of a huge playground slide and the best Christmases ever.

By Joey Kennedy

I never went through one of those phases where I thought girls were icky. In kindergarten and first grade, Becky Hebert was my girlfriend. I do not know if Becky Hebert was aware of this, but I thought she was.

I’d chase Becky across the playground, and she’d often act as if she were annoyed. We had the tallest, scariest slide on our playground. Just climbing the ladder to get up top was fear-inducing. The smooth, shiny, aluminum slide would propel us down at speeds unheard of.

I was chasing Becky Hebert through the playground one day in kindergarten and ran underneath the mammoth slide as a short cut. Once I caught her, she pointed at my head and screamed. I touched my forehead and blood was dripping down the front of my face. Apparently I had routed my shortcut under a low part of the slide, grazed the top of my head, and, well, you know how even tiny head wounds bleed. I never felt anything.

Becky Hebert was terrified or grossed out or something. She cried, not out of sympathy I don’t think, but out of shock and dismay. A teacher came over and took me to the school nurse. No stitches; just a cleanup and a BAND-AID, and I was good to go.

I had never been injured sliding down that awful slide, but a bolt had clipped me when I ran under it. I can’t imagine uncovered bolts on a playground slide today. But in 1961, we were risk-takers.

Not long after I married Veronica (and not Becky), I took her on a Joey-lived-and-played-here tour of southeastern Texas. We visited that playground at my old elementary school in Hamshire because I wanted to show her that mammoth slide on which I had injured my head.

We found the slide, and I was devastated. I stand about 5-8, and my head was easily above the top of that slide. As a little boy, I had to find the courage to even climb that slide. Maybe to impress Becky Hebert? As an adult, my entire memory of those scary moments were instantly erased.

That’s why I’m so glad I can’t go to Hamshire or Winnie, in Texas, or Houma, in Louisiana and revisit my early Christmases. I do not want those memories ruined.

Our family did Christmas big. We’d have wrapped presents under the tree, but those were always from my siblings or mom and dad or a grandparent, an uncle or aunt, maybe a cousin. In our home, the tradition was to open the wrapped presents on Christmas Eve. That allowed us to clear the area around the tree for Santa Claus’s visit. The kind of tree we had depended on Mom’s mood. Most years, just a cut tree from a lot. But Mom went through the aluminum tree period where for a few years, we had this silver tree with a colored wheel that turned, sending out all sorts of colors. That, friends, was high tech in Texas.

Never once as a young kid did we live in a house that had a fireplace. But I didn’t overthink the absence of a chimney; I was spending my time looking forward to Christmas morning. Santa put our gifts under or around the tree un-wrapped. So when we got up on Christmas, we immediately saw what Santa had left after he and the reindeer departed.

One of my all-time favorite gifts was a big box of green plastic soldiers in various offensive positions. One was throwing a grenade and another was pointing a rifle. Some had machine guns, and an officer carried a pistol. The set included tanks and jeeps and halftracks. There must have been hundreds of pieces. That’s how I remember it, but it could have been a couple dozen. I don’t really want to know.

I had a vivid imagination and could play war for hours. I mixed weapons, using my marbles to mow down the army. Looking back, it sounds like I was a violent child. But I had no idea what war is, and today I know war is never fun. But it was in 1962.

One year I received one of those banana-seat bicycles with the raised handlebars. I now had a freedom I’d never known before. By this time, we were living in Louisiana, and I biked all over my neighborhood and others, too, with clothes-pinned playing cards making what I imagined as engine noises as they rapidly slapped the spokes of my tires.

Yet, the older I got, the less magic the Christmas season became. I figured out Santa was Mom and Dad, who consumed the cookies and milk we’d always leave out. A few years later, we ended that tradition as it became clear that Dad would have preferred cookies and vodka.

Today, it’s all I can do to find even a jot of the Christmas spirit I had in abundance as a child. Already, as I write this in early November, three weeks before Thanksgiving, Christmas decorations and displays are going up in stores. The red cups are in use at Starbucks. SiriusXM has at least 15 holiday music channels.

I want a Christmas where a bunch of plastic army men or a Hot Wheels racing set were the best gifts a boy could get. When they were delivered by Santa Claus and some flying reindeer through a chimney that did not exist.

I do miss that.

And I miss those days when that slide at Hamshire Elementary School was 20-feet tall.

Let’s remember to remember. Merry Christmas and happy holidays.

One Response to “Memories”

  1. Jill Peerey says:

    Merry Christmas, Joey Kennedy! This memory took me back to my old school playground and those wonderful Christmas mornings in a household of four children. Such wonderful times! Now, I celebrate Christmas as I decorate, cook special foods and watch the faces and the excitement of our grandchildren. It is always fun to share surprises no matter what our age.

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