This is a story my mom told me about our time in Switzerland during the 1970s. The story happened to my sister, although not exactly like this. I put a spin on it since I wasn’t there…I was probably at Kindergarten while she and my baby brother were hanging around with my mom in the apartment.
I remember the apartment building vividly, as well as the parking lot and the sandbox. I also clearly remember that order and cleanliness were very big preoccupations for the Swiss adults during that time.
The little girl wanted to play in the sandbox. But the sandbox was outside, down five flights of stairs, and her mom was busy with the baby.
“I can’t go down with you right now,” her mom said. “Why don’t you go see if your friends are already there?”
The little girl decided to descend the stairs by herself. She chose to cross the parking lot instead of walking around it, to get to the sandbox quicker.
When she arrived, there were no children. Only the superintendent of the apartment building was there. She was sweeping the sand off the ledge back into the sandbox, with a big broom.
The little girl looked at the superintendent. She was a tall, skinny woman with a very strict, tight looking face. She did not smile, not that the little girl ever saw.
The woman did not acknowledge the little girl and kept sweeping the sand.
The little girl decided not to talk to her and entered the sandbox.
Then she heard a sigh.
“Don’t make a mess here,” the grim woman told her and stood, idly waiting for the girl to leave.
The little girl did not leave. Instead, she made sand cakes on the ledge closest to her. She made large ones, small ones, tall and short ones. There were five in a row and the ledge was full. The little girl admired her work, then went to the adjacent ledge and continued there.
Suddenly the little girl felt sand sprinkling on her arms and legs. She turned her head and saw that the woman had swept all her beautiful sand cakes off the ledge, back into the sandbox.
The little girl was incredulous. Oh well, she thought. I’ll just have to start over again.
She continued forming more sand cakes, just as the woman continued to sweep them back into the sandbox, off the second ledge too.
“I want to keep order here,” the woman yelled at the girl. “Keep the sand inside the box!”
The little girl didn’t understand. She was just playing like she always does. Even her friends like to use the ledge when playing in the sandbox.
The woman kept sweeping. She was hired to keep things neat and tidy and she would do so despite the child. Let her go make a mess in her own home, the woman was thinking, sweeping furiously.
Finally, the little girl gave up. She couldn’t play like this, not with sand dust entering her eyes and nose. The woman was obviously mean and cranky. She had no intention of stopping her sweeping.
The little girl grabbed a bucket and filled it with sand. Then, she got up and marched out of the sandbox back to the front door.
The woman and her broom followed her.
“Where are you taking that bucket of sand?” she yelled in a high-pitched, shrill voice. “Do not take sand out of the sandbox!” she continued yelling.
The little girl was not afraid. She held her heavy bucket firmly in her hand and slowly walked up five flights of steps. Once she reached the top, she turned around and faced the woman who had followed close behind.
With a swift movement the little girl turned her bucket upside down and dumped the contents down the first set of steps.
“Stupid cow,” she told the woman, and entered her apartment.
Samples of my memoir can be found here.