My childhood swing was so simplistic, so very elemental in design, that at first glance it was almost insulting to kids who'd frequented playgrounds and fancy backyard sets. Merely a huge, long strