Creak. Thud! Creak. Thud! Creeeaaak. THUD!
So it had been a while since any of our kids had hopped on the swings in our backyard's Swiss Army knife-like swing set (It’s a swing set! It’s a clubhouse! It’s a sandbox! It’s a picnic table!). While sitting out on the patio in a Leinenkugel-Summer-Shandy-induced July haze, something clicked in my head: a creaky noise could be fixed by some handy dandy WD-40, not so much that whole swing set poles lifting out of the ground thing.
Upon further inspection, I discovered that the whole right side of the swing set is no longer attached to the wood anchoring poles. Even if the screws had held, I also discovered that the anchoring poles were so loose that, hypothetically, a kid could pull them out with one hand and pretend that they were wooden light sabers. Hmm.
I recalled that my lovely wife had told me sometime in the past few months that I needed to take apart the swings, which now stood on a safety hazard level somewhere between the fire pit and the barbed wire at the Warrior Dash. Finally seeing everything firsthand made me realize that maybe I should have already seen everything firsthand.
The bolts looked very rusted. That could only mean one thing: power tools! The thought of slicing and dicing my way through a big hunk of wood shot a jolt of adrenaline through me, and I trounced off, puppy-like, to retrieve the saw.
Now, I’m not one of those guys that has every type of saw known to man. I don’t have a chainsaw, a jigsaw, one of those cool electric band saws that a kid in junior high cut off his finger on, or even a circular saw that would probably make my life a lot easier. I’m saw deficient, I guess. (Maybe there’s a pill for that.) But I do own one of those really cool Sawzall reciprocating saws, which I put together with all the reverence of pool shark assembling his cue.
The taking apart business didn’t take all that long. With a few well placed cuts, a few twists of a screwdriver (stupid drill broke), and a few well placed curses (see aforementioned drill), the deed was done. Covered in sawdust, satisfied with the act of destruction, I go back to the patio and take a swig from my now-warmish Summer Shandy. I look out and see the remainder. Like a lonely Civil War soldier, the clubhouse/slide section of the set remained -- a little torn, a little battered. And I think back nine years.
On a sunny spring Saturday nine years ago, I remember piling the myriad of swing set boxes onto my driveway, new drill in hand, and flipping through the triple digit instruction book.
I’ll admit I’m not the handiest guy around. Okay, maybe worse than that. Not only am I not MacGyver, I’m not even Bill Cosby (didn’t he fix something once?). I’m a breaker, not a fixer. In a hardware store, I pretend I know what all the stuff does, which I can usually pull off if I cover myself with enough grease and pretend I’m chewing a blade of grass, but, between you and me and the ratchet wrenches, I’m kind of clueless. I thought it would take until Fall.
Then one of those unexpected life moments happened. My neighbor across the street – the kind of guy that builds his own deck in a couple of weekends and makes eagle carvings with the wood scraps – came over, drill in hand. “Hey, Jeff,” he said, putting aside the instruction book, “Need a hand?” Then another guy came over, and another, and yet another.
In the end, it was like an old-fashioned barn raising. Half the block was in my backyard, zipping through the steps in the book (I was still trying to keep up) before I could blink. The whole thing was done in a day, and I had developed a new appreciation for what it means to be a neighbor. Looking back, I wonder if I should have developed a new appreciation for just how bad my reputation for klutziness must have been, but, at the time, that part of the equation escaped me.
And then I remember the wonderment in my daughter’s eyes as she tore off to her new swing set that first summer. I remember having to replace the fire pole out the back end with a second plastic slide after a kid did a face splat that thankfully kept all his teeth in place, the times when my kids would read to each other under the canopied roof of the clubhouse, the sandbox wars with plastic army guys driving Hot Wheels jeeps, the forgotten plastic cups filled with fermenting dandelions (“Perfume for Momma,” my daughter would say, eyes aflame), the long Shakespearean death scenes performed by my sons on the plastic slide after they’d been “shot” by their buddies’ finger guns, and my junior high brother-in-law’s attempt to be so cool by climbing up onto the roof at a family party, daring someone to tell him to come down (we didn’t).
I realized that the swing set was more than just a plaything. It was a focal point, a place for imagination to bloom, a memory of happy days, a secret childhood sanctuary -- a place for connections.
And now, half of it lay in scraps, to be dragged out to the curb on garbage day, discarded like too much of our modern world.
I shook my head and took another swig of my beer. Looking down at the scraps, I saw two ladders – one that went upwards at the end, and the other that dared kids to climb above the swings. Grabbing the trusty Sawzall, I slice them away, all surgeon-like. I put one of each into the two vegetable gardens, right about the place where the green beans would sprout out. There’s some sort of Jack and the Beanstalk analogy to be made here somehow, but I’m not the guy to make it. I’m just happy that a tangible reminder of the glittery days of childhood remains. It feels right. Now, about that drill. . .
When he was young, Jeff Alperin wanted to be a baseball player, policeman, race car driver, and spy. As an adult, his adventures focus on his family, his sparkly wife, and practicing law in a large firm, but his comeback as a right-handed relief pitcher is imminent. Jeff's love for his wife is so great that he has agreed to write occasional posts for Parenting Without A Parachute. And she loves him very much - even though he didn't buy the right type of toothpaste.