Two weeks and counting. Another school-year session was coming to an end! The excitement started mounting; it was not only the prospect of a carefree summer with no alarm clocks, no admonishments of “hurry up or you will be late,” and no more packing lunch pails and struggling into school clothes, but also the excitement was for the country school picnic that always concluded the school year. The picnic was an event in our young lives to be relished and remembered!

My country school picnics were held in the late 20’s and early 30’s as I completed eight years of “reading, writing, and arithmetic.” They were memorable and formative years. There were usually eighteen to twenty-seven students in old Garland #2, and every student from first to eighth grade had his own special fun thing to which he looked forward on picnic day.

I don’t recall that there was any special meeting to decide who was to bring what food, but there always seemed to be an overloaded table and, of course, “homemade” ice cream. Food was merely a sideline to the festivities of the day; not that we didn’t eat our share and enjoy it! We always had our school picnic at Island Park. I remember how we agonized over the possibility of rain and therefore the necessity of having our picnic at the old schoolhouse. The old schoolhouse and the school- ground, which I swore I knew every inch and blade of grass that grew there, didn’t seem like the ideal place to have the picnic. We had no playground equipment, quite a contrast to the school grounds of today! We had one big box elder tree and a fence line where a plum thicket abounded on the eastern perimeter of the grounds. If any of you have picked wild plums, you can fully realize that this was a thorny situation which we students avoided. Luck was on our side, as I don’t recall that we ever had to revert to the schoolhouse picnic. I do remember that there were times when it was wet and muddy from previous rains, but we kids totally ignored that!

Island Park was full of playground equipment; they were all sturdy iron pieces: the slides, the Maypole, the merry--go--round, the trapezes, the horizontal hand-over-hand challenge, the teeter-totters (large and small,) and swings, lots of swings for big folks and little swings to handle the toddlers of a family. The swings were made with wooden guards, eliminating the possibility of falling out. How many remember the huge rope swing attached to a big old tree near the lily pond at the entrance of the park? I recall that it was hard to get a chance to use it; there was always a “waiting line.” The ropes making up the swing probably weren’t as long as seen through my childhood eyes, but I know with a lot of hard “pumping,” the older students could experience a wide sweep back and forth!

It would be hard for me to point out a favorite piece of playground equipment. I tried them all, over and over. I went home with a hand­ful of blisters, skinned knees and elbows, and a bump here and there which attested to a day of activity on the Island Park playground.

The first order of business when we arrived at the park was selecting picnic tables, enough to service a count of all the members of the various families expected. There were usually one or two other school picnics on the grounds on the same day, so usually someone was designated to go to the park early in the morning to “hold down” tables on a selected site. Those tables became our headquarters. Here we knew at least one of our parents would be present; here we could come if we had a problem or needed immediate first aid. For the more timid it would just be a trip back to the headquarters to make sure their parents were there.

The picnic usually was held about the third week in May and concluded our school year. It fell right in the middle of corn planting which worked a hardship on the fathers or older brothers in families that felt they could ill afford to take time off from their planting activities. The planting was done with horses, so it was a slow farm operation at best even if no horses went lame or the old wire—checked corn planter needed time out for repairs. My dad always took time out for the school picnic. I think he really enjoyed it, as he was a “people” person and enjoyed visiting with the neighboring men about crops, livestock, or a multitude of other farm problems. The women usually gathered at the other end of the picnic site and got caught up on the latest "goings-on" in the neighborhood, exchanged recipes, solved household problems, and gave the latest reports on their just-planted gardens.

We had one family at our school that never attended the school picnics. I never heard if anyone knew the reason. I always felt sorry for their children, and I tried to put myself in their shoes.

After the noon meal, the parents visited; some of the men tried their luck at horseshoe pitching. There was a set of nice horseshoe pits in the park. The women “shooed” flies, covered the food with their finest, whitest flour—sack dishtowels, and sat down to visit and rest for an hour. Then it was time to make the homemade ice cream. Three or four of the families brought their freezers and the “fixings” for the homemade treat! I think the ice-cream base had a lot of cream as an ingredient; now I substitute half-and-half and 2% milk and wonder why it doesn’t taste like the ice cream of my childhood.

I loved running and gaining enough momentum on the Maypole to lift my feet and swing out into space! It was an exhilarating experience for a country kid whose only prior “flying” was off the back of a horse at an unexpected moment! Of course, you had to be careful if all of the handholds on the Maypole didn’t have kids hanging on; those handholds flew free and could hit you on the head! So it had its dangerous moments! Many a child, including yours truly, got a lump on his head when hit by a flying Maypole handhold.

