Thursday, July 3, 2008

Backyard Swings

Today's column describes the special swing my father hung in our backyard.

A Short Rope Created a Wonderful Swing!
By Sandra Nichols Ward

My father decided to hang a swing from the ash tree behind our house. He prepared a wooden seat and acquired a long strong rope. Partway through the process of hanging the swing, however, he commented that the rope was too short. One end of the rope was already tied securely around a very high branch. I don't know how he managed to do that; he must have climbed up the tree and crawled far out on that big limb. The other end of the rope had been threaded through the wooden seat – down through one hole, across the bottom under the seat, and up through the second hole. But there wasn't enough rope to reach back up to the overhead limb. Oh! What now? My father tied the loose end, as high up as it would go, to the rope on the other side. This created a triangle about five feet tall in which we could sit or stand. We then tested the swing and began to discover the joys of a one-rope swing.

A swing with two parallel ropes would move back and forth, back and forth, in a predictable pattern. But this new swing could move in any direction! You could be pushed around in a huge circle and then spin as you moved. Fun!

All ages enjoyed our swing.  The littlest child could be held on a parent's lap while swinging gently. A young child could be pushed in a small arc, or pushed back and forth like a traditional swing. Older children invented many ways to play with the swing. I remember flopping across it, letting the seat support my chest, then running with my legs until launched like an airplane, flying around with my arms out-stretched. Whee!

The most exciting swing experiences started at the tree. A step ladder leaned up against the trunk. One of us would climb the ladder, while another handed up the swing. If you stood near the top of the ladder, you could then put the swing's triangle over your body until the seat was behind you, grab the ropes, lean back slightly and swing down away from the tree. Whoosh! The joy of launching successfully from the tree was splendid and you had the maximum swing out across the yard. On the return swing, however, you had a challenge. That very big ash tree was coming up fast; you had to be careful not to leave your head or feet sticking out too far. To avoid crashing into the tree, we learned to push a bit sideways as we launched. Then the swing would move in a curved path and just brush by the tree as it circled back.

The boldest kids in the neighborhood would climb beyond the ladder, scoot out sideways onto a large branch, positioning the swing below their legs by holding onto the side ropes, and then jump. That initial drop was thrilling or terrifying, depending on your age and perspective.

One of the games with the swing involved clothespins. A clothesline ran from the ash tree to the pear tree. It was out of the way of the swing, but if you swung in a wide enough circle, you could touch it. If you were quick and clever, you could capture a clothespin from it, or add a clothespin onto the line. The next person on the swing could add, or take, another one. I don't recall the scoring system, but I do remembering enjoying this clothespin challenge.

Oh, the fun we had with that swing! I'm glad my father's rope was too short.

Recently I sent a draft of this column to several old Danvers friends who had played in our yard. I asked about their memories (if any) of the rope swing. Janet wrote, "Oh yes do I remember. The many bruises on my knees hitting the tree on the way back. I remember the boards ... laid on the ground so our feet wouldn't hit the mud on the rainy spring days."

Gordon remembered that we also had a glider swing next to the path to my grandfather's house. He would swing on that while waiting for us to come out and play. Gordon also recalled the trapeze over by my father's shop. "Ray Dirks and I would hang by our heels upside down to see who could stay on the longest. We would hang by our toes also."

I had almost forgotten about that trapeze! I loved to swing on it and to hang by my knees, letting my long hair and arms hang down and almost brush the ground. I never attempted the more daring positions the boys tried.