There are two schoolyards in the world that I know better than most, despite the fact that I never went to those schools. One of them is the the schoolyard of Son’s and Daughter’s school in Stockholm, and the other is an elementary school in Joensuu, Finland.
The school was right next to our local multipurpose arena: a gravel pitch where we played soccer and Finnish pesäpallo in the summer, and hockey in the winter. The school was just 200 meters from our house, but went almost completely unnoticed by me the for first two years I lived in Joensuu. However, when it was time to go to high school, and ride my green Peugeot to town, the schoolyard was the perfect shortcut, and saved me at last ten, maybe fifteen seconds on my way to school.
I’d get on my bike in front of our house, take a left and enter the schoolyard through the gate in one corner, then in a very cool manner ride through the yard all the way to the fence that separated it from the white houses just on the other side of the school, make a right turn, and still as cool as ever ride out through the gate in the other corner, carefully avoiding the small kids playing on the yard before their school started.
Once those kids saw this bigger kid ride through the yard looking cool until he hit a frozen puddle and wiped out. Then he picked up his green Peugeot, and rode on.
Mostly, though, I spent time on that schoolyard with a cousin of mine, shooting hoops. He lived on the opposite side of the yard, behind those white houses, so we’d either meet up at the yard, or I’d ride my bike to his house, and we’d listen to records or something, before playing basketball.
We always played the same game, “Two bounces”, in which you throw the ball from where it bounces the second time after your buddy has shot it. And we’d play to 10, or 20, or 40, or however long it woud take for us to go through all the important things we’d have to go through.
We talked about girls, and school, and sports, and music, and then we’d talk about music, and sports, and school, and girls.
I’m not even sure if we had a real basketball or if we used a soccer ball. The only thing that mattered was the time spent together, the talk, and the sweet sound of swoosh whenever the ball went in without hitting the rim, shook the white net, and then bounced on the asphalt before one of us scooped it up.
My last summer living in Joensuu, about a week before I was about to move to Helsinki to go to university, I was back on the school yard with my Dad. We walked from our house to the schoolyard, talking about this and that – not exactly the same topics as with my cousin – and when we got to the schoolyard, we played a game of Two bounces.
I don’t remember who won the game but I do remember thinking how lucky I was to be able to do stuff like that with my Dad … even though he was forty years old. I may have even said it out loud.
These days, Dad lives on the other side of schoolyard, in one of those white houses on the other side of the fence, and wakes up in the middle of the night, angry at the kids playing basketball on the schoolyard.
My cousin has also moved out and back again, but he doesn’t live as close to the schoolyard as when we we teenagers.
The school looks about the same, except that they’ve taken away the gate where I used to ride in, and moved it to the middle of the fence. There’s now a set of swings where my entrance used to be.
“Those balance beams are the same ones they had when I was a kid, that’s where we used to armwrestle,” said my cousin when he saw them the other day.
He, Dad and I were all back on the schoolyard.
My cousin told us how he got lost on his first day of school, even though he and his mother had walked the 200 meters together the day before.
“I lost faith halfway through, and walked back home,” he told us, laughing.
I laughed, too. I laughed at the story, and I laughed at the fact that after all those years, and games, and talks, I had never heard that story before. There were still new stories.
Then we played a game of Two bounces – Daughter won – and we talked some more, about this and that.
And I thought – but I didn’t say it out loud – that I was pretty lucky to be able to do stuff like that with my Dad even though he was over sixty years old. I don’t know what Son and Daughter thought about their old man.
They didn’t say anything.