My favorite springtime memory is the melting snow allowing our St. Michael’s Elementary School recess to have great sporting contests, in my hometown of Harlan, Iowa, population 5,000. I remember one time when I was in fourth grade especially. The grade above us often competed with us and tried to dominate the youngsters. Things were going well when we played “knockout,” the basketball game where contestants line up and shoot one after the other. If the second person makes the shot before the first person, then the first shooter is “knocked out.”
Todd Sondag was in the grade above me, and a pretty good athlete. The winner got to pick the spot the line would shoot from. We had a long shot, and I was following him. “You need more arch on your shot,” I told him.
“Arch? Yeah, I need more arch,” he said with sarcasm. He didn’t seem to know what the word meant. As had often happened in my youth, my father had taught me an obscure word beyond the vocabulary of my peers.
I felt weird, thinking, “Oh, did I misuse the word?” But I hadn’t. I can’t remember if I knocked Todd out that time, but my high-arcing shot did make it in once. Todd continued his flatter shot; his method was to bang the backboard, while mine was to try to make the shot.
I remember being always being either the best or the second-best in most elementary sports within our group of about fourteen boys, and I really enjoyed it all—thoroughly. I still love sports, although my ambitions have been lowered with age.
Memories like this fly away from us—the details, the smell, the feel of the blacktop. Why weren’t there more skinned knees? I faintly remember being overly competitive. Our teacher Ms. Thraen, later Mrs. Branning, seemed to really love us. We were her first class.
If we can’t remember our childhood that well, what can we remember? If one writes, and one takes photographs, and visits the landmarks, one can keep the memory. And that is worth it.