My friend Steve sent me the picture you see with this story. He asked me if it brought back memories. This, my friends, is my reply...and obviously the answer is: YES!
So, at last, I am replying to your lovely picture/question. You asked what memories came to me looking at that simple log swing in the woods. I never made one of those. When I was an inner city kid we had to go find strands of forest and streams. Most of those were, strangely enough” in cemeteries.
Cleveland does have an amazing “Emerald Necklace” which is a park that literally circles the whole city. It was built by the famous landscape Architect: Frederick Law Olmsted (who designed Central Park in NYC…and did the ground for the Biltmore Estate in NC, America’s largest private home…now a Historical Tourist hotspot).
Somehow he convinced the City Fathers to buy into the Emerald Necklace Idea. And it is still a gem to this day. It is miles and miles around… and has rivers, valleys, bike paths, lakes, quarries, and picnic ground galore. And it is accessible from almost any part of Cleveland, or surrounding suburbs.
So, my two places to go see trees and “nature” were cemeteries and what we called: “The Valley” which was part of the Emerald Necklace. Oh, and there was another area near the Zoo that was wild and free with running water too. As kids, we went to all of those to play and transform from little inner city hooligans into: Davy Crocket, Daniel Boone, and Jim Bridger the Mountain Man. LOL
We swung on vines, not swings. Sadly, nobody I knew was clever enough to make that log swing set up in your picture. Almost every other city block, or Public School, had a swing set. So we did our swinging there. Funnily enough, none of the Catholic Schools had swing sets in their playground/parking lots. I guess they didn’t want us to even think about being Swingers as adults. LOL
Oh, but boy oh boy would we swing on those vines. Over at Riverside Cemetery there was a big deep creek with banks that looked like cliffs. At least if you were a seven year old boy who was small for his age. I bet those steep banks were only six feet or so high. We would run and grab the vine at full speed, arch out over the creek, and at the deepest part of the creek (where your feet did not touch the bottom) we would time it so we let go and did cannon balls into the deep water.
Occasionally you missed. And that meant a mud bath. If you really missed, you planted yourself face first in the muck wall of the other bank…and that sometimes hurt!
We would lift rocks to find salamanders, and crayfish. Crayfish look like midget lobsters, or marine scorpions…take your pick. We always put them back in the creek, but chased each other with them for a while. I wonder what they thought about their wild ride through the air in the tight grip of a hysterical seven year old?
We thought we were adventurers. Nobody fished. The biggest fish in that creek was about the size of a child’s thumb. In Rocky River- out in the Suburb Part of the Park, you could actually fish. I never caught the bug.
There was a patch of quicksand over in one section of the cemetery… believe me, it scared the crap out of us because of the Tarzan movies of the time, and the Two Reeler Shorts at the Garden Theater which showed the demise of innocent folks as they sunk into the quicksand for a death with burial two for one deal.
We spread all the urban myths about how many kids died in that quicksand pocket. And we all knew how to survive if you got sucked in. It goes like this:
Do not struggle…you will just sink deeper into the muck…and drown or suffocate…I am not sure which happens. If you get stuck in the quicksand, throw yourself flat and spread your arms to get as much surface area as you can…and gently breast stroke to safety. Do not struggle or down you go. If you are patient and slow moving…you will be just fine. Muddy and frightened but fine. LOL
We would climb every tree we could. Always looking to go higher than anyone else. Sometimes the first branches were way over our heads. No problem. We used the vines like a mountaineer would…and scamper up like the rope climb in gym class. Some of those trees you could climb up thirty feet or more. Believe me, looking back at the ground from thirty feet up as you stood on a slender limb not much thicker than your own forearm…well, it looks like a thousand feet up to you.
Since we were small, light, and nimble, on some of the trees we could actually climb to the very top- higher than telephone poles or two story houses. You could see forever.
One time a Caretaker from the Cemetery saw us all scampering around in the branches of this big Maple Tree. He yelled at us:
“You kids get down from there, you will break your necks. I will call your Parents!”
Well, in the Fifties, having someone call your Parents was the one threat that struck fear right to the heart of any sensible seven or eight year old boy. It never dawned on us to wonder how he knew our parents, or even where we lived. LOL
So out we came. A dozen of us like a pack of wild monkeys. Some climbing down, some jumping from the lower limbs, some “Hang dropping” from higher thicker limbs. I will never forget the look on that guys face. He thought one or two kids were in the tree, not a gaggle of excited screaming school kids.
We fell like so much bad fruit, rolled, and got up running at full speed. I think that man was afraid there were more of us still up in the tree, because he yelled up into it as we all ran away:
“Don’t try and hide up there…I can see you.”
No he could not. We were all gone now. Back to the creek to find crayfish and salamanders. All thoughts of our Parents grounding us for life, banished with our second winds. We laughed at how close we came to being “caught” by the caretaker.
With that, we started flipping rocks to find the biggest salamander.
And then, wet, soggy, muddy, and exhausted we tracked back home to find out what was for supper. And for the scolding we were all certain to get from our Mothers:
“What have you been up to outside? You didn’t go to the Cemetery did you? Three is quicksand over there and you could die. Why are your pants so dirty? Scrape that mud off of your shoes before you dare take one more step in this house! And why is your shirt torn? I will have to sew that. You go right up stairs and take a bath.”
We heard that same litany almost every day of the summer…and it didn’t matter who’s Mom said it…it was basically the same rant. We could almost repeat it from memory.
And we didn’t die in the quicksand.
There you go Steve. My memories from your log swing picture. Thanks for this trip down memory lane.