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BFtP — The Merry-Go-Round

Today’s, Blast From the Past, brought to you by: The Grownups Wanted Us Dead

The Merry-Go-Round

What a sweet name, merry-go-round. Ha! There was nothing merry about the injuries caused by that beast!

The merry-go-round is actually a huge steel wheel with its axel embedded in the ground. The children are the motors of their own destruction. They power the wheel with their legs.

This wheel-of-destruction, called “merry-go-round” and placed prominently on playgrounds across the world, has a steel rim and steel spokes. The object is to coax several unsuspecting victims to sit on the outer rim, while two or three unwitting accomplices (also children) climb into the center of the wheel, grasp the spokes and push. This pushing begins with a mighty heave, and soon the wheel starts to turn, slowly at first, then faster and faster.

Ye ha! That is the joyful cry of the children clinging to the spinning outer rim.

Wheeeeeeeeeee! That is the successful and gleeful shout of the child-motor who managed to leap onto a spoke and be slung by centrifugal force to the outer rim.

Oof! That is the sound of the air rushing from the motor-child who did not successfully leap onto a center spoke. Instead, said child fell to the ground, face first and is cowering there, trying to gasp for air, sucking in little bits of dirt and gravel and fearing: 1.) that a steel spoke will hit her in the head and bash her brains out, or 2.) a steel spoke will hit her in the head and NOT bash her brains out – but the ricochet to the ground will, or 3.) one of her well meaning friends will jump into the center of the wheel and heroically attempt to stop it – of course trampling her in the process.

Those are the most straightforward dangers the wheel imposes – but there are many much more subtle hazards. Some of them are seasonal. Like the slide, the merry-go-round is safest (but by no means safe) in spring and fall. In the summer those lovely steel bars burn any exposed body part they contact. If that exposed body part happens to be buttocks or thigh the child has a choice – sit and fry, or jump and die.

Summer was not a time for shoes. Jumping off a spinning merry-go-round barefoot could guarantee that last years school shoes would still fit you next year – that’s because you wouldn’t have to worry about trying to stuff your toes into them. After jumping from the merry-go-round barefoot you could just reach down, pick up your toes and carry them home in your pocket. If you somehow managed not rip your toes off, you probably embedded a rock or a piece of glass in your foot, or just grated a quarter inch of skin from the bottom.

And let’s talk for a moment about jumping off the merry-go-round. It wasn’t so much a jump, as a catapult. One threw oneself off the merry-go-round running at the speed the wheel was turning. Now, I believe the parents took turns at night sneaking over and greasing that wheel. The reason I believe this is because I was often the motor that made the wheel turn – yet whenever I tried to jump off, the dang thing was spinning faster than I could run. That makes no logical sense.

A graceful dismount left the child sprinting gleefully away from the spinning wheel. A standard dismount left the child lurching wildly away from the wheel, but regaining his or her balance within two or three strides. An unsuccessful dismount drove the right foot into the ground like a piston, then the left, then both elbows, the chin, the nose, the forehead – here the child balanced for a second – and the big finish was a back flop to the blacktop. These three dismounts could be seen in any season, but they were most spectacular – and deadly – in winter.

Ah — winter! Bare skin adhered to the frozen steel spokes, as did wet wool and the tongues of really gullible small children. (“Hey, Joey, go lick the snow crystals off the merry-go-round.”) There was nothing quite so thrilling as jumping from the merry-go-round and realizing your gloves – or the seat of your pants – had stayed behind.

What made winter dismounts dangerous – even the most graceful sprint – was diabolically clever on the part of the playground engineer. You see – as I explained when discussing the slide – ice lengthens the dismount. So, about 8 feet due east of the merry-go-round was the ladder to the slide; north of that were three tetherball poles, all lined up nice and neat; to the west was the teeter-totter, to the south was the flag pole.

One winter Birdy careened into the ladder on the slide, breaking a rib; Lilli plowed into the flagpole and broke her leg; and Heartthrob clothes-lined himself on the teeter-totter, chipping one of the caps on his movie star teeth. Apparently Heartthrob’s parents weren’t in on the plot to murder us, because after his accident the merry-go-round was off limits until spring thaw.

Now, there was one summer dismount that was actually a tad-bit more difficult than any winter dismount could have been. This summer dismount, when done successfully, looked truly spectacular. It was the roller-skate dismount. This stunt required an idiot (generally me) to clamp roller skates onto her shoes, get on the merry-go-round, and allow someone to push it to the speed of light. Next the idiot would step off the merry-go-round, on the outside, flex her knees, extend one leg and cling tightly to the bar. As the idiot flew in a circle the metal wheels on her clamp on skates would shoot furious sparks. Timing was crucial. If I – ahem – the idiot let go of the merry-go-round at the wrong time the force and speed of her dismount could permanently embed her in a piece of playground equipment.

Allow me to pause the story for a moment and give you some personal history. I am not athletic. In fact certain members of my family might describe me as moderately clumsy – while others often express total amazement that I can walk at all. However, I do have very strong legs and can be stubborn to the point of stupid. Those are both traits required to successfully execute the roller skate dismount.

At precisely the right moment I would – ahem, the idiot would – crouch, lean and release her hold on the merry-go-round. She would sail beautifully between two tetherball poles in a long sweeping arc and end in a graceful rise to her full height. The idiot (me) actually managed many, many times to perform that dismount with complete success. However the one time she failed she did so in full living color (RED – can you say road rash?). The clamp on my – oh yeah, her – skate released without warning. One moment the idiot is sailing along at top speed, then suddenly the rubber of her Red Ball Flyers grips the pavement and she’s kissing blacktop. To give the idiot some credit, that was the last time she ever performed the stunt.

