Edward Southerland’s This & That
By Edward Southerland
Jul 23, 2019
Print this page
Email this article

You could be swinging on a bar

Summary: On the street near me is a small park recently built by the City of Sherman. Almost every time I drive by, I see kids on the swings. I was a big time swinger when I was a kid, so a few years ago, when I read about the European Union deciding to limit the height of swings, I was shocked and appalled. (OK, I wasn’t really shocked and appalled, but that seems to be the in phrase for constantly offended crowd.)


It seems that these playground devices that have delighted children for centuries are too tall. Some addle patted Eurocrat has decided anything that stands over three meters tall, about nine feet nine inches, is dangerous and has to go.

If these nervous nellies had been around when I was of the climbing, swinging, leaping off tall buildings with a brainless bound age, they would have been apoplectic, and childhood would have been far less adventurous.

Let us start with the Bonham State Park. The swings at the state park were at least two stories high. They somehow got shorter as one grew older, but they were still the skyscrapers of swingdom. There was a small rise in the ground behind the swings on the side away from the lake that meant the swinger could get a little extra boost on the down swing at the beginning. Some hard pumping, and it seemed that you might fly past the horizontal line of the top bar and do a loop. That may have been contrary to the laws of physics, but being unversed in those laws at eight or nine I considered it a dangerous, though delicious, possibility.

In addition to the swings, with the troughs worn in the ground by thousands of little feet dragging in the dirt over the years, the playground at the park had seesaws and one of those spinning, self-propelled carousel gizmos. Let’s face it: seesaws aren’t very exciting.

First you needed some one about your own size on the other end to make the thing work at all. If your partner was bigger or smaller, you needed to known enough about levers to have the bigger kid move up on the board and shorten his distance to the fulcrum so as to balance the beam. It’s back to that physics thing again.

Secondly, all you did was bob up and down at a leisurely pace—whoopee. Then there was the matter of trust. You had to trust the kid on the other end not to suddenly leap off when he got to the bottom and send you crashing to ground with a spine compacting whop. It is a well-known true fact, (Dr. Murney. Das Tru Facten Wel Knowen. Berlin; 1923) that many overly trusting seesawers (If that’s the term I’m looking for) carried the name “PeeWee” for the rest of their days.

The carousel, an early form of disco mania, was like a big flat wheel with a superstructure of bars to hold on to. Two or three kids, digging their bare feet into the dirt and pushing for all their worth like a bobsled team at the top of the run, could get the wheel spinning at considerable speed. That’s when you jumped on and went whirling around getting dizzy. Warned by generations of adults of the dangers of going swimming too soon after eating, no kid ever made the obvious connection that the whirl-around-at-high-speed-until-you-throw-up machine was an even greater threat too soon after a couple of chili dogs.

This devilish contraption was, once again, a part of the hidden agenda to teach kids physics without their knowing it. If you could pull yourself to the center of the wheel you could ride more sedately; it was the rider on the circumference, where the g-forces reached Jovian proportions, who took all the stomach churning distress.

One piece of classic playground equipment they didn’t have at the state park was a set of monkey bars. In fact, I do not recall monkey bars anywhere in Bonham. There were some in the park in Greenville where we used to go when we visited my great aunt, but none around home. Maybe there was no local chapter of the Association of Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeons to front the money for this income enhancing device.

Not to be denied our God-given right to fall off of high places, we had to make do with trees, barns, and the roofs of garages. In that respect Leonard was a wonderland for the fledgling Alpinists.

My grandparents lived across the street from the high school, which boasted three stories of spidery, spindly, latticework fire escapes.  Unlike some counter-weighted fire escapes that hover above the ground until the escapee’s weight pushes them down, these steps were fixed to terra firma. My brothers, younger than I, but either braver or dumber, would climb to the top landing so as to get a better view of nothing in particular. I would venture no higher than the second story and then only under pressure. Fearless, they also would scale the legs of the Leonard water tower up to the second cross brace while I stayed on the ground.

I still feel that way about high places. If there is a substantial masonry structure between the edge and me, as on the Empire State Building, I am fine. I can stand and gaze down at the insignificant world below with impunity. But if all that stands between that last long step and me is a steel rail or bar or pole, I stand well back, thank you. I don’t even like standing next to windows in these all glass skyscrapers that rise above the cityscape.

High places with long drops are just not my cup of tea. In an earlier life, I was obliged to prove to the U.S. Navy that I could abandon ship in good order by jumping off a 30-foot tower into a swimming pool. Actually I had to prove it twice, as the guy checking off names forgot to check mine off the first time and made me, under as much protest as I could muster, which wasn’t very much after all, do it again.

It seemed to me that the navy didn’t have much confidence in their ships if they placed so much emphasis on how to jump off of one that was sinking. But no one asked my opinion, so I did it. Secretly, I decided that if ever faced with the situation I would either go down with the ship, or wait until the deck got a whole lot closer to the water before I jumped in, like about three feet.