Thursday, March 18, 2010

Anarita and the Jungle Gym

Anarita Eleanor has no memory of when her parents bought the jungle gym. Presumably when she was a toddler, they bought the set with bars, swing, rope, etc., and her dad "did the job right" by pouring concrete around the posts so it would be sturdy. It wasn't a lousy plastic one that falls apart in one season. It was metal, with jangling chains almost like the ones on the swings at the elementary school. The chains sounded like summer even in winter.

One of her earliest memories, (sometime around '78/'79) is this: she is in the back yard sitting on the swing trying to make it go, but not remembering how to do it without having someone push her. Her brother Victor Cedric and his friend Jason are playing football. Those two, and many other neighborhood boys, spend hours playing football in the backyard. They seem to spend as much time developing a complicated but glorious playbook (all in their heads, not on paper) as they do playing "real games". Anarita asks her brother to help her swing, and he says something like, "In a minute," or "Later on, we're busy."

But, she hears him say, "Pump your legs back and forth." So that's what she does, and soon she is swinging all by herself! How did she hear just the right thing? Is it a Jungle Gym Miracle? Or was she just remembering a lesson temporarily forgotten?

That jungle gym was a purposeful and wise investment for her parents Alice and Joe. It was a tool to keep the kids in their own yard instead of unknown, unwatched locales around the neighborhood as much as possible. For probably a decade, Anarita and Victor, but especially Anarita, would play with neighborhood kids on the jungle gym. They swung, jumped, swayed, climbed, attacked, conspired, imagined, hung, tickled, kicked, and pulled there.

Slowly it decayed, losing its appendages one by one until all that was left were the bars. Then, the bar in the middle developed its first hole from rusting away, and she and her friends got to work picking and prying at the bar's weakness. Alice didn't want the kids to do that, but they persisted until the first bar was broken and gone. It was only the first; others followed, and then one day the jungle gym was dug up and grass seed was planted in the bare spots where children had played the grass to death year after year. Some of the bare patches would persist for a few years in memory of the jungle gym. The yard was so big and empty without it. But, it had done its job and served well.

Anarita remembered the gym and mused, "More kids should be so lucky as to play on jungle gyms."

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