I was at the park watching a young girl swinging – leaning forward to face the wind and then leaning back her face to the sky – her hair flying in the wind and her face awash with pure bliss. For a moment I was her – caught up in the sound of her laughter and remembering the pure joy of such a simple, nearly forgotten pleasure.
I recall learning to swing – a thing that you cannot explain how to do to another person. Rather it is a rhythm that you learn all alone. I was lucky to have had my parents, grandparents, and older cousins to push me in the beginning. But after awhile my parents – the ones around most often and most likely to be the ones to push me on a swing – insisted that I should learn to swing myself – especially since they had bought me a swing set so that I could entertain myself. Mama tried to explain how to do it but the words made no sense. I remember the frustration of leaning forward and leaning back and very little happening. But then I figured out that if I gave myself a little push with my own foot that I was on my way. And oh, wow! Did I soar??? I could swing myself so high and hard that the swing set would bounce up on one side. My mama warned me that I would tip my swing set over but I never did. Nor did her warning ever keep me from swinging as far as I could go. There was nothing like the wind in my face, my hair flying loose and wild, my feet stretching toward the sky, and the feeling that I could soar into the stratosphere.
And as much as I loved my swing set the very best swings were at the park where the ropes were many times longer than mine at home. Those swings could catapult you into a space very near the clouds – or so it seemed to me. I could never get enough. I felt I could always go a little faster or a little higher. It was intoxicating. And after having swung my body backwards and forwards, upward and downward, time after time after time – when I finally stopped the swing and got off it seemed as if I had been weightless so long that it was a heavy burden to carry my own body through space in such an ordinary way. It always surprised me a little how heavy and humdrum it felt to walk away. It was those moments that I envied birds the most, I think.
Once when I went to visit an older cousin she took me to a Lawn Party (which is like a small fair for those folks like me who may never have heard of a Lawn Party). They had games and some rides. One of the rides was called The Swing and it had individual seats that were suspended from very long chains that were attached to a carousel. When the apparatus was turned on you and your seat were swung outward and around. At first my cousin thought I was too little to ride it but the operator said “no” and lifted me onto the seat and put a bar into place that I could hold onto. Looking at it I wasn’t confident in its ability to hold anything much besides your attention and I elected to hold onto the chains on either side of me instead. My cousin took the next seat suspended beside me and after she was in she gave me a little worried look and asked if I was alright. Her expression gave me pause but I wasn’t about to act like a baby. I figured I should be safe enough. Nobody died on these things, right? I nodded and tried to smile. And then I heard the motor rev up and my stomach gave a little lurch. I clutched the chains and determined that I was going to be just fine. And as it turned out I was. In fact, I think I was more than fine. I had chosen the outermost seat which flies the highest of all. And even though I was just the tiniest bit scared I was also thrilled. I flew through the night air faster than I ever had and it was exhilarating beyond words. I looked out across the lights and sounds happening below and up into the soft indigo of the summer night sky. The stars seemed to be spinning – but, no, that was me spinning among them. The only bad part to that evening was when the ride was over and I had to get off. I could have flown through the air like that the whole evening. My mama fussed about it when she heard about my adventure. It seems that there had been tragic accidents now and then involving such swing rides. Mama declared that they were too dangerous. Maybe so. But it sure was fun and I was glad she hadn’t been there to stop me.
Porch swings are nice, too, although not nearly as exciting. Although I guess it all depends on whom you’re sitting with on that swing. In my personal experience the idea of a porch swing is more romantic than they actually are. If you’re trying to enjoy a glass of iced tea its tricky to drink and swing at the same time and I’ve learned that you need to come to a complete stop in the swing so that you can set your drink down without incident. The most fun I ever had on one was lying down on the seat while one of my cousins pushed me. But you don’t go far or fast and then you always have to get off and give them their turn which is just how it goes – ‘cause no way are you able to push yourself while lying down – at least I never figured out how.
As an adult the most fun I’ve had on a swing was on an enormous swing that hangs on the screened porch of a house our family stayed in on Lake Lure. The swing is as big as a sofa. The bottom is cushioned and there are plenty of pillows. You can’t swing far or fast but I could swing gently on it surrounded by all six of my grandchildren, listening to them chatter and giggle, smelling the autumn air, and wishing the day would last forever. I never even had to push.