The other day I came upon this old photo of Ken, the younger of my two brothers, on the swing set that we had in the front yard of the Manse way back when. Was he not the cutest thing ever? (As my mother would be the first to tell you, now as then. He was the youngest child, and you know what that means.)
But what the photo made me think of wasn’t so much the cuteness factor, or even how beautiful the light is (what was it about the 1960s?). What it reminded me of was the time that my sister, Melanie (the second-oldest, after me, of us four), was swinging on the same swing set, on the chair-type affair you can see at the far end behind Ken, and she was swinging way too high and way too fast, and she swung right off it, landed on the ground right underneath it, and it swung right over her – and there was not much in the way of clearance there; a very few inches – at least once and maybe more. The only thing I don’t recall was whether there was someone in the seat opposite her at the time; if there was – and it could even have been me – the swing apparatus would have been more heavily weighed down when it went over her, and thus even more likely to cause serious injury.
Mel was definitely stunned; she went into shock. But injured? Not so much. The word “unscathed” (save for the brief being-in-shock business) comes to mind. It was kind of miraculous, actually. At least, it would probably seem miraculous now; back then, kids’ brushes with injury and even catastrophe were absolutely par for the course. It was part of being a kid, for the love of God.
And it’s not that our parents loved us any less than today’s parents love their bike-helmeted and chauffeured-to-school and – yes, I’m going to say it – overprotected offspring. It was just different in those days.
When we weren’t in school – that is, in the summertime, or on Saturdays (in a minister’s household, Sunday was different) – we roamed freely. We would go off to the far corners of Queensborough and way, way beyond, if we felt like it. We would traipse through woodland and brush, through rocky fields (the “church hills” come to mind; that’s a reference that only my siblings and a few of our contemporaries from the Queensborough days will recognize, and I will revisit those hills and post on them one of these times) and into wetlands and the river. We could have been anywhere, and as long as we showed up for supper, my parents never – as far as I know – worried.
One of our favourite places to play back then was an abandoned sawmill in a field across the way from where our friends the Parks kids lived. There were old blades and ropes and all manner of rusty things. It was probably danger incarnate.
It was paradise.