My son calls it the “sandy park with toys.” And, really, that’s what it is. A charming, tree-lined, urban park, with a great big sand box and lots and lots of toys.
I’m talking about Lombardy Park, one of many triangle parks in Richmond’s tony Fan district, in the West End. The Fan earned its name because of the fan shape made by the four main streets (Grove, Franklin, Main and Cary) that branch out with new avenues as you move west from Belvidere Street all the way to the Boulevard.
As each new street branches off, a triangular space is created, an ideal location for a park. And the Fan is home to dozens of these urban parks, tucked quietly away and scattered throughout the district. Lombardy Park just happens to be my favorite.
My son’s, too. Why? Well, it’s probably the nicest kid’s playground, or “tot lot,” I’ve yet seen. About a third of a triangular acre nestled between Park, Hanover and Lombardy Streets, Lombardy Park is surrounded by a three foot brick fence put up in 1996 by the neighborhood association. It’s got a huge sandbox, swings, and a nice playset with clubhouse, mini-climbing wall, and slide. Benches are scattered throughout, giving weary parents an enjoyable place to rest.
But the coolest part is the toys. There are literally dozens, if not hundreds of toys, of all kinds, scattered everywhere in the park. Dump trucks and sand pails, plastic shovels and rakes. Cars big enough to ride in.
And they’re all just there, in the park. Free for kids to play with. There’s nothing to keep the toys there. No monitoring system, no guard at the charming, antique metal gate. The toys are free to walk off with any child they choose.
And you know what? Some of them do.
But that’s okay, because there are always new toys coming tomorrow, or next week, or next month. The toys aren’t bought or donated by anyone in particular, you see. They are left there, voluntarily, by families in the surrounding neighborhoods. There is no sign telling these families to do this, no rules saying how many toys must be left.
There are no rules at all. Just an unspoken tradition that, as far as I can see, arose spontaneously years ago, and has continued through the goodwill and generosity of each family that wanted to leave the park a better place than they found it.
And today, my son enjoys the fruits of this kindness. I know that there are issues far greater and more important in the world today. Weighty matters to test the resolve of the best of us.
But for me, it is the little gestures of the human spirit, like the kindness of strangers at Lombardy Park, that makes my heart skip a beat.