Saturday, April 28, 2007

Wings in the Park

[A memory evoked by Sunday Scribblings.]

Next door to my childhood house was a park. The town may not have had much money but the public parks were well-kept and had a few playgrounds, including one right across the fence from my yard.

My brother and I spent a lot of time there. When young, we were not allowed to go out of sight of our house, but that space included swings, teeter-totter, slides, monkey bars (a.k.a. jungle gym), a merry-go-round and some other climbing things. Mom could look out the window and check on us.

It was largely an extension of our back yard. We played by ourselves and with the neighbor kids. And sometimes a car just passing through town would stop for a picnic and a chance to let their kids stretch their legs. We had vivid imaginations and our games of "lets pretend" turned the cage-like monkey bars into a spaceship, and the other playground equipment were places to be explored on the other planets we visited.

We spent a lot of time on the merry-go-round, taking turns pushing as fast as we could. It was just a simple wooden platform with some metal pipes bent into arms to hold onto, both as a pusher and also as a rider (so we weren't spun off). There was no grass on the ground in a foot-and-a-half-wide circle around it. Too many feet had tamped down the dirt there. When the weather was too wet, it was too hard to push - the dirt was a mucky moat. When the weather was too dry, it was hard for our cheap sneakers to get a grip on the dust. Best was when it had been wet, but dried leaving ground that was no longer mud, but not yet dusty. For all the times I got motion sick in cars or on carnival rides, I never remember getting sick on that merry-go-round.

The swings were for pure pleasure but to get any real height on them required an adult (or at least a teenager) to push us. Lying on a swing with arms outstretched was a little fun, but hard on the tummy - that never lasted long.

The slides (one really tall, one a bit shorter) were almost always used, no matter whether in a lets-pretend adventure or just for sheer movement. The tall one had been there longer and was best for speed. The slide wasn't quite as steep as the shorter one, but the metal was smoother. In the summer, it was tricky getting down without burning your skin on the hot metal. Knowing how to lean to keep only your shorts on the metal (not skin) was a skill learned the hard way. Sometimes the slide just didn't seem as fast anymore, but we had a fix for that. We asked Mom for some wax paper from the kitchen, just enough for our little kid butts to sit on. Over, and over, we'd fly down the slide on the wax paper. Not only were those slides fast, but we really were waxing the metal on the slide, leaving it faster for some time after.

On days when there weren't other people around, my brother and I spent time on the teeter-totters. They weren't anything special, just a horizontal metal support with long wooden boards balanced across it. I think the wood was painted green, with orange paint on the end where you were supposed to sit. I know they were repainted every few years, but it didn't take long for the plant to crack and start to peel. The humid summer weather was hard on them (and so were the kids, I guess). A small handle was in front of the seats, probably metal. And although the board was chained so it couldn't be removed from the horizontal support, I think it was done loosely so that you could re-position the board so that it balanced exactly or more to one end or the other with a kind of simple axle-thingy.

Trying to use the teeter-totters in the usual way only led to arguments. See-sawing back and forth was for babies. I was older and enough heavier that it was hard to balance without banging on the ground, then being blamed for the bump given my brother now up in the air. He wasn't heavy enough to retaliate.

Then we discovered another use for the teeter-totters. We didn't sit on the ends. No, instead we sat in the middle, one leg on either side of the horizontal metal bar, our seats planted on top of the long board where it balanced over the bar. And that was the key - balance.

We were pilots of our own solo airplanes, balanced in the air, banking to the left (leaning but trying not to bang the end of the board onto the ground), then banking to the right. Straightening out and flying in formation. Then breaking off to investigate, ignoring the lean of the pilot in front of you.

We saw all kinds of things looking down from our pilot seats on those teeter-totters. Sometimes we
were the first to see the soil of the planets we landed on in the space-ship. Sometimes we flew over the jungle, or the sea, or enemy territory, or through the mountains. We flew space pods, and old planes that had to be started by turning the propeller. We flew invisible planes, spying on people. We flew bombers where we knew we had a "hit" by the jarring noise of the end of the board hitting the ground. We chased wild animals across the African plains, getting pictures for nature films.

Sometimes the kid from across the street was a third pilot, but I don't think he spent as many hours logging air miles as my brother and I did. We were still in site of our house, but we went all over the world, all over the universe.


Bongga Mom said...

What wonderful memories you have! Thanks for sharing them so vividly; they certainly stirred up my own memories of playing at the park.

Janie Hickok Siess, Esq. said...

Oh, that brought back a lot of memories for me, too. I used to LOVE the teeter-totter. Wow. I hadn't thought about that in at least 35 years. Thanks!

GoGo said...

Hmm. As a let's pretend game, wee kids would pretend to be statues when cars drove by. It was fun to stop everything and pose.

Parks were the best. I remember when monkey bars, merry-go-rounds-and swings were metal and dangerous...yet we survived. Now a days, no collases or steel to fall on. Thanks for the memories.


sister AE said...

Thanks, folks, for visiting and commenting. I'll be sure to stop by your sites as well.

Gogo - you are so right about the danger we all lived with, played with, and somehow seemed to survive. Further over into the park was a giant (to us kids) tree that had been felled and left for us to climb on, with 3 steps cut in one end and the other end propped up with two of the cut-off limbs.

I'm sure the playground looks much different now! Probably missing a lot of the wood and metal (and plain bare ground underneath).

nonizamboni said...

You sent me right back to the playground at St. Anthony School! thanks for the memories. . .nicely written.