Once upon a time when I was a little girl I remember sitting on a wooden board. The board was carved out with large irregular V’s on either side. Strategically the board was placed between a thick braided-rope that looped down in a U. This rope I remember, was somewhat prickly to the touch. It reached up for a long ways and was twisted around the trunk of a hundred year old pine tree. I spent countless days and evenings on that old rope swing. So much time that eventually the prickly rope became smooth in the two positions where I held on with my hands.
Mostly I remember spending the days on the swing alone. I would swing as high as my short pumping legs would let me go, stretching my sneaker feet out to the sky. One day I had the notion that if I stood on the board I could pump harder, and the swing could go higher. It sure did. Right over the top of the clothes line. That next week was the longest week of my life. I had to stay inside the house. Back in the 70’s a kid staying inside in the summertime was out of the question. But my legs had to be kept straight while my grandmother applied some sticky gooey dressing on the backs of my knees to prevent infection from the rope burn I acquired. Those burns were the worst thing I thought I ever felt. But that was before the tire replaced the board. I scraped my whole back across the bark of the old pine tree. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but in childhood fashion, I was swinging powerfully high. When the tire twirled and came down and around, the motion threw me with ferocity into the tree. At my grandmother’s exhorting, the tire was removed and the board returned to the rope.
Some of my fondest memories took place underneath that old pine tree. My favorite times were when the other kids were there; my sister and my cousins. There were nine aunts and uncles so there were lots of kids. They would all gather on the picnic table under the pine tree and I would take my place on the swing. “Tell us a story,” they would insist. The stories I told I made up from watching Big Valley or Bonanza or Green Acres, and all of the kids would play a part in the story. The girls wore long, beautiful gowns and their hair was curled up pretty. The boys always rode horses and wore cowboy hats and leather boots. We all lived in grand mansions and had prominent jobs. On the weekends, we would get together with our children and enjoy each other’s company like the families of Ozzie and Harriet, The Brady Bunch and My Three Sons.
As time advanced, we grew up. I left the swing behind. Life in the real world was not anything like the made up family sitcoms I was used to telling stories about. I remember going back to my grandparent’s house after the old swing had been removed. “But why?” I whined to my grandfather. He just gave me a queer look. The rope had rotted and a storm had taken most of the big old pine tree. The kids were now all grown, so what was the point in replacing the swing? What was the point? What is the point? My nostalgic memories? Because I liked it? Because I didn’t want to accept change? Because I wanted everything to stay the same? None of my reasoning mattered to my grandfather. The swing was gone, and so was my youth.
These past few days I’ve been reading through reams of paperwork that were filed way in the back of the bottom drawer of my file cabinet. There is unfinished business that requires attention with my grandfather’s estate. This fall will be the ten-year anniversary of his passing. He had nine kids so there were lots of family gatherings at his house. I have so many good memories of growing up there. I hate for things to change. But change, I have learned, is inevitable.
The heirlooms are gone, and the house has been sold. Relationships are not as important to people like they used to be when I was a little girl. Maybe the relationships were always a façade and I just never knew no one really liked each other. Perhaps there was always the hate and discontent amongst the adults, and I never noticed. It has become clearly evident to me now because it has been passed down to the kids. The stories I tell now are to people I don’t know. There are no long gowns or fancy mansions or horseback riding.
The burn scars on the backs of my legs are proof that the swing was real, but reality is only something we can touch. I think the old pine tree is gone now, too. Families are supposed to stand up for each other and fight for each other, not against each other. The family members I grew up with have metamorphosed into people who hate each other, offering a glass of tea in one outstretched hand, while hiding a machete behind their backs in the other. My childhood has been relinquished to smoke and mirrors. The rope swing at my grandfather’s house is my childhood fairy tale. I will keep it in my memory for as long as the scars remain on the backs of my legs. Even with change, we still can try to hold on to the good memories.