I remember eagerly anticipating the arrival of the new park. Donations were honored by featuring the families names on wooden planks comprising the fence. The day the ribbon was cut and we were allowed to enter, everyone went running off to find their name.
My brother found our plank first, on a stretch between the tire swing and the ropes course. In my memories, the park is a seemingly vast and endless place. We played there many times, until we moved away. When we moved back we were too old for children’s parks. I drove to the park once when I was in high school, and marveled at how big it is not. It was hard to equate my memory as a child with the reality before me, and so I have allowed the memory to live as it is, and do not try to correct my childhood eyes.
My brother and I are both now gone from this place. In fact, the town that houses the park is not even where we went to high school. When we moved back to this state we moved one town over, and spent little time going around the places that are so familiar to me. My brother is very much from the town where our parents now live; I am not. I always feel at home once I am driving the streets of my childhood, the roads that lead to the park. By the time I have children my parents will have likely moved on, and the last thing tying me to this place will be gone.
But the park remains. I experienced this last week, while watching the children of a family from church. Their whole world is comprised of a few places spanning about four to five miles from home. They go to the same preschool I attended as a child, where over twenty years later not even the color of the paint on the walls has changed. They love the park. To them it is an immense and wondrous place, and for a few hours last week I was able to see it again through their eyes. Our journey started off in the car when I was driving them there, and tried to go a way that was familiar to me. A chorus of protest, “That’s not how mommy goes!” rose from the back of the car, and I quickly turned around, counseled by the four-year-olds, “Miss Natalie we’ll tell you when to turn.” The past and present collided as I took a new route to my old park. I drove past the houses of former classmates that had marked my bus stops, time bearing evidence in the form of new doors and updated siding.
When we got to the park the children took off, me chasing from behind. We climbed the pirate ship, and slid down the slide. I pushed them on the tire swing, and held them on the ropes course. After awhile I told them I had to find something, and we looked for my plank. Within a few minutes I found it, the green of my name a little faded, the plank less brilliant and weathered by time.
My brother and I have both gone, but our plank remains, a testament to a moment when this park, this place, was mine.