You know, that day might have been the first hint I had that the grownups were trying to kill us. I eased my grime embedded, oozing body home. Gram said, “What happened this time?” I explained that I fell off the merry-go-round. She picked the rocks out of my body, scrubbed me in Ivory soap, painted me in Mercurochrome, and then suggested, “Why don’t you go do something safe, like roller skate?”


    1. Too cool! I didn’t know if any still existed. I saw some in South America, but the North American insurance companies and lawyers have pretty much done away with them!

    1. If only I could! There were no camera fanatics in my family and very few pics of my childhood exist outside my brain! Of course, you could draw them!

  1. Sometimes you could catapult multiple little kiddies off at once 😉 Although the best thing was trying to jump on when it was going at high speed. You could really get some contortions if THAT failed.
    Love these pieces 🙂

    Anthony North’s last blog post..TONY ON HYPOCRISY

  2. Tony — oh! I left that aspect of the story unexplored. Running to jump on the spinning merry-go-round lengthened many a kid’s arms and realigned a lot of spines, that’s for sure!

  3. I remember these Instruments of Torture, I was always the one who had the job of getting it going but wasn’t allowed to hop on.

    I prefered the Merry Go Rounds at the Fall Fair, the attendants were nice and would help the smaller ones onto the horses.

    BIll’s last blog post..I Got My Run.

    1. Bill — you weren’t ALLOWED to hop on, or you weren’t able? Silly to make a law against on child — mean, too.

      1. I”d be one of the ones who’d have to get it started but not allowed to get on the Merry Go Round once it was in motion. I was really small for my age back then and picked on back then.

        Childhood, some good memories, some not so good. Some day I’ll tell you about a girl named Brenda (I swear she was Hitler’s Granddaughter)

  4. I don’t remember the merry-go-round of which you speak. I only remember the same one’s that the kids have today. I’m really trying to envision one where the person in the MIDDLE is the motor! I don’t remember any that were open to the ground in the middle… nor do I remember any spokes sticking out to hit us in the head! LOL! I DO remember being the “pusher” and running and running and running and then trying to grab on to jump on the outside where centrifugal force was pushing us AWAY from … and yea… eating grass and trying to recapture my wind! That was always fun…. NOT! I do think the grownups forgot to oil ours though…. I seem to remember doing all that running, finally making it ON for a very brief ride, and then it slowing and everyone else yelling “do it again!” LOL!

    Melli’s last blog post..Saturday 9

    1. Melli — I have seen merry-go-rounds like yours. Saucer shaped thingies. Ours looked more like a wagon wheel, only the hub was a couple of feet lower (and embedded in the ground) then the rim. Pushing from the inside got the thing going MUCH faster.

      1. ours was a wagon wheel too
        held on the outside and ran around
        there was a groove worn into the ground
        big heavy kids did the pushing
        when it was really cooking they jumped on

        pushing from the inside?
        only psychos did that!

        serious major life threatening injuries could result from pushing from within
        as opposed to the major injuries that could result form riding or pushing from without

        no one around our way did the inside push
        we must have been cowards

  5. I was the prissy girl wrapped like a monkey around the center pole of the merry go round. My forte was the shooting star. It involved spinning around the skinny brace on the monkey bars by your knees and then flipping off once you were going fast enough for the playground to be blurry. If you missed, you had the air knocked out of you and someone ran for your mother. But when you landed it….Queen for the day.

  6. Like Melli our merry go round was powered by a kid on the outside running full tilt and jumping on..and trying to hang on. I liked the silly thing, but I haven’t seen one in ages. One of our safety groups had one in a training film they made. They put a “drunk” guy on it and whirled him around a few times and then asked him to perform a sobriety test. It was a cautionary tale to show that citizens cannot interfere with a police officer’s duty, which leaves out the merry go round fun with the suspect. 🙂

  7. Are there any out door play equipment that you didn’t suffer any injuries from? or thought were trying to kill someone?

    Question: this comment by you: If I don’t get well and do something interesting, I may have to resort to memes!…don’t tell me that you are going to come down to my level and do meme’s? LOL

    1. Thom, some people do memes with flair and style. I am not one of them. And what would be the point of having a toy that couldn’t maim or kill? They would be too boring to play with.

      1. If there is one person I know that has flair and style it is you. So that response doesn’t work…Well it’s a good thing I stayed away from them or my parents for that matter…As I said…I did a good enjoy job trying to maim myself without the use of any aids. 🙂

  8. Reading your story makes me sad. The kids in my school failed to break anything or knock out any teeth on the playground. We were obviously doing something wrong. We lacked creativity. WE didn’t run fast enough, climb high enough, jump far enough or whatever. If our grownups were trying to kill us they must have been so disappointed.

    1. Alas, Dr. John. Some childhoods just lack that special something that sets them apart — splints, casts, stitches, fun. . . .

  9. I’m feeling quite an affinity with that part of you that you called “idiot.” Yes, I too can be described as that for I did many a stupid thing as a child… and even today I manage to continue to do some idiotic things just to stay consistent.
    Oh, how I remember the burning, hot, summer slides!!! OUCH!!

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