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Essays Written for The Plantation News

I wrote essays for The Plantation News, our family newspaper, between 1983 and 2003. Some essays recorded actual events, while others were humor, satire or fiction. The Plantation News transitioned from paper to blog and continues online here.

The Swing, Part I: Dad Puts Up The Swing

Like every good dad should, Dad took me shopping to the Sears Department Store Hardware Section. Here were aisles and aisles of hammers and saws, drills and power tools, screws and hinges of every size, and mystical moments of bonding between a six year old boy and his dad. This time Dad bought rope.

Without telling anyone what he was up to, Dad brought home 100 feet of three-quarter inch, six hundred pound rated hemp rope, and a couple smaller hanks of nylon clothesline cord. The rope smelled like dusty, dry burlap; and it felt prickly holding the heavy coils in my arms. Dad wandered back and forth around the backyard, gazing up at the sky, and kept returning to one spot, below an immense oak tree along the northwest border of the back yard. This oak tree was so tall that, even though it grew way down the hill in the back yard, its upper branches and crown could be seen from the front yard, towering over our roof. Dad stood staring up for the longest time, and finally announced, “We’re going to put up a swing.”

“A swing! A swing!” I yelled as I raced around the back yard, unwinding the hemp rope into a long brown snake in the grass. “We’re going to have a swing!” Little did I know how hard this project would turn out to be. Dad pointed out the limb he had in mind, the first big branch of the tall oak tree, so high up you had to squint to see it clearly. Even I knew that climbing up that high was extremely dangerous, and out of the question.

Dad uncoiled the smaller hanks of clothesline cord and tied them all end to end, so instead of three shorter snakes, we had one very long cord-cord-rope snake. Dad found a brick with holes in it, left over from the building of our house, and tied the brick to the end of the clothesline cord. He gathered several big coils by his feet, and began swinging the brick around like a windmill, slowly at first, then faster and faster and faster. Suddenly, he let go, and the brick sailed into the air, whipping the cord up behind it. The cord traced in the air the beautiful parabolic arc of the brick’s path through space. Unfortunately, the apogee of the arc was only about one third of the way up to the high branch. The brick thudded to the ground, bounced, and rolled down the hill, trailing the limp rope behind it.

Dad dragged the brick back to himself while recoiling the rope. He stared up at the branch for a long time, recalculating. Finally, he repositioned himself further uphill, but also further from the base of the tree, and ordered me to stand way, way back. Again, he spun the brick around, even faster this time. He looked like a helicopter turned sideways, and you couldn’t see the rope except for a blur. Dad let go, and again the brick sailed upward and outward towards the high branch. The whole first hank of clothesline cord went by, picked up the knot, and the second hank of clothesline cord began leaping into the air. Alas, between the weight of the rope and the forces of gravity and friction, the brick’s trajectory peaked below the optimum height. About halfway up to the high branch, the brick turned. It plummeted down with a heavier thud, and rolled even farther down the hill than last time, dragging the limp rope behind it. Dad sat down on the hillside, staring up at the high branch, and perhaps contemplated the idiocy of climbing the tall oak tree.

Suddenly, Dad had an idea, and he went uphill to the house, upstairs, and up into the attic. He bumped around up there for a while, and finally came down from the attic with his ancient lemonwood bow, and our one arrow. He snuck into Mom’s sewing kit, and stole a big spool of white thread. He looked into the kitchen junk drawer, and grabbed the kite string, and walked outside to stand below the oak tree again. He untied the brick and threw it into the woods. He tied the kite string to the clothesline cord, and unwound all of the kite string into big, neat coils by his feet. He unwound all of the thread across the yard and down the hill, walked back with the end, thus doubling the thread, and tied the thread to the kite string. The thread-string-cord-cord-rope snake was now five parts long, and Dad tied the very end of the thread to the nock of the one arrow.

Dad’s ancient lemonwood bow was a beautifully curved blonde piece of wood, very slim and attractive, about five feet tall. When new, it was rated at sixty pounds of draw weight, which is very high for a wooden bow. Most people can’t draw the string of such a heavy bow without shaking. Most people can’t even string this bow, which requires that you step through the bow, grab it behind you and bend its limb around your hip, sit back against it to give that final heave, and slip the bowstring noose around its neck.

Our one arrow was shorter than normal because it had broken once. It had a newly whittled tip, but had only one feather left. Nevertheless, Dad strung the ancient lemonwood bow, nocked his short arrow, with its thread-string-cord-cord-rope snake tied behind it, drew back and shot the arrow into the sky. The one-feathered arrow rocketed upward, sailed over the branch of the tall oak tree and flew out of sight. The thread went up quickly, and the kite string started aloft, but… but then the thread broke. The kite string slumped to the ground. Our one arrow, unencumbered by the weight of its drag line, whistled away and landed somewhere down in the darkened woods, lost.

Dad unstrung the bow, gathered the string and remaining thread into coils at his feet, and then we walked in a straight line down the arrow’s flight path, into the woods. After about ten minutes Dad had picked up the thread, and we followed the thread through the tree branches and around the thickets to our one arrow, stuck straight down into the ground.

Old one-feather retrieved, Dad restrung the bow, quadrupled the thread, nocked the poorly fletched arrow, drew back the ancient lemonwood bow, and let fly again. The arrow sailed over the branch, lofting the thread. The thread sailed over the branch, and picked up the kite string. The kite string saiIed over the branch, and picked up the clothesline cord. However, clothesline cord is pretty heavy compared to kite string, and after a short moment, the clothesline cord stopped going up. So, the kite string stopped going up. So, the thread stopped going up. The arrow stopped in midair as the lines all went taut, and then swept pendulum-like down towards the ground. Luckily, the kite string had gone up and over the high branch, and now the arrow dangled by a thread, about halfway up the trunk of the tall oak tree.

Not one to be thwarted after coming this far, Dad whipped sine/cosine waves up the kite string, and the arrow dropped a foot at a time until he could reach it. He pulled down the thread which pulled up the kite string. He pulled down the kite string which pulled up the clothesline cords. He pulled down the clothesline cords which pulled the hemp rope up and over the high branch of the tall oak tree. He tied a knot at the bottom, and pulled the knot up the rope until it cinched itself securely around the high branch. Finally, he tied a rope triangle at the bottom, with a 2×4 seat, and we had made a swing.

A swing! A swing! We had made a swing! All of the boys loved swinging in the swing, and all the neighborhood kids came by to swing, too. Ricky swang in the swing before he was even born, because Mom couldn’t resist flying out over the hillside in our wonderful swing. Dad, a thirty-four year old boy inside, had to tire us out before he got to swing on his wonderful creation, and decided it was worth every ounce of the Herculean effort. A swing! A swing!


|| Index of The Plantation News Essays ||
October 20, 2018
09:56:42 PM