was time for the 3-legged race. Ryan and I tied our legs together with a belt and waited for the signal.
“Stay close and don’t panic,” I said to Ryan. “Kill these guys.”
30 seconds later, Ryan and I were at the other end of the field collecting yet another set of first place Blue Ribbons from the Teenager. The crowd was cheering, but not as enthusiastically as before.
“Way to go, guys!” said the Teenager. “What are you? Brothers?”
“Cousins,” I said. “We’re cousins.”
“Oh,” said the Teenager. “Well, where are your parents?!”
I didn’t understand this question at all. What did it have to do with anything? Where were our parents? Who cares? Parents and kids playing was not something that went hand in hand. Actually playing was an activity that was usually done best withOUT parents.
“I think they’re at home,” I said, still confused by the line of questioning.
“Mine too,” said Ryan.
“Oh.” said the Teenager slightly confused. “Well, who brought you to the picnic?”
“Our other cousin,” I said, pointing at Bronna. Bronna smiled and waved.
“Oh. OK. Cool.” said the Teenager, happy to know that we hadn’t just popped up out of nowhere. “Well. Good goin’, guys!” Then he turned to the others and said, “OK, everybody! Sack Race time!”
Ryan and I hadn’t brought any sacks with us, just our Slinky and Silly Putty, so we started to sit down on the grass next to some trash cans, when a company woman on a lawn chair said, “Aren’t you boys doin’ the sack race?”
“No.” said Ryan.
“Well, why not?” asked the woman.
“We didn’t bring a sack.”
“You’re kidding? I sent the memo out to all the parents about each child needing a sack last week. Didn’t your parents get my memo?”
“Um...no?” Ryan said. “I don’t think so. They didn’t say anything about it to us.”
Which...was all true.
“Well, that’s just terrible!” said the woman.
“It’s OK,” said Ryan.
“We didn’t get a memo on the sacks either, Joan,” offered one of the other company parents at the big picnic table.
“Well, that’s just awful! Here, boys - I think my Johanna isn’t going to be using hers this race anyway. Why don’t you boys take her sack and go race,” she said.
“Thanks,” I said taking the sack and grabbing Ryan.
“Yeah, thanks a lot, “said Ryan waving as we ran off.
“Who’s kids ARE those?” someone asked.
“I think they belong to Chris and Jan,” said the company woman. “You know. The Jenson’s.”
“I think those are the little foster kids they were supposed to be getting,” said someone, who clearly had no idea who we were.
“Oh, right,” said the company woman. “That’s who they are. The foster kids. Nice boys.”
A few minutes later, Ryan and I had won the sack race.
And then we won the egg toss.
And then we won the egg on a spoon race.
We destroyed the balloon pop relay.
And the backward crab run race was ours before it even started.
We dominated the whole day. With each passing victory, our dirty t-shirts became more and more filled up with Blue Ribbons, as the crowd cheered with less and less enthusiasm. Must have been the heat. By the end of the day, only Bronna was cheering.
With the sun going down, there was time for just one more event.
“OK, everybody, gather around,” said the Teenager. “It’s time for the last event.”
As we all gathered around the Teenager, I noticed how broken the other kids all looked; defeated, exhausted, hopeless. They had been beaten silly by Ryan and me for 2 hours and no one even knew who we were. We were like a couple of nameless, hired gunmen who had ridden into a sleepy western town and wreaked havoc on the poor townsfolk; burning down the church and eating all the candy.
Ryan noticed what was going on. “Let’s go, Greg,” he said. “I think we should probably...go now.”
“What?!” I said. “Are you crazy?! We’re killin’, man! We’re not goin’ anywhere.”
As the words came out of my mouth, I noticed the parents at the big picnic table glaring at Ryan and me. A couple of the Dad’s were now standing.
I looked for Bronna. She wasn’t cheering or laughing anymore, but was just motioning for us to go. For the first time all day, I understood what we had done.
“Um...” I said, tapping the Teenager on the shoulder, “We gotta go.”
“What? Why?” said the Teenager.
“We just...we gotta get goin’ now. Thanks. We gotta go eat.”
“I’m really hungry,” said Ryan.
I looked again at the crowd.
“Yeah, he’s hungry.” I said.
Bronna motioned again.
“Bye.” I said.
Then I grabbed Ryan by the scruff of the neck, and ran toward Bronna who was already fast walking herself out of the park.
I had a hard time sleeping that night. I had never won so many things at one time in my whole life. I felt great.
But I also felt bad for the poor company kids who had been so looking forward to the “big day”; the games, the ribbons...only to have it all stolen away by a couple of barefoot, grungy orphans with a Slinky and Silly Putty in their pockets.
I felt bad.
But not THAT bad.
As together we stand and sing.