October 26, 2010

So windy today! There are tornado warnings, high wind warnings and flying object warnings. Well, I made that last one up, but there should have been.

It is warm, almost like a tropical storm – but this is Chicago, so not quite. The first thing I notice is that the wooden ladder is laying in the grass. It weighs a good 50 lbs, so these are indeed serious winds.

That ladder is the last remaining piece of the kid’s swingset. My dad built it about 16 years ago, after Rich built Dominic a sandbox that Eliza absolutely loved. She would toddle into it, sit down and begin creating – sculptures, houses, paths, castles, all the set pieces for the stories she spun as she sat there, becoming more and more covered with sand. Hours and hours of play, by herself or with Dominic, chattering dramas and comedies for the set of plastic animals that called the sandbox home. Families of lions, giraffes, rhinos, monkeys and more, a Christmas present for Dominic a few years before. McDonald’s Happy Meal toys joined the bunch; old kitchen tools and cups rounded it out.

The sandbox then formed the base for the swingset, solid and heavy for a fort above and swings and climbing ropes off all four corners. When we moved to Tinley, it was disassembled and came with, then reconfigured to take advantage of the bigger yard. There was one long beam and an A frame that came off the fort, which some of the goofier kids in the neighborhood would use as a tightrope – although they were told not to many, many and many times. Eliza continued to love the sandbox for years, well past “childhood” and into junior high. Looking for Eliza in the summertime? “Check the sandbox” was always the response. She would hunch over, scooping, smoothing and scraping, blonde hair glistening in the sun, muttering, laughing and chattering.

When she was 13, boards began popping from the fort, bending upwards like a cartoon. It was crunch time – do we fix these boards or get rid of the swingset? As I was still catching an occasional delinquent walking that beam, 7-8 feet above ground, we opted to take it down.

My god, what a wrench. We were no longer a yard for children, no longer a play place; an accurate reflection of our changing lives, but a very sad moment – and season – nonetheless. Everytime I saw the blank square in the grass, seeded but still struggling, it made me sigh. I sighed for past summers – books read and lunches eaten in the fort, hours of pushing a swing and talking and singing and sharing, blankets dragged up that ladder, tricks done on the swings and ropes.

My dad had asked if I wanted to keep the ladder and of course I did. For years now it has leaned against the house behind the chimney, a gentle piece of “art” that means so much.


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