This event was one I had sort of buried in my memory for most of my life, deep down, still accessible but not really something I was conscious of. At some point recently I was having a conversation with someone, maybe about unwittingly inappropriate things we’d done as children, and I said something along the lines of, “Yeah, once I drew swastikas all over the playground.” And as I said those words, I realized it was true. That had actually happened.
I was playing with this kid Ryan at recess at my daycare. Which is weird, because I have no other memory of spending time with Ryan at all. The one other memory I have of him was the time when he’d pushed over this free-standing set of drawers that held hundreds of tiny plastic animal toys and marbles and things because he hadn’t wanted to line up to go outside. It was a real mess. He had sort of a tantrum problem, I do remember that.
Anyhow, Temper Tantrum and I were playing at recess, pretending we were spies. I could only really think of one group of people that seemed worth working against. Nazis were the worst people I knew about. And what could we do to really hinder them? Don’t worry, I had an idea about that, too: I told Ryan I knew about this Nazi sign, and we could draw it everywhere, and they would get confused. They wouldn’t know where their hideout was. We could do it in sidewalk chalk, I reasoned, so it wouldn’t be permanent. So we definitely weren’t going to get in trouble.
This begs a few questions. The one that I’m most curious about myself is how I knew what a swastika was and looked like. Warner Brothers cartoons? I’m not really sure why I knew who Nazis were at all, actually. I would think a kindergartener would know about juice, The Lion King, and Lucky Charms and that would be damn near it.
While others were less successful:
I actually have this very clear memory of staring at one like the one above for a long time trying to figure out why it didn’t look quite right. Swastikas are tricky to draw for a small child. I think the mistakes spurred me to draw more of them to get them right.
By the time we’d drawn several dozen and pretty well tagged every wood beam of the playground the daycare lady came running at us, arms waving, shouting something along the lines of “JESUS CHRIST, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” I think I just looked at her blankly. “Some people get very upset if they see that sign,” she said. I tried to make it as clear as possible that we were tricking the Nazis, and that they were going to get very confused and turned around and then be more vulnerable to attack from the Allies, but she wasn’t swayed.
I think everyone went back inside pretty quick after that. I don’t remember any Jewish kids going home in tears, but I also wasn’t an observant kid, so it’s very possible that happened. The next day our chalk art was gone. I sort of wonder if she just cleaned it up herself so she wouldn’t have to go up to some poor custodian and say, “Hey, can you hose down the playground to get all the swastikas off it?” I also wonder if she told my parents, but I’m sort of afraid to ask.