He settles the childless woman in her home as a happy mother of children. —Psalm 113:9

September 7, 2010

Red Round Swing

SwingI was only two-and-a-half when my family moved into our house by the lake, and so I don’t remember much about those early years; but I do remember that one of the best things about that house was the giant swing that hung in the side yard.

This swing had obviously been a DIY project by the previous owners. It was essentially a big, round board with red paint, faded and peeling, held up at four “corners” by four thick chains suspended from a single chain that went up and up and up to wrap around a tree branch about two stories high. I’m not sure about the board’s dimensions, but four adults could sit comfortably with their backs together and their legs dangling over the sides, which I’m sure was the intended use when it was built. I know from experience that about a dozen children of varying sizes could contort themselves to fit on it just fine, as long as some of them were willing to stand.

That swing was awesome. That it was also spectacularly unsafe was only part of its inherent awesomosity. That it could swing high enough to compete with those Viking ship amusement park rides was also most certainly a factor, and definitely the one that made our house the most popular house in the neighborhood, at least as far as anyone who liked to fly was concerned.

Sometimes the flying was literal, although the flights were generally short and ended at the cold, hard ground. The problem with a big swing on a single, long chain is that there’s no directional control. We would start out arcing back and forth in the safe direction, the one without any obstacles; but always, once we really got going the swing would veer off course, and would continue changing course until it eventually slammed really hard into the trunk of the tree that held it.

This was usually when a few kids would get knocked off, no matter how tightly we all held on and braced for impact. Sometimes they would just fall off when the swing went too high, and there were a few young adrenaline junkies and attention seekers who would launch themselves into flight from the swing’s highest height. However it happened, inevitably there were about half as many kids left on the swing when it stopped than when it started, the rest of them lying insensible on the ground trying to get air back into their lungs.

I was, naturally, usually among the latter. No matter what I did, no matter what position I took or how much I held on, I almost always fell off. Even when I played on it by myself and couldn’t get it going very high, I would end up on the ground. It was like that swing wanted to dump me. The worst was when I’d land directly underneath it, because the other way that swing was dangerous was that if you stood up at the wrong moment it would come back and knock you senseless. It took a few instances of nearly getting my head knocked off by that thing before I learned to just stay down. Even crawling out from under it wasn’t a sure bet, because of the way it changed directions.

So whenever I fell off and there was nobody around to stop the swing, I would just lie there with my arms covering my head and scream until someone came to get me. It was usually the next door neighbor who heard me. If she was outside or wasn’t too busy, she would come rescue me herself, but it got to the point where she’d just call my mom anytime she heard me scream. “I think Jeanie’s trapped under the swing again.” My older brother or sister would usually be sent out to retrieve me.

My brother was a superhero on that swing. Nine years older than me, he was totally fearless. He’d stand on the edge of that thing and hold onto the chains and get it going so high that it really was like flying. One of the reasons I fell so often is because I kept trying to emulate him. I was probably about seven or eight by the time I did so successfully, and the first time I did was a TRIUMPH. Everybody had to come outside to see what I could do. None of my friends could have a turn on the swing until I first showed them how I had finally learned how to stay on, even when it hit the tree. I, too, was a superhero, and the swing was my conquered foe, no longer out to get me.

I suppose it’s a good thing that not long afterwards the tree up and died and had to be cut down. Amazingly, none of the neighbor kids ever had any broken bones after playing on that flying death swing, but back then, people expected their kids to play hard and get hurt sometimes, so the occasional concussion or bloody wound wasn’t really a big deal. These days, though, that swing would have been a lawsuit waiting to happen. I sure miss it, though, and while part of me is glad that my nephews and nieces and, hopefully someday, my own kids will never know the trauma of having a giant swing buck them off and then knock them down when they try to get back up, I’m mostly sad that they’ll also never know the triumph of conquering it and becoming a superhero. These kids will never know what it is to truly fly.

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