My childhood neighborhood was built around a former apple orchard, where my cousins lived in the other houses on the block. In the space behind the houses, the neighborhood kids would play together. We’d play games like Army, Cowboys and Indians, and the ever-popular Dirt Clod Fight.
In the center of The Orchard stood our playground. While it wasn’t fancy, we had the Flying Jenny – which was a truck wheel mounted on a stand that you could spin. The trick was to hang on as long as you could until centrifugal force threw you off into the grass, or you lost your breakfast.
Nearby stood the neighborhood swing set. It was a home-built metal frame that seemed like to stand 20 feet in the hair. Below the main bar, there were 4 individual swings. Next to the swings, was a single rope, with a loop at the bottom. I would clamber up onto the rope, stick my foot in the bottom hang on to the rope. and swing. I swung back and forth, with my foot in the loop, holding on with both hands as I went from side to side. I held on with my right hand and waved my left as I swung higher. I switched hands and swung higher.
As I climbed even higher, I let go with my left hand to switch back, and grabbed for the rope. Even with my good sense of balance, I slipped, and couldn’t grab the rope with either hand. I fell backwards, expecting to hit the ground hard.
Before I made impact, my foot twisted in the rope loop as I turned upside down. As I turned completely over, the loop tightened around my ankle, and grabbed tightly. The horizon inverted as I hung from the rope by my foot. I continued to swing back and forth as I slowed to a stop. With my right foot held tightly by the rope, my left leg tried to balance, but since I was upside down, it was much harder to figure out how to orient my brain to my new point of view.
I tried to reach up towards the rope and pull myself back upright, but at 6 years old, I didn’t have the gymnastic abdominal strength required. I tried to swing myself up to no avail. I even tried grabbing my leg and trying to pull myself back upright. Still, no success.
At that point, I tried to look around to see if there was anybody who could help. For some reason, the neighborhood playground had emptied completely. No kids, no noise, no help. I ran through the options in my head for a way out of the situation, with no good alternatives.
I did the only other thing I could think of. I screamed.
My voice echoed across the empty playground. I screamed again. Still nothing. I kept yelling for what seemed like an eternity, which I heard a screen door slam. As I rotated around towards the sound, I saw an upside-down woman running towards me. I couldn’t tell who it was at first, but as they approached, I identified her as my cousin’s mother Sharon, who lived two doors down.
She helped me upright, loosened the rope, and helped me to the ground. She asked if I was OK. I wiped my arm across my runny nose, sniffed and nodded. She said, “Well, you better get home.” I sprinted towards my house, leaving a trail of dust. When I got in the house, I yelled, “MOM!” She walked out of the hallway, drying her hands on a towel. “How was the playground?” She asked. “It was OK. There weren’t any other kids to play with, though.”
I clambered into a chair at the kitchen table. Mom opened the refrigerator. “Would you like some chocolate milk?” I nodded, glad to be safe at home.
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