"Where's Matt?" I asked as my first graders filed in from recess one afternoon. During this particular year I had two Matts in class as well as two Heidis, three Jasons, and two Jeffs (Jeff and Geoff, but who's arguing with me?). It made for some hectic and confusing moments that year. Everyone had to remember to ask for Heidi B. or Heidi J., Jason N. or Jason O. or Jason H.!
My Matts I could tell by hair color. This particular missing Matt was a red head. We're not talking your average, everyday, run-of-the-mill red either. The best description for Matt's hair color was tomato soup orange and he had a billion freckles to match. He also had a grin that would make a Jack-o-lantern look toothy! He had lost all four front teeth on top and all four on the bottom of his smile in kindergarten and they had not grown back in yet! He was adorable, funny, rascally and hard to miss...which is why I noticed he not in the line-up. At my question, some of the boys looked at each other, laughed, and then they all started talking at once. I heard short phrases like "don't worry", "they'll get him out", "Mr. Fraughton's on it...he's getting a SAW!" I found myself talking very loud and saying "why?", "out of where?", "worry about what?" "A SAW?!!"
The Grovecrest Elementary playground was divided into two sections, lower grades played on the west side of the school which was visible out of my classroom windows. It had the usual swings, teeter totters, and monkey bars (all of which have since been removed because apparently children through the ages have killed or maimed themselves in such numbers on these apparatus that they have been abolished from playgrounds all over America. Anyone seen a good, fast Merry-go-Round lately?). The "safer" playground items made the K-2 playground look like a used tire yard. We had a giant tractor tire laying on its' side for bouncing on, a series of three large tires of different sizes buried half in the ground one after the other looking like a giant serpent for climbing and trekking across, AND a set of five or six car tires stacked one on top of the other forming a vertical cylinder. They were bolted together so that they would not come apart...even if a tall, red-headed six year old boy was stuck inside of them!
"How did this happen?" I shrieked as the boys voices calmed down. Perhaps you have seen the classic scene from "A Christmas Story" where one little boy's tongue is frozen stuck to a metal pole? He doesn't return from recess with the rest of the class and when the teacher learns where he is and what has happened she, along with the rest of the class runs to the windows to watch the drama unfold? That was me and my class that day! I got explanations as we watched. It seemed like Matt had been sitting on top of the opening in the tire cylinder. He was crossed legged and when one of his buddies (thanks a lot buddy!) pushed down on his shoulders he went down the hole! His legs were still crossed and his knees were stuck inside of the very bottom tire! He could not stand up and was screaming like a banshee!
As the drama unfolded, the Pleasant Grove Fire Department arrived with their amazing tools like the Jaws of Life (which probably sounded like the Jaws of Death to poor Matt!). They got him out and he ran into the arms of his waiting mother who had heard his cries and seen the commotion over her back fence which just happened to border the playground. The first graders in Mrs. Loose's room watched the whole thing from the windows and cheered heartily when their comrade was rescued! Art lessons had been forgotten and there was a discussion on playground safety to fill up the rest of the afternoon. After school as faculty and staff gathered in the office, Mr. Fraughton the custodian laughed about how kids never cease to amaze, Mr. Reimschussel the principal scratched his head and muttered something about how the tires were supposed to be so safe...and I answered a hundred questions about the famous "Matt the Tire Boy" and was he really as much trouble as he seemed? (!) The children talked for weeks about the excitement of it all. All of the tires were gone from the playground a week later!