Not surprisingly, one of my earliest memories is of my father telling me something.
“You’re run of the mill, Iris,” he would say. “Just run of the mill.”
Maybe it was my first lesson in intuition, insight and savvy. I knew by the way he said it that what he actually meant was, “You’re special. Very special.”
And he knew I knew. And so the dance began.
In 1947, my father was a young GI coming home from Europe to his war bride – my mother. I was born within a year of his returning stateside – part of the first wave of baby boomers.
Eventually my mom and dad moved out of my grandparent’s house into their own place. The wooden kitchen cabinets were painted yellow. A Lazy Susan was bought for Sunday night dinners of corned beef, pickles and rye bread. A deep maroon paisley couch with tassels was picked out and delivered.
So was a metal swing set. Unassembled.
The metal swing set is new, bright, shiny, massive and all mine.
My dad works all day assembling the metal monster as I sit and watch. After hours of tedious labor, he digs four holes in which to place the swing set’s main poles. To my surprise, he sets the poles in concrete.
Most Dads just dug a shallow hole and set the swing set’s main support poles in the dirt. The higher the swing went, the more the poles wiggled, vibrated and lifted out of the hole. Swinging kids squeaked with terror and delight as the whole structure rose, shuttered and fell back into place. I was always afraid that one day the entire swing set would just tumble over.
Perhaps sensing my fear, my dad grounds my swing set in concrete so I can swing as high as I want – unencumbered by fear of the entire mass becoming air borne.
I plant my bottom on the red metal seat. The heat from the metal stings the backs of my bare legs. I grimace. I squirm a little from side to side. The toes of my clean white Keds brush the grass. I bend my knees and swing my feet forward. Lean back and push off . I start the climb to the sky – head tilted back to see the great blue expanse – my pony tail waving wildly from side to side.
“Okay, Daddy,. You can push me now,” I scream. “Real high. I’m ready.”
The years pass. The grass underneath the swing set is matted down. Then worn away. Then reduced to finely ground brown grains that look like home plate on a kid’s makeshift baseball field. The red seats are not as shiny. The supporting poles have a few dents from my swinging crazy. And rust spots are starting to appear.
I still swing.
The years pass. I graduate. Go to college. Marry. Divorce. Remarry. I have the kids and bake the cookies. And do the wash. And drive the car pools.
Always with back-up, behind-the-scenes coaching from my dad:
Never let them see you sweat
Make it look easy
Do it your way
More years pass. My own kids move away. I still come home to visit.
The swing set is now old and rickety. The push off mound is sunken in with shallow gullies. The chains are disjointed. The rust is heavy. The seats hang crooked.
The swing set, like me, is well past the half century mark. We are both defined, grounded, centered and structured. Marked by age. Touched by expo, though.
I walk into the backyard unnoticed. I spot the metal monster – now seeming so diminished in size. I approach the red seat warily. It looks so small. Can it hold me? I settle in. Squirm around. Slowly push off and up. I arch my back and hang on tight.
“Okay, Daddy, I say softly to myself. “You can push me now. Real high. I’m ready.”
My father gave me a firm foundation in which to grow. And wings with which to soar. Without him, I would never have had the motivation, the zest, and the inspiration to get through life. Much less enjoy it.