April 2014. My oldest daughter was about to turn 5 years old. Always inquisitive, active, and reading a book. Ava was one of the coolest kids I knew. Caroline was a little over a year old and just as sweet as could be. Hannah and I took the plunge on a Craigslist ad and drove from Olney to Grand Prairie to disassemble a used wooden backyard playset, haul it to Olney, and reassemble it before Ava's birthday. I recall the disassembly being somewhat painless and strapping the pieces down to the trailer. We attempted to keep all of the removed screws and hardware together so reassembly would be relatively easy. I don't remember how many screws we took out but it was enough that I ended up working by headlamp to get the darn thing together the night before Easter. We lived on Oak Street at the time. I liked that house. It previously belonged to Hannah's great-grandmother Lena Myers. It had the 1960's built in and just felt solid like a home should. The giant pecan trees gave it good shade and an easygoing pace as the wind found it's way through them. Underneath one of these pecans was where the play set was rebuilt. Shortly after the arrival of the playset a fresh coat of weather seal was needed. It looked good as new with the tandem swing, single seat swing, baby swing, slide, and monkey bars. I'm not sure the monkey bars ever had the proper number of bars but the girls paid that no mind as they climbed, swung, slid, and played all manner of games. From the patio, we could sit and watch all of the imaginative works play out with Ellie, the Bassett hound close by.
Fast forward a few years to 2016 and we moved to a new-to-us house on the edge of town. Guess what moved with us. Yep. The playset. I was reluctant but, it was still in good shape and I knew which pieces needed to come off to make it easier to move. The moving crew we used was aging a bit and getting the largest piece through the back gate of the new house was painful but it landed, was reassembled again, and anchored in. I don't recall if I ever put another coat of weather seal on it but it stood firm through all forms of Texas weather for another 7 years. During that weather and often at night sparrows and other small birds would often shelter in the rafters.
One afternoon in 2017, I was headed to the back house to dawdle over some small task. Probably to clean up so I could just know where all of my junk was. Caroline, our child that is most aware of her self preservation, was swinging and singing a song as I walked by. I noticed she was swinging quite vigorously and she probably said something along the lines of, "Daddy, look how high I'm swinging!". I nodded in fatherly approval and probably replied, "Yeah!, be careful!". I had been in the back house for just a few minutes when I heard the thud of a small child on the ground and the resulting cry that makes you wince. I ran out and Caroline was on the ground and holding her wrist. Just as so many other kids have done through the ages, she had slipped from the swing and caught herself awkwardly on her wrist. It turned out to have a small fracture and we got the ubiquitous pink cast and subsequent brace. The cast came off just in time for her Spring dance recital in May.
Ava and Caroline shared the earliest use of the playset and played many games. They had picnics in the "upstairs room", played house, restaurant, and many other things. Then, Mae grew big enough to take part in all the same activities. Most recently, she admitted she enjoyed going into the "upstairs" and looking over into the neighbors yards. The more they played and grew the playset began to weather and creak and moan under the repetitious movements. I tightened some bolts here and there and replaced a few planks and screws and a 2x4 that held the slide on. But the holes began to soften and erode leaving the swing set nearly mobile during the act of swinging.
This year we decided to take the playset down. It was in the back of my mind to do the job during one of our school breaks and between hunting and fishing trips. It was not until I began the process of disassembling the playset that I began to feel nostalgic. From the moment I backed the first bolts out of their brackets to remove the swing set arm, I began to see the evidence of nearly 10 years of love and play. Small foot prints rubbed into the side of the wood, worn ladder planks, the reamed out holes where the bolts once held firm. All signs that children had been here. I had all but forgotten that we took some spare pavestones and bricks and made a respectable brick floor inside the bottom floor. A few Legos and sun bleached plastic odds and ends remained inside. The stools that sat under the wind-destroyed awning had shattered into nothing. I tasted many imaginary delicacies while sitting on those stools. I never once had poor service.
I also used the playset. My favorite was the slide. But not for sliding. I would frequently go outside to let my Labrador retriever, Sage out of her kennel at night and lay down on the slide to get a moment of quiet looking at the stars. The ever buzzing and amber glow of the alley light was a nuisance but the playset blocked it fairly well. Light. There's a topic for another blog. Once Sage had done her business she would attack me in her playful but invasive manner until I would commit to rubbing her belly. I would remain a short time, sometimes longer if the kids were in bed and the kitchen clean.
As I removed bolts and screws and planks, I made small discoveries. "Ava + Lily" was roughly etched into the wall of the "fort" in one spot. I paused for a moment to try to recall if Ava ever had a close friend named Lily and couldn't think of one. Later that evening I asked her if she had a friend named Lily and learned that during their many games, Caroline did NOT want to be called Caroline anymore and chose Lily, instead. "Ivy's Bunk" was another inscription found that was a remnant of yet a different game. Directly to the right of that "Mae" in large pre-school handwriting. She always leaves her mark.
10 years of play. Enough that lichens began to grow on some of the edges of the roof.
Enough time that the weed eater had carved a decent track around the base of the structure and its supports. Enough time that the foundation boards had begun to rot away and cause the entire playset to sink and tilt. Enough years for me to always have a chance to look out the window on a sunny day and see smiling, laughing, sometimes bickering sisters at play and realize that I needed to play too. Enough years to realize that those youngest, craziest, silliest, days of play eventually fade away into a pile of weathered, gray and rust-red, but reusable lumber stacked away for a later project. Enough time passed to realize that time doesn't stop and there will never be enough.