Mrs. McGinty, the recess lady, prowls the small square of plowed blacktop with a whistle around her neck. The swings beyond are useless, anchored in three feet of snow. The slides are buried up to their necks. There is one concrete tube parallel to the far edge of the playground. Its belly bulges onto the border of the icy yard. Its curved head is barely above the height of the snowbank. Butch Labrie and Donny Sanborn have tunneled, so you can still crawl through it. But I want to be on top, me and every other third grader scaling its summit to be king of the mountain. Bright snowsuits climb the white cliff. Rubber boots dig for a foothold. Nylon pants bunch and crinkle. As I begin my ascent, the twins, Brian and Rory Paterson are on top. Peggy Dempsey, on the other side of the tube, grabs Rory’s ankle, and he is monarch no more. Peggy takes her side of the throne and pushes off Brian just as I reach the peak. My glorious reign is but an instant as Peggy lunges for me and we both fall off. I land on my back with Peggy sitting on my chest. Butch climbs out of the tunnel like a troll and starts shoving snow in my ear. Peggy squeals with delight and won’t get off. I can’t squirm free. ARGH! My red mittens pound her puffy, pink parka. They slash at Butch’s stupid grin. Frustration bursts out my eyeballs, and I am crying in front of the pee wee crowd gathered in a tight circle. Peggy’s plump cheeks round with laughter, her curly pony tail jiggles. Now I know why they call her Piggy, Piggy Dempsey. I hate this piggy girl who won’t let me up! The whistle shrieks. Piggy flinches. I roll out from under, and punch Butch in the ear.
Mrs. McGinty marches Piggy and I, soggy and dripping, into Miss Ander’s principal office. We sit on a bench opposite her ordered blonde desk. She lectures us on good citizenship at Rosendale Elementary. She wants each of us to say sorry. But my red, sweaty face, glowers in silence. Even as a child, I know that forgiveness is a tight bud that cannot be forced. No sorry lips can make my heart open.
Miss Anders ushers Piggy and I back to our room. Our class is diagramming simple sentences. Mrs. Duval is marking math papers at her desk. Her eyes peer over the top of steel-rimmed frames. I stand at the doorway waiting for her to re-calculate my problem. In her world of plusses and minuses surely Piggy Peggy is in the minus column, and counting backwards, owes me a big fat sorry. And how about Butch Labrie? He multiplied the offense. Isn’t it obvious who the subject and the object of the verb are? But Mrs. Duval’s expression is unsympathetic. Her answer book as useless as swings locked in ice.
Why is this spat so indelible? Nothing was injured but my pride. I had earned Mr. Kennedy’s Presidential Fitness Award. I could do more sit-ups, push-ups and chin-ups than most kids in my class. I even had a badge to pin on my ripe, crusty gym suit. Peggy was a chubby girl who couldn’t even climb the ropes, and Butch Labrie, the dumbest boy in third grade. To be held down by a blob and her buffoon and have my power and rank stripped in front of everyone, humiliating!
Perhaps this scene sticks because it is an early glimpse of Christ’s upside-down paradigm. The real King of the Mountain climbed low and let Himself be pinned beneath our piggyness as ignorant louts filled His ears with insults. Yet He took no offense saying, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” I guess I had it all wrong. Pride is the tight bud. Forgiving the guilty unfurls a heart. After all these years, Butch, Peggy, I’m sorry for hating you.