Eighteen years ago, a church organ-load of pipes and several bread bags of screws, clamps, brackets, and bolts were plunked down on the front lawn of my first home, courtesy of Yellow Freight. This is what it’s like to take on a sumo wrestler, I thought, as I lugged it to the backyard.
After carefully separating everything, I located the manual and was dismayed by the explosion of parts before me. Maybe the Brooklyn Bridge had more pieces to assemble, but with its swings, plastic slide, rope ladder, and monkey bars, this was close.
Nevertheless, I set about the task with biblical patience. “One nut at a time,” I kept telling myself.
It took blistered hands and a fortnight of twisting, tightening, and pounding, but eventually I transformed a mound of blue steel and hardware into a playground-worthy swing set for my 3-year-old daughter.
I enjoyed pride-swelling satisfaction that October evening.
Anyone with a child knows the feeling. By dint of your own labor, you’ve laid the foundation for years of giggles and glee. I imagined summer days with kids out back bobbing up and down.
That was then. This is now.
Just hours ago, I unsheathed my reciprocating saw and felled the whole thing like a barren apple tree. A configuration that had served up 18 years of gauzy memories was reduced to a scrap heap in mere minutes.
That swing set had chided me for a number of seasons now. I’d step into the yard to mow the grass or water the tomatoes or clear brush, and there it was, chains rusting, its pliable seats forced by gravity into a perpetual but lifeless grin.
“Morning, buddy, I’m still here,” it would say. “You realize nobody’s used me in years, right?”
It even had a sense of humor. “How’s your pal, Miss Havisham,” it asked one day, referring to the distraught character in “Great Expectations” who lets her world decay.
“Enough of that,” I shot back.
Even after these many years, the set was still perfectly plumb. Sometimes I’d stare at it and wistfully recall July evenings with hanging lanterns, the smell of hot dogs, the clink of horseshoes, and children hurtling into the sky with abandon.
Eyeing me one time, the swing seemed exasperated. “You’re as cemented as I am,” it said with a sigh.
I don’t know whether it was the genial warmth of the sun or the robin’s cocked head eyeing my next move or the aroma of my neighbor’s mulch, but something felt different this morning.
The tool shed motioned me over, conspiratorially. Looking inside, I spotted my saw on the shelf. I tested its juice, turned on my heels, and slowly approached the swing.
“Sorry, buddy,” I said as I made the first cut.
“Oh, that tickles,” the swing set said with a glee that surprised me. “Do it again!”
One pipe, then another, and another plinked to the ground.
“This is fun!” chirped the swing set. “Keep going!”
I wouldn’t say “fun,” but as I sliced the pipes and packed them into my SUV, a certain liberation took root.
“I’ve got more legs than a centipede!” the swing set chortled.
After shouldering the hatch shut, I drove what was now just a junk pile to the dump and hurled it into the recycling bin, feeling a pang as the last piece ricocheted about.
“Don’t worry a second about me,” the swing set broke in. “I’ll be a brand-new set by summer. Wish me bright paint and gentle kids!”
When I returned home, I found myself missing my metallic friend that had anchored the same corner of the yard for nearly two decades.
But as I scattered seed where I’d dug out its feet, I felt germinated by this virgin patch of earth. A trellis for morning glory? A hummingbird feeder? A plum tree?
Or maybe the fescue I was sowing today would be the welcome mat for another swing set years from now.
Inspired, I scooted back inside and dug out a poetry book I had in college.
Ms. Dickinson, you’re right. We dwell in possibility.Jerry Cianciolo is a Boston-based writer and also chief editor at Emerson & Church, Publishers.
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