Every time I read a story about some grade-school kid suspended because he made a finger gun and said “bang bang,” I wonder what the world is coming to.
I doubt that Mr. Buckley, the mid-1960s headmaster of St. Cadoc’s Roman Catholic Elementary School where I learned my ABCs, would have been much fazed by such a thing. Even Mrs. McCarthy, the third-grade teacher who introduced us to the wonderfully imaginative world of Enid Blyton, seemed unconcerned that we boys used recess to display our expertise with machine guns, hand grenades, knives, pistols and other weapons of mass destruction.
We called the game “Best Fallers,” and it required a modestly sloping hill of perhaps eight to 10 feet, and an active imagination.
One of us would stand at the top of the hill and declare how he wished to be “killed.” The others would comply.
A request for a machine gun, for example, would evoke a chorus of rat-a-tat-tats as the boys at the bottom of the hill directed their imagined weapons in his direction. Others might request a knife, or perhaps a grenade. The challenge was to enact the best and most dramatic reaction to the weapon being used — in other words, enact “the best fall.”
Obviously, a machine gun required the subject to flail around, arms and feet flying in all directions before falling to the ground and rolling dramatically to the foot of the hill. A knife, on the other hand, called for a more nuanced descent, clutching the expertly thrown weapon while staggering with Shakespearian pathos to a crumpled heap. The grenade called for a profoundly athletic leap into the air, landing halfway down the slope, followed by a head-over-heels roll before expiring at our classmates’ feet.
It was a matter of honor among us that the best fall be admitted free of favoritism to a particular friend and without animus toward a particular foe.
Sometimes the girls would abandon their rope-skipping and watch the show, although I do not remember that fact inspiring us to any greater dramatic endeavor.
At no time did it occur to us that this was anything other than a game. No parents wrung their hands, no teachers wagged their fingers, no pundit prophesied the end of the civilized world. It was just boys being boys, and as the years passed none of us developed a greater tendency toward violence than perhaps tripping that annoying winger rushing past us with the soccer ball at his feet. And those people were annoying.
Back to the classroom we would traipse, our little adventure with weaponry instantly forgotten, ready to listen to Mrs. McCarthy read tales of the hilariously incompetent Mr. Meddle, or perhaps of the bizarre folk who inhabited the Magic Faraway Tree.
“Who told you that you were naked?” asks God of Adam and Eve in the garden.
Who opened your eyes, before your time, to this knowledge that belongs to future years?
Who robbed you of your innocence? Who made you afraid?
These are questions that one day should be answered by those who attribute to the innocent acts of childhood dark meaning and intent that have nothing to do with the mental, mystical world of the child.
Sometimes I think some adults despise or envy the magical world of childhood, and indulge a spiteful desire to destroy an innocence they can no longer remember.