Roam Free By Michele Lee


I drank from a water fountain that quenched me as a kid. Much lower to the ground than I remember. (The fountain, not me!)

circa late 70s, early 80s

Small hands released warm water gurgles that thirsty mouths slurped up. Impatient voices from the sweaty line behind shouted, “Hurry Up!” We were little squirmy gerbils lapping up what we could from the tiny trickle before the line grew violent. No personal Yetis or plastic water bottles, just a few drops from a faucet to sustain us before sprinting back to the hot playground. No sunblock or hats on our tomato heads.

We were wild animals released from a cage. Run, shout, and play we did, before Mrs. Dermer or Mrs. Tupper blew their whistle. Most things I liked to be on time for, but that whistle I chose to ignore. I liked school but I liked playing on the playground more. Spinning on the worn monkey bars, tube sock wearing girls doing cartwheels in the itchy brown grass, holding hands in a tunnel with X, sending someone over during Red Rover, Red Rover, getting knocked on my bum during dodgeball, or my favorite – tetherball. The concrete slab and metal pole, with the spinning ball, are long gone. Probably jackhammered up after a knock or a trip. I suppose if a kid were uncoordinated enough, he could have wrapped the tethered ball around his/her neck. The metal pole was probably sent to the playground graveyard after a lawsuit. Piled on top of other rubble deemed “not safe.” They took away the risk; they took away the fun.  

My brother broke many bones on the school playground. Not once did my mom dial-a-lawyer before picking him up. She could have owned a school, bought with my brother’s bones. The same scene each time: “Michele, come inside, we have to pick up your brother. He hurt himself on the playground.” Not once did my mom yell at the principal or the school nurse; she yelled at him!

The rowdy relics from the past are gone. “Safe” structures made from recycled plastic and old tires now stand sturdy and strong. No more swing sets that lifted from the ground with each lifted leg in the air. No more chipped lead paint or rusty metal. And if that is not safe enough, there is now a locked fence around the safety zone. On the school playground, during a Sunday afternoon, kids no longer roam. They took away the risk; they took away the fun.

Schools sure as hell aren’t safer.  

Across the street is my childhood home. It looks different now. Gone are the eucalyptus trees, planted by my mom and me. Our old house is smaller than I remember and now surrounded by a fence. Not the picturesque white-picket kind, but the metal kind that says, “Keep Out” or “Lock him up.”     

So much has changed in the Valley of the Sun since I was a kid; reminding me of the years that have passed since sheep roamed in a field a few miles down the road from my childhood home.

As I looked down at The Salt River recently, I thought about the many experiences I had at the river or in the nearby lakes that the river feeds into: camping, fishing, boating, swimming, tubing, and my favorite – water skiing. I noticed that the river and the adjacent land have changed too. They are more beautiful than I remember.  

If you are into maps, this is a cool website: Salt River Maps

What would a reminiscent post be without reminiscent music? My little boyfriend sang this song to me at the school talent show. Isn’t that the sweetest (and funniest)? I was ready to sail away! I packed my bon voyage bags after school.

Thank you for visiting and reading! Be well. Michele

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