“Fire cracker! Fire cracker! Boom! Boom! Boom!
Boy’s got the muscle! Girl’s got the pretty legs!”
So sang coach.
We kids all laughed. Coach said something that we couldn’t hear because we were laughing so hard. Then he got us back on the tail of attention by shouting:
“Hooray!” We answered back.
“Hooray!” We answered again.
“Alright... give me two laps!”
But we were off around the track. Some slower to start than others. My friends and I amongst the slower ones to run. With us were the fastest kids who only stopped to take their shoes off before leaving us in the dust.
I ran as fast as I could, which wasn’t fast at all. Putting me at about the middle of my class. Some days I took my shoes off, today I didn’t. Which meant that tomorrow I wouldn’t have stone bruises on the bottom of my heel. But I watched in envious admiration as the speed demons slapped their bare feet on the clay and gravel of the first curve.
Then everyone sped down a straightaway shaded by oak trees and long leaf pines. Each bare foot took another beating on the gnarly roots rising from a ground beaten down by thousands of runners over the course of an amount of years that I had yet to consider considering.
We beat our path on around the second curve, which was marked by three tires half buried in the ground. A moral decision we had to make every day was whether or not to cut the track here. I was pondering that as I came upon the first caved in tire, I leapt over it and kept going.
After we rounded the next two tires we ran another straightaway, also shaded by oak trees. This round of dirt path provided a halfway mark from which to wish you were finished. I looked to the right at an old house behind the school. It looked like an old man was on the porch with a basket of corn beside him.
As the path track merged from dirt to grass the steps grew lighter. Then we
rounded the third curve and were in full sunlight. No respite from the Florida heat.
We finally made the fourth and final turn in the full sun. I tried to pace myself, but, since I didn’t really know what pacing myself meant, I just ran full-bore. Firecrackers boom, boom, boomed in my calves and my side. I ran on, slowly losing ground. Going from being in the front middle to the middle middle to the lastly middle.
Second lap, here it went. On the second curve I let a smokescreen go that lasted all the way to the third curve. Luckily I was an actor in a silent movie and didn’t embarrass myself in front of a girl I had a crush on. I was running beside her and we were talking. I kept a straight face.
Coach was leaned forward with his stopwatch in hand. He called everyone’s time loud enough that we could hear it even if we weren’t listening. We sat on two benches in the order we finished. The fast kids on the front, I on the second and several on their feet waiting for coach to come by.
Then it was off to one of the baseball diamonds. I stood in between first and second base. As the third shortstop on the team. Coach didn’t care much what we did as long as we tried to pick up the ball when it came near us.
I was waiting and watching with my hands on my knees. I was also spitting blood that came out of a loose tooth’s widening hole. Coach was sitting on a picnic bench and watched me playing with my tooth.
“Come ‘ere son.”
I walked over to him.
“What’s bothering you?”
“Let me see.” He pointed at my mouth.
I opened it and he said: “That’s what I thought. Hold on now.”
He reached into my mouth, pinched that tooth and yanked it out. He handed it to me. An impressive front incisor. The roots of my teeth were like pine roots. When pulled on they were prone to popping and causing a tooth to fly out of my mouth
at dangerous speeds.
“Now you tell my son what I did next time you see him.” His son was my dentist. “Go get you some water and some tissue.”
So I walked around to the outside water fountain and drank on the cool water. Spitting horrific amounts of blood into the basin. Then I went in to the bathroom and stuffed paper towels into the new gap.
I walked back to the field still spitting blood. A few of the older kids were worried about my spitting blood, thinking something was terribly wrong they told coach.
He answered them with:
“Back to the game boys and girls.”
We played on.