I faintly recall our house in Reidsville, and I know that the house in Greensboro had blue shag carpet in my bedroom, and that my sister and I “redecorated” the bed, her doll, and a few books while we were still there. I remember learning how hot things got cold and cold things got hot when they were left at room temperature… I couldn’t understand why my pear didn’t stay cold. But my first true memory is of a very particular merry-go-round.
The Merry-Go-Round is my favorite playground element. I like the swing, it is a very close second, but the merry-go-round? You spin faster and faster and faster and give yourself over to the force pulling you against the bar, never quite sure if you might spin off or stay until the next push. It has been years since I’ve been on one, but some of the same feeling comes when I go Contra Dancing, the same spin and release of control to someone else.
As a child, I always wanted to do the merry-go-round first. After church one morning, we went to go visit one of the mission communities in Columbus, Georgia where my father would eventually serve, Open Door. And I saw it. In the back there was a playground and I saw my prize: the merry-go-round.
Like a smart child who has learned the ways of the world, I knew that the quickest way to get from one point to another was in a straight line. Even if there was grass that was kinda tall, and there was an obvious path out of the way, I went straight to where I wanted to go.
I didn’t make it.
I looked down, and my legs, in their lovely white tights (that I hated, by the way), were crawling with stinging things.
My seven year old self freaked out.
I thought that I had been attacked by a swarm of bees. I did not like bees. I did not want to be covered with them. But I was covered with stinging horribleness.
I don’t know how my mother got me to calm down enough to realize that I was not, in fact, being stung by a swarm of bees, instead I had run straight into a briar patch of sand spurs.
After I calmed down enough to sit, my mother and the children around me began to pick the stingers off of my tights at least enough to get me to take the tights off. There were too many stingers to get them all off a seven year old’s squirming legs.
I distinctly remember the kindness of the children around me and I distinctly remember that they were all black.
My first true memory, with a beginning, middle, and end is of children like me and yet with a different skin color than me.
I did end up getting to play on that merry-go-round, with those children.
I don’t know if I ever learned their names.
I don’t remember if I ever played with them again, though I don’t think so.
I’d love to say that I was always as kind to other children as they were to me, but I know that is not true.
I know that I learned that caring for someone is not based on their skin color.
I know that sometimes the path might not be the most direct route, but that the people who are part of the community know the dangers that formed the safest way to journey together.
And I know that playing together and working together is better than trying to push a merry-go-round all by yourself. If you take turns as the rider and the spinner, everyone has more fun.