In My Backyard: Part 2 — The Swing Set

Continued from here.

Swing seat

When we tore out the pool, the ground beneath it looked scarred. Literally, the grassless dirt underneath bare and shiny. Where the perimeter of the pool used to be, a raised ridge like a welt. That welt would remain for years, long after the grass had grown over the bare spot, thick and green. Long after the pool itself was a distant memory and the swing set was the new normal.

I forget when, exactly, my dad put in the swing set for my sister and me. I think it must have been soon, on account of I don’t really remember the backyard of our house (when it was our house and not our grandparents’ house) being without it. Also, Dad sowed grass over the pool’s dirt hole. I cannot think that he would have sown grass, then dug parts of it up to install the swing set, then sown a second round of grass. Less efficient and harming more plants than necessary was not a Dad characteristic.

If Dad didn’t put the whole things together himself, he at least did most of it and spearheaded additional efforts. Given that previous entries have shown that my dad was not a builder, this was noteworthy to me, even at age five — almost six. Maybe my brother, who moved in with us when we moved into the house, had helped? I have this idea that he was involved in the concrete pouring, but I currently have no one in my family with whom I can confirm that perhaps-memory, perhaps-fantasy.

And perhaps I am fuzzy on the details of the concrete pourers because I was so intensely focused on the concrete wait time. According to Dad, who claimed to have been quoting the directions on the bag of dry concrete mix though I cannot verify this, we needed to wait one week for the concrete to set before we could safely play on the swing set. Mom wanted us to wait two weeks. Mom won, and I was particularly miserable during that second week of waiting. When we finally got to play, though, it was glorious.

It was this swing set almost exactly, with monkey bars across the middle leading to the slide. On each end of the cross beams was a place for one trapeze, one pair of rings, and either of two swings. For at least most of the time we had the swing set, the bottom was padded by thick, cushiony grass — which was good, or we would have surely killed ourselves with all the shit we pulled.

Most everything was pretty safe in the beginning. We crossed the monkey bars, swung on the swings, flipped upside down on the rings, and hung upside down from the trapeze. The dangers creeped in incrementally. We discovered that the rings and trapeze were also useful for launching ourselves across the lawn, generating modest amounts of thrust and air time. We learned to twist the swing chains tight, let go, and whirl around — spectacular until we thwacked a shoulder, ankle, or head onto the metal support bar. (Didn’t actually stop us from continuing the practice, of course.) Later, we perfected the practices of climbing on top of the monkey bars, standing on top of the monkey bars (at either end only, where there were T-bars for balance, just in case), and — though this was generally done from a prone or kneeling position — front flipping off of the monkey bars.

These all happened while our — my sister, our friends in the neighborhood, me — bodies were relatively small compared to the overall size of the swing set, when we could comfortably fit six or seven kids on it for active playing. As we grew, the space of the swing set itself became insufficient to contain us.

We took launching ourselves from the rings and trapeze to the next level: launching ourselves off of the swings. The longer chains meant more speed, a larger arc, and considerably more distance and air time, which itself contributed to harder impacts upon landing. I soon became a master of the Padded Mobile Descent — basically, landing on my ass and then rolling. This skill has continued to serve me well in life. Moreover, our larger bodies putting more stress on the frame literally shook the swing set to its foundations. After many years of increasingly hard and daring play, we started to notice that when we’d swing — swing high, swing high as we could — the concrete bases would start to lift out of the earth. Not much: an inch or two at first, never more than maybe four inches. Still, I’d had the impression that the swing set’s base, that my base when swinging, was literally rock solid. But even rock solid wasn’t so stable anymore.

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