Recess and Snack by
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Prompted By Kindergarten

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It is probably age-appropriate (both as to my then early one and my now significantly advanced one) that I really have only two distinct memories of kindergarten: recess and snack.

I really have only two distinct memories of kindergarten: recess and snack.

As to the former, most of the time we were just unleashed to burn up calories and give the poor teachers a break.  Anything short of mayhem was acceptable.  And, as others may recall, playing cowboys and Indians — or maybe it was just cowboys and more cowboys — was huge then.  Of course, we boys all had toys guns and cowboy hats, and no one gave the former a second thought.  (Can you imagine….?).  Plus, our playground had some sort of miniature structure — I can’t recall whether it was a ranch or a fort — that nicely contributed to the motif.

And what I particularly recall is that I was one of the few kids who preferred  getting “killed” to doing the “killing.”  I had watched enough Westerns to appreciate just how much a scene-stealer it was to writhe in agonizing pain and yet still muster enough strength to gasp out some noble last words of love, loyalty, revenge  — whatever —  before, tragically, closing one’s eyes for a last time as the violins swelled in the background.  Indeed, I usually found a way to draw out my death right until the end of recess.  I probably had an audience of one by then.

In retrospect (isn’t that the whole point of this site?), I do wonder if this recess play was not just a symptom of being an early-onset drama queen, but also a harbinger of a life of empathy with victims more than perpetrators. Conversely, it is not surprising to me that Trump fantasizes about shooting someone on Fifth Avenue. I can just imagine him blasting his Mattel Fanner Six Shooter at every other kid in the playground back in Queens.

As to snack, really just one particular memory:

Profile photo of John Shutkin John Shutkin

Characterizations: funny


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    John, as I read your description of your death scene, “The Fantasticks” comes to mind, with the character of the “man who dies”. You were just a precursor to that wonderful character.

    As to the Trumpian reference, I’ve heard reference to stories by people who went to elementary school with him in Queens and say he was the classic bully, even then. Pulled little girls’ pig tails, kicked kids, took away their bagged lunches. His father couldn’t discipline him, so sent him to military school, which only fanned those bullying tendencies. No leadership skills, even then. What a guy!

  2. Marian says:

    Saltines for snacks? I consider myself lucky that we had graham crackers. All the boys had guns at that time. I really liked the chaps and was jealous of them rather than the guns.

    • John Shutkin says:

      I actually got to like the saltines — or maybe it was the apple juice that came with them and quenched the saltiness.

      Ah, chaps… I probably haven’t thought about them since the Village People. But I coveted them as a kid. Along with fringed shirts and rawhide vests, of course. Coincidentally, just last week, a Facebook group I belong to for boomers who grew up in the New Haven area posted a newspaper ad from the 50’s for the Willow Creek Ranch, which was a western-style ranch, complete with rodeos and weekly square dances, that, improbably, was just down the road from where I grew up in rural Connecticut. As you can imagine, its gift shop sold all that cool stuff and I’m sure that’s where I got my cowboy hat and guns.

  3. Marian says:

    The western wear sounds cool, John. I think the cowgirl stuff was lacking at that time, and I can’t remember having any of it.
    Apple juice would be better than the milk we had, especially because it turns out I had a severe allergy to a milk protein, which explains why I never wanted to finish the little carton we were given each day.

  4. Suzy says:

    Fun story, John. Like Marian, I was surprised at the saltines for snacks. In New Jersey (where she and I both grew up) we had graham crackers and milk, not saltines and apple juice. Great featured image – I scrutinized it to see if you were either the cowboy or the Indian, but I don’t think so. Is it from your files, or the internet? And I love your description of recess. I can just imagine you with your gun and cowboy hat, dying a slow and dramatic death.

    • John Shutkin says:

      I just got that picture by googling “cowboys and Indian images,” but it sure was evocative. Ironically, I do have some pictures of me actually riding a horse as a kid, but in full English riding regalia — johdpurs, riding boots, crop and black helmet. in other words, sissy Eastern wear for a real buckaroo cowboy.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    John, this one had me laughing. I remember my brothers playing endless versions of the cowboy and (you are right about this) cowboy motiff. In fact, when my son turned 5, all he wanted was cowboy guns. We obsessed about if it would be ok, but finally gave in. He abandoned them after a month and grew up to be a very kind and gentle person, so I guess it was the right call.

  6. Geez, John. Snacks and recess? I don’t remember the former at all and as to the latter, wasn’t it all just recess? I don’t remember going outside at all in kindergarten. Hmmm. Guess I just missed out. Kinda like to have gone to your Kindergarten: saltines are way better than nasty, stick-in-the-mouth graham crackers. Great story!

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