I love me a good tire swing.
We employed real tires in our swings, which in retrospect was maybe not such a good idea. Not only did you have to adjust your seating in order to keep the inner edges of the tire from numbing your butt before squishing it in half, but your clothes sometimes came away with literal skid marks from the friction against a rubber tire. The tire was heavy and it was hard to steer in the direction you wanted sometimes, but those were minor considerations. There’s nothing like clinging to a heavy rope as you sit on your numb butt, letting the warm summer sun sprinkle down through the overhead leaves like the most awesome confetti of all time.
Feel the rush of the wind in your ears; listen to the creak of the rope against the supporting branch. Gaze up at the bright blue sky as you lean back into the pump action of propelling the swing back and forth. Maybe there are puffy popcorn clouds up there overhead, the kind that looks like different figures to different people.
Hey, there’s dog’s head. He’s looking at a big-nosed man with a cigar in his mouth. There’s a frog. No, not that one – that’s more of a lizard or something. Can’t you see it? I do.
Many a lazy day was happily offered over to the imagination on the strength of those clouds, and nothing served a better launch pad to imagination than that swaying, creaking pendulum of a tire swing. Many a warm night was spent sitting in the sandy driveway gazing up at the stars, playing Junior Astronomers and drinking in the spectacular view of the Milky Way’s broad river of starlight across the inky sky.
I could segue into a whiny diatribe about how much I miss the good old days, but I won’t. Everyone has different ways and reasons for recollections. There are aspects of those days that I cherish and celebrate but in retrospect, those “good old days” weren’t as good as some people like to imagine. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we didn’t realize how tough the world was going to be on us. Most of the time we didn’t fully appreciate the everything around us until it was gone, forever regulated to past tense.
I remember sometimes thinking “it doesn’t get better than this; I’ll remember this forever” but I have developed selective memory over the years. My school locker combination from one year was forgotten the next year (and several times during the first month of the new school year) but I can remember Mama’s phone number forty-five years later. Some people can remember plays and scores from our middle-school basketball games. I can remember the way the gym sounded on wintery Friday nights during a game, when the stands were packed with townspeople. I remember the metallic-like ring of the basketballs as they bounced against the waxed wooden floorboards. I can’t tell you any scores; scores meant nothing to me then and even less now. I do remember the heat of the crowd and the blare of the time buzzer, and the way a towel magically wicked away the sweat from a benched player’s forehead.
Sometimes I sat in a quiet out-of-the-way place at home, against a wall in the dining room perhaps, just to experience what went on from that perspective. I’d choose some ordinary day in which nothing in particular was scheduled, and I’d tuck myself under the sideboard table and watch the rhythm of the household. A sister strolled in from the outside with a handful of flowers. Someone turned up the radio when a good song came on. Mama brought in a basket of laundry and called to my sisters, and then there was a brief flurry of folding and stacking and carrying off to a bedroom chiffarobe. I’d watch these little vignettes, savoring the ordinary flavor of it all. I couldn’t tell you the date and only hazard a guess at the year, but I remember the sights, the sounds, the smells, the – the instance.
Sometimes I went up to my mother and gave her a big hug just so I could feel her arms around me, hugging me back. She would ask “Well, what’s this for?” and often I could only answer “Because I want to remember the feel of it.” I wanted to do more than just recall something in the future. I wanted to be able physically connect with that moment, to underscore what my eyes saw and my ears heard.
I was probably a strange little kid. I don’t know of anyone else who has ever confessed to sitting in a random place just to feel what it was like, or the reason I like to hug people. To this day I love to randomly hug my children when they visit. I hug them immediately when they arrive, and they might be in the room for another couple of hours when I still get the urge to give them a big bold hug. I want them to remember how much I love them. I want them to recall what it felt like to have a hug from their mom. I miss mine. In the future they might miss theirs, and I want to give them a vivid memory of my love for them.
They have a different set of memories than me. For me, free time was tire swings and crawdad hunting and playing Allied soldier against the Nazis in the sandy driveway beside the yard. Free time was pretending to ride a horse by galloping up and down the driveway or the road near the house, letting the rhythm of my gait stand in for a palomino stallion or a feisty bay mare. For them, free time was my sons playing battle with wooden swords in the back yard or improving scores on video games, and my daughter decorating her room or putting together scrapbook albums for her friends. They had bicycles; I had a steel radial suspended from an oak tree. I had Saturday morning cartoon blocs to last all morning long until the teenagers took over at noon to watch “American Bandstand” or Mama piled us in the car to go shopping in town. My kids had cable television with entire channels devoted to cartoons, and they don’t have to wait until Saturday morning. I remember some of the events of their childhoods but they couldn’t get a true experience of many of mine. I don’t know if it matters anyway, because life is all about ongoing change and sometimes we can only attempt to duplicate the past.
We can construct slick aluminum swing sets with almost enough of the correct number of nuts and bolts to put it together before getting the rest at Home Depot. We can go to a city park and share the playground with others. We can still look up at the puffy clouds. We may not be able to see the Milky Way at night the way my sisters and I could, but we can still see some of the stars. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get away far enough from invasive night lights to see the Milky Way in all its glory again.
But I do know, I love me some tire swing.