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Author: Carrie Ranworth

Play Is How A Child Learns

Psychologists say that play is a child’s work. I can kind of understand what they mean. A few years ago, we moved back to West Wilted, Ohio, population about 4500. We had been away from this small town for about 45 years. I live down the street from the house we lived in when I was 5 years old. I pass that house several times a week and my throat tightens up and my neck aches each time I pass. Not from nostalgia, either.

Did you ever get your head caught in anything? I did once. I guess I just wanted to see if I could fit my head through the wooden slats of one of our kitchen chairs. See, we lived in a house that had the kitchen and living area joined…kind of like a modern day open concept plan. So kitchen chairs were often used when visitors came…and they were always coming.

 World War II was in full swing and believe me, I was taking it all in. And we were taking family members in. Aunts, sisters, mothers and their kids, were coming and going as their men in the family came home on leave or were shipped out to the war zones. The only men left in the neighborhood had white hair or a limp. For example, Mr. Oburn next door was short, chubby, and had flat feet. I tried to look to see what that was all about after I heard my mother and grandmother talking about him…but he always had his shoes on.

There was never a dull moment for the adults; but for a 5 year old inquisitive, day dreaming tomboy like me, there was. So, as my grandmother was cooking and my mother was out in the wash house doing laundry, I was bored so I decided to check out a kitchen chair that was sitting in the living room. I don’t know how many slats were in the chair back. There could have been 4 or 40. But as it turned out, with a struggle, I was able to get my head between the slats….up to my neck. But I couldn’t get out. I couldn’t even raise my head up! I just had to stare at the seat of that chair for 4 hours. I can still see the imprint of the seat when I close my eyes.

There I was, bent at a 45 degree angle, while the entire neighborhood was alerted because I couldn’t get my head unstuck. Nor could anyone else. People came streaming in. News travels fast. Mr. Oburn came with a hammer. And his wife, also, because she worked for the West Wilted Record and thought there might be a story in this event. Also, she liked my grandmother’s hot chicory water; which was a substituted for coffee, which no one had because there was a war on.

As I stared at the seat of the chair, I heard FDR talking on the radio, the Marine Corp band playing the Star Spangled Banner (which I couldn’t stand upright for), and people sitting around visiting and watching the men trying to get me out of the chair. People were even sitting on our front porch visiting on our swing and porch steps. I suppose they came in case they were needed.

Well, Mr. Oburn tried to hammer the slats apart. That only served to force my head to move backwards and forwards in a painful manner for the next several weeks. It confused my mom something awful…she didn’t know if I was coming into a room or getting ready to go out. And I had a rash all over.

Mr. Willouby from across the street gave it a try. So did Mr. Kelly. And Reverend Blessing came from 3 houses down the street. He was very old and gentle. I loved him. He and his wife let me gather eggs with them. (Yes, there were still barns in town in those days.) And when they invited me to sit with them in their little kitchen while they ate, I got to watch his false teeth clatter when he chewed. Fascinating! Reverend Blessing couldn’t help me but he prayed for me and told me to memorize Proverbs 22:3 “The wise are cautious and avoid danger; fools plunge ahead with great confidence.” I didn’t have anything else to do for 4 hours so I memorized it.

So what happened is this. Four hours later, Mr. Statton from across Butter Road came over with a saw. He sawed the slats into pieces to get me out. It took him at least another half hour and sounded just like a dentist drill.

I only lost some of my confidence for about a day. I still haven’t learned to be very cautious. And then I was ready to try new things. I have to wear a neck brace when I go to the dentist in case my head starts moving backward and forward. Using hammers gives me a rash and it’s a trial trying to hold my head still. I have the greatest trouble bending over at a 45 degree angle. My neck aches something awful. I still can’t pass that house without my throat tightening up.

But psychologists say children’s play is their work and that’s how they learn. I learned never to have kitchen chairs with slats in their backs when I grew up. I’m careful when I choose a dentist…I make sure my partial plates fit tightly. And I keep my neck brace handy. If I have to, I just kick things out of my way so I don’t have to bend over.