We didn't have a see-saw. Our urban playground had the economically suitable drawn lines for four square, a pole to play tether ball and the looming brick façade of the building to play bounce and fly. In the summer the blacktop tar radiated and bubbled like a muffin, it the winter it was a battlefield of tundra. When we were big enough to be kids, our hours dwindled among a timeless recess of scrambles with giant red bouncing kickballs, and games of pom pom
Despite my athleticism and minor popularity, the bulking, clunking corrective leg braces hindered my progress. My skinny, lithe frame dragged them around, but from afar, it appeared that they supported me, like iron skeletons of behemoth skyscrapers. The straps, buckles, and metallic rods instantly forced me into the role of R2D2 in our StarWars games, or the sidekick Twiggy from Buck Rodgers. I didn't so mind, because the girls coddled me.
My best friend and neighbor, Chris, ensured that bullies from adjoining neighborhoods refrained from teasing me. He had been trained through years of abuse from his older brother and could pummel anyone of like age and size. His simplicity and strength are admirable. Teachers thought him remedial, but he was just quiet and thoughtful. My mother said recently that if she ever wanted to know the truth about our antics, that she would just ask Chris. He would never lie to someone he trusted.
It was a nice place to grow up. Though there wasn't a teeter-totter in the whole village.
In these days of my youth I was enamored by the pendulum swing at the Museum of Science and Industry. I would tape pennies to string and watch the movement of precise time fly by. The Teeter-totter had the same soothing effect when I encountered it on the Brady Bunch episode when Bobby and Cindy went for the record. Equal weight and movement propelling time. I wanted to try it. I constructed makeshift models in the backyard with 2X4s and picnic benches, but I was missing the inherent hinge that allowed balance, levied the weight. I became possessed. My mom told me there were teeter-totters in Dixon. Of course the hometown of the President would have one. My cousins and grandparents lived there. I waited with excitement and anticipation for the next visit.
Meanwhile, as the windy days of spring blossomed with the lilacs, I dragged the plastic bat kite I had received as a birthday present from under my bed. An abandoned mason jar rolled among the dust bunnies. The simplicity of the kite was ingenious; two simple sticks of fortified balsam forming a cross. 500 Feet of String said the package, but it didn't look that long wrapped around the yellow plastic handle. Chris and I ran to the playground with our plastic bat. on short leash. in tow.
Our initial efforts were comical. We had never been kite flying and our eight-year-old selves couldn't muster patience yet, nor determine wind direction. When we finally caught a gust on one of our dashes across the playground, we let out the line like Our Hemingway catching a Marlin. We found flight.
"Let it all out!" I shouted to Chris as he streaked by.
He stopped and marveled at the flight just letting the string spindle off the handle.
Until it stopped.
It tugged at his extended arm, but only seemed as high as the tree tops.
We let it linger there flapping in the wind and started to attempt the maneuvers detailed on the package. Our greatest accomplishment was the nose dive and we found great joy plummeting the kite to the blacktop. The only thing that saved it from complete demolition was a wise Elm near the street. We tugged at it until the string snapped.
On our next monthly trip to the oasis between Chicago and the Quad cities, I was jumping out of my shadow. My sister had already drawn the imaginary line across the back seat of our powder blue Pontiac Phoenix, but I was distracted. I counted the mile markers and sang "One Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall" until my dad needed a rest. I still obeyed my ritual of standing up whenever we went over a hill. I wanted to feel the change in elevation. I wanted to get a better view of the Dixon Arch which was the beacon to behold. The symbol of arrival.
When we finally did arrive, I began pleading…
"Can we go to Aunt Carolyn's first?" My older cousin Scott was there and Aunt Carolyn always joked that his middle name was "Trouble". He always provided me with exciting adventures in the cemetery and the secret hideouts behind.
"Ok", Mom replied. "We'll drop you off there."
I sprang out of the car and ran over the giant green corner lot up to the kitchen door of the white stucco house.
"Thwhap!" The screen door shouted behind me. My cousins Ellen and Karen were hunched over the sink washing and drying.
"Where's Scott?" I asked.
"Hi Bobby. Where is Bridget?" I only heard mumbles.
"They're at Grandpas. Where's Scott?"
Scott came in through the back door and his blue eyes gleamed with recognition of potential mischief.
I immediately implored him to take me to the nearby park next to the cemetery at the end of the street. I always imagined Ichebod Crane wandering through here in fear of the ominous Headless Horseman. My vision of a man wandering home late at night probably manifested in the thought of my uncle Jim and his cronies wandering home from the nearby bar at dusk. I usually avoided the park. The cemetery and the uncut area waiting for bodies in the back was our stomping ground.
Scott reluctantly agreed to take me to the playground that consisted of a few swings, a merry-go-round, a slide, a jungle gym - the standard fare. On the edge, near the dusty ball field were a row of green teeter-totters lined like canons pointing at the sky.
We each saddled a side and Scott immediately boosted me high in the air. I smiled wildly and hung on tight, reaching the pinnacle with a bounce. Up and down I rode, feeling the physical world leave me in a dizzying stupor. Feeling the country air bristle my fine neck hair. Until, instead of coming down, Scott used his extra thirty pounds to strand me up high. He leaned back and laughed. My brown corrective shoes dangled helplessly and I managed an uncomfortable laugh. It soon turned into a whimper of pleas as Scott stood on his end and began to tease me.
"Can't get down! HA! Try to jump."
"Just let me down." I pleaded. He would give in soon enough. He didn't want me to cry.
With that, Scott jumped off. I came crashing to the ground full of relief. I did not hear the thump of my ass smacking the tightly packed worn dirt beneath, only the smack of the board knocking Scotts teeth into his upper lip. I remember the awful contrast of his bleached head and the blood that flowed through his fingers; staining his shirt, dripping to the ground.
Thus concludes my first lesson of justice. My fleeting memories of reaching for the sky and being stranded in achieved anticipation. Only when my feet were firmly on the ground did I realize the sky was there to reach for.