The trapezes were also a challenge, especially if some of the big - boys moved the landing ramps back a foot or two to accommodate their long legs. This meant that the shorter, younger kids had to give a little leap off the trapeze bar in order to land on the ramp. It could be a painful skinned knee or shin if you fell short of the wooden ramp. The more proficient trapeze users would get up a game of tag which meant things got a little wild as the participants would leap off the ramp to swing to the opposite one. As the tempo of the game increased, there were many skinned knees and bruises amid falls from the trapezes or from missing the ramps and landing in the gravel between the ramps! Those tumbles onto the gravel were a long time a’ healing! My mother always added more pain to the experience by dosing the wound with a liberal dose of iodine.

The teeter-totters were fun except for when one of the participants decided to hop off just when you were in the air. One learned to have his feet ever ready to absorb some of the shock of the sudden landing! The most difficult part of using the teeter-totters was the fine-tuned job of getting a balance on both ends. This meant that it sometimes took two skinny kids to balance a bigger, heavier kid, but it was usually worked out to the satisfaction of everyone concerned!

Two slides were always popular with the country school students; the smaller one was for the really small tots. It was a few short steps up, and a parent could stand at the bottom of the slide and catch the occupant before he fell into the dirt at the end. The big slide was a challenge. I looked longingly at it and could only visualize the thrill of the long ride down to the bottom where a quick jump off landed you on your feet. I was about eight years of age before I gathered up enough courage to try the big slide. I thought I would just climb the steps to the top and, after surveying the situation, decide whether to get into position for the slide downward, or if it was too intimidating, I would merely retrace my steps down the steps and decide to try it another day! The fallacy of my plan was that I had not figured that there would be three or four people who had climbed the ladder after me, and there was no room to climb back down! I was in a “do or die” situation with plenty of urging and cat­calls from behind and below on the steps! I gingerly climbed out on the top of the slide, hanging hard on the circular handrails for dear life! I looked down the length of the shiny well-polished slide, and it looked like a long way to go from where I was. I distinctly recall the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and bracing myself; as I shut my eyes and let go. It seemed that I was literally being catapulted downward, and I opened my eyes just in time to see the bottom rapidly coming up and, blessings of blessings, there stood John Dykers and my brother each on a side of the slide with arms stretched across to stop me before I peeled off the edge into the dirt! I recall my brother disgustedly saying, “Don’t go down that slide unless you have learned how to jump off when you get to the bottom!” I often wondered how a person could learn to jump off the bottom if you didn’t come down the slide. But, for once, I didn’t argue with him, and after that, I had enough courage to go up and down that slide many, many times as the years passed. I always thought it was my favorite piece of playground equipment!

When the blisters on our hands became too unbearable, we could always travel to the other end of the park and walk the stepping stones below the dam. Often, in May, the river would be high with water coming over the dam and covering the stepping stones; this made it impossible to find a footing. We felt quite adventurous as we made a leap from stone to stone and back. I don’t really know if my mother would have thought of it quite in that light if she had known!

Sometime during the course of the country school picnic day, we made a trip to the swinging bridge. Many of my readers will remember the swinging bridge that connected Island Park to Scout Island. It was constructed of cables with four bridge plank-sized boards for the walkway. It was a suspension bridge with plenty of swaying especially when the kids would jump on it. The boys liked to do that from one end as a bunch of girls would enter from the other end! Of course, the girls would scream and try to beat a hasty retreat or try to get across in spite of the swinging and swaying! In short order, the boys disappeared into the bushes of Scout Island to hide until things quieted down! There was water running under the bridge at that time, as the river seemed to do a split at Scout Island. It is dried up now, and the swinging bridge has been gone for a long time. During its tenure the bridge became a well- known landmark at Island Park and provided the Island Park visitors with an interesting walk across it and some thrilling moments for some of the young folks!

Most of the playground equipment that I enjoyed when I was young, is now gone. It was deemed too dangerous for this generation and was re­moved. A modern “safe” playground set of equipment is now in place at the Island Park. I feel nostalgic as I think back of the fun hours we spent on the old playground equipment! Gone are the bruises, blisters, and bumps; they are only memories now.

When my dad announced it was time to head for home and evening chore time, we would have one more dish of ice cream and trudge toward the car to go home. We were a tired and dirty but happy bunch of kids. It was one more annual end-of-the-year country school experience behind us, but what a myriad of happy school memories it left as our legacy!

Written by Evelyn Halverson


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