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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 31, 2006

Respect diversity

A letter-writer this week has said the new manager of the convenience store in Altamont, Dave Singh, should fly the American flag daily.

We have nothing against flying the flag. In fact, a flag flies in front of our news office every day. But such a display shouldn’t be a prerequisite for business; it should be left to individual choice.

What matters most about being American is not an outward sign, like displaying a flag, but rather honoring the principles that are important to our country.

For us, the freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment of our nation’s Constitution are paramount. We believe the freedoms of speech and the press are essential. Citizens in a democracy need to be well-informed if they are to make wise choices to shape their country’s destiny.

This is true in local matters as much as national matters. We wrote over a year ago that the local convenience store and gas station owned by Tom and Sally Ketchum was for sale. We then reported on its sale last month to a Connecticut-based company, GRGH, for $787,500.

We’ve printed several letters since the sale, including one from Sally Ketchum reminiscing over all the fond memories she had of the people who worked at and patronized the store during the three decades the Ketchums owned it.

With new owners came changes.

We printed letters last week from a 10-year employee who quit after she said her co-workers were fired. We also ran a letter from a long-time Ketchum’s customer who was upset when he saw glass pipes for sale at the store; although they were labeled for tobacco use, he said it was clear they could be used for drugs. It is legal to sell the pipes, the public safety commissioner said.

We ran these letters because we believe citizens are entitled to express their opinions in a forum that the community will see. We ran news stories along with the letters so that readers could get a balanced view, hearing the new owners’ views — as much as they would reveal.

What we haven’t run are the rumors and innuendo we’ve heard in recent weeks that have racist overtones. We believe one of the greatest strengths of America is its diversity.

All of us — except African-Americans whose ancestors were brought here in chains and Native Americans who were here long before European settlers arrived — are descended from immigrants. People from every nationality and ethnicity have added to the vibrant tapestry of American life.

We hope the members of our community will respect diversity if they cannot embrace it. It is fair to judge a man by what he does; it is unfair to pre-judge him based on how he looks. If we harbor such prejudice, it won’t matter how many American flags we fly or how often. They’ll just be a sham.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor

Fun in the summertime

By Jo E. Prout

I did a bad thing last week, and by bad, I mean culturally — or politically — incorrect. I taught some seven-year-olds how to play Red Rover.

Do you remember Red Rover" You grab a bunch of kids who are looking for something to do, and line them up on two sides. The fairest way to do this is to count off by twos, but sometimes there is a lot of last-minute wiggling going on in line to get best friends and strong kids on your team, and to avoid weird kids and kids you have a secret crush on but would never, ever hold hands with. You know the drill.

With the teams set, the game begins with the kids on one team linking arms and facing their opponents who are several paces away. For my first-graders, who were new to the game and attending Vacation Bible School where they’re supposed to be nice to each other, the teams were five feet apart. For older kids who are stronger, 20 feet would be much better.

"Red Rover, Red Rover, send Janie right over," one team calls to the other. Janie must leave her group and try, at a run, to break through the linked arms of two kids on the other side. If the link breaks, Janie grabs her friend or the strong kid and heads back to her side. If it doesn’t, Janie stays with the other team.

You remember the game now" Do you remember how great it felt to run and gather up speed to break through those arms that were straining to hold you" Do you remember that Johnny was so strong that you could never break through, even when he was with the weakest kid" Do you remember walking home looking at the red marks on your arms that went away by the time you got there"

When I suggested last week that the kids play Red Rover, the children responded with blank stares. At their schools, contact sports are not allowed, and Red Rover qualifies as a contact sport.

Chasing isn‘t allowed, either, because chasing can lead to falls or be attributed to bullies. Tag, which is really consensual chasing, is in the nebulous zone. After school, tag might be allowed on the school grounds, but during school hours, kids are supposed to swing or play kickball.

The teens running the recreation program here had a great new twist on an old favorite. The game combined tag with magic, pretend play, and a version of rock-paper-scissors. Giants, Wizards, and Elves Tag lets each child choose which creature to be as, again, two teams line up and face one another in matched pairs. Giants throw their hands up high and grunt, and they can beat wizards, who use their outstretched fingers to throw a spell on elves. The elves scrunch down and can run circles around the grunting, clumsy giants. When the recreation leader yells, "Go!" the children become their creature. If they lose — giants beat wizards, who beat elves, who beat giants — they run back to base before the winning creature can tag them. If they’re tagged, the children join the other team. The kids last week had a blast, and they picked it up faster than the adults watching them.

This game would also be forbidden at school. Chasing is illegal, remember" Someone who is playing might get hurt. At our school, they might fall on gravel that has lost favor with administrators as a playground material. The gravel is slated for replacement, probably with foam. At the nearby park, parents worry about splinters and arsenic from ground-covering wood chips, which are an alternative to gravel.

"Don’t run, honey. You might fall," I heard one mother say to her toddler at the park this summer. I’ve often heard it before. Children aren’t supposed to run" I ask myself. They’re not supposed to fall down and pick themselves up, and develop better balance for having fallen" Or, maybe kids don’t balance better until their muscles mature. Does that mean they shouldn’t enjoy the thrill of running at the risk of a scraped knee"

I’m not griping about our schools, nor about our public spaces, you realize. However our playgrounds and games came to be safer, whether through complaints or lawsuits or just the natural evolution of forms of entertainment, we adults seem not to have lost the ability to have fun, but to have gained a sense of fear and foreboding about the simplest actions. Like the mother in the park or the parents on the park committees, we begin to pass that worry on to our kids. And, perhaps, we’ve forgotten, or purposely discarded, a few good games that spark those fears.

Luckily, kids like the recreation teens still keep coming up with new ways to have fun.

My father used to tell us how much he enjoyed playing Kick the Can when he was a schoolboy. He kept explaining the game to us, and we kept asking, "You just kicked it" What else did you do"" Kick the Can didn’t appeal to us at all, but he remembered the joy in the game, and he tried to pass it on.

And that’s what I did last week. I offered a glimpse into the past, and a chance to share the joy of a game. The children, whose minds are as quick as their feet, learned my old game, and the newest form of tag, too. Times change, but children do not. They’re just waiting for a leader.

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