Today’s, Blast From the Past, brought to you by: The Grownups Wanted Us Dead
The slide claimed a lot of lives. It was solid steel. There were fifteen rungs to the top. The thing had to be ten feet tall. Every single kid that ever approached that slide knew only an idiot would climb to the top. We all did it anyway. Better to be labeled an idiot than a coward.
I can’t tell you how many kids made the climb, got to the top, and froze. They’d stand there screaming loudly enough to rival the six o’clock siren from the mill. At this point one of the neighborhood teens would climb up and allow the terrified tot to wrap them in a strangle hold. The teen would then slide on down and peel the kid off on solid ground.
However the small body peeled from the teen bore only a surface resemblance to the terrified tot. While the terrified child’s body remained unchanged, within was another child completely. This new child was single-minded. It had but one thought, “I must conquer the slide.”
Though never completely harmless, the slide was safest in spring and fall. In the summer it was blazing hot and seared any tender, exposed flesh. At least once every summer we had our rumps roasted by that slide. It was little Stinker who taught us wisdom. We used to taunt her for carrying her blanky – until we discovered it’s insulating powers. Then most of us carried blankies. Of course, we called them “slide pads.”
The slide claimed most of its victims in the winter. The swing set was placed about ten feet from the end of the slide. Ten feet is more than enough room to stop any headlong rush off the end of the slide. Most of the time within three or four feet of the end, the slider would have either regained his footing or fallen flat on his face. There was never any need to worry about colliding with someone on a swing – except when Jack Frost joined the game. Then a smooth, thick sheet of ice would form at the end of the slide, extending the dismount considerably; and even a fall couldn’t ensure safety because more often than not a prone body would continue to slide. On average every fourth or fifth winter dismount ended with a foot pump to the face as the swinger swooped west, feet extended, and the slider careened east, leading with his jaw.
Truthfully, for most of us riding the slide in any season was a lot less scary than the ridicule dished out by the neighborhood kids if we wouldn’t. There was this one kid though — I’ll call him Casey (not only to protect the identity of the real child, but because – despite how clearly this scene is engraved on my mind – I truly do not remember the child’s real name). Anyway, Casey never conquered the slide. Many times he climbed to the top. Never once did he come down unaided.
The last time Casey climbed the slide he actually managed to climb off the platform and sit down all by himself. What he couldn’t manage to do was release his death grip on the edge of the slide and sail down. Casey never wailed. He just sat there, stiff, white-knuckled, and sobbing. A group of neighborhood kids, probably six or seven of us, stood at the bottom of the slide shouting encouragement. “Come on, Chicken! Let go!”
Casey did let go. His hands still gripped the slide as tightly as ever, but a rivulet of yellow water streamed from his pant leg. We all took a step back. We watched the yellow stream waterfall off the end of the slide and then drip, drip, drip.
I remember looking up at Casey. He hadn’t moved. His eyes were scrunched closed. Harsh sobs shook his body. His knuckles were white and his khaki pants bore a dark streak from crotch to ankle. The next thing I noticed was that all the other kids were gone. Silently they had left the playground. I stood alone beside the slide.
I wanted to do something for Casey, but what? I was too much of a coward to go up that slide with him. Besides, I was younger than Casey, smaller than Casey, and a girl. Helping him would have been no help at all.
I thought about going to get his mother, but I didn’t want to leave him. I just stood there, talking to him – telling him it was okay, he wasn’t alone and I wouldn’t leave. I don’t know how long I talked, but finally Casey’s mother came.
When the car pulled up to the curb I was overjoyed. “Casey,” I said. “Casey, your mom’s here. It’s going to be all right. Just hang on a little longer.”
Casey’s mom hopped out of the car, slammed the door and came around the hood. She was shouting. At first I didn’t understand, then her words registered. “Get away from him! Get away! You horrible, evil, little brat, how dare you terrorize my son!”
She yelled other things even more foul. I remember backing away. Petrified, I kept my eyes on her until she was halfway up the slide. When I finally turned to run, her last words stabbed me in the back. “Run you little bleep. I know where you live. When I catch you I am going to kill you!”
Of course she knew where I lived. I lived pretty much across the street, and I didn’t think of running anywhere but straight home. I didn’t leave the house for days. I was sure she would find me and kill me. Even though I never saw Casey or his mother again, I spent a long nervous summer looking over my shoulder. About the only place I felt safe was the top of the slide.