Observations from the Ottoman – Red Rover, Red Rover

By Stacey Graham

I’ve always known that I was a wee bit…different from the rest of my cohorts in the first grade. I didn’t realize that it was because I was a writer. Recess was a chore. I’d stomp out outside and frown at the sunshine–I wanted a book–and refuse to participate in childish activities like running into things or falling off the rusty jungle gym as others did. However, in an attempt to pry me away from my books, the playground attendant one day pushed me into a game of Red Rover, Red Rover.

For those young enough to have avoided this particular hell, a line of children would stand on one side of the blacktop while one evil child stood opposite. That child would then call out code names for the others to join her and build a wall to eventually knock down and bruise smaller, less popular children. Think of it as elementary Trumpism. No one knew what your code name was and you weren’t supposed to give hints. If you broke through the wall, you could join them.

On this day, I joined the ranks with the others but instead of calling code names, the game was to be a color to be called instead. I chose “avocado.” It was the early ’70s and my kitchen was in the middle of reconstruction into a lovely shade of dog vomit. I stood, ready to burst through to the other side and show these plebeians that not only was I clever enough to choose an ingredient in a garnish most children hated, that I was ready to be one of them and part of the team. Who needed books? Who needed sunlight and tetanus shots from unsafe playground equipment and tanbark up your shorts? Not me. I was a writer and I would liberate my friends from choosing the dark brown Crayon because that was the only shade in the box to color the French fries on the Columbus Day coloring book they gave us for excitement in the first grade. I would broaden horizons and they too could be any color they wanted. I would not judge. I would celebrate their choice to be salmon pink.

Eventually, I stood there alone on one side of the playground while a frustrated queen bee called out every color she knew–which topped out at about ten–until the bell rang. I was not chosen. I was never happier in my life. I realized that had a super power. I had a sweet vocabulary. In time, I met others like me and I channeled my super power into stories. The queen bee and I became friends but I never shared my code name (until now).

Writers, keep your secrets. Develop who you are and what makes you unique. Work on your projects and share with others when you’re ready. We need you and your stories, and one day I’ll give you a code name–but probably not “dark brown.”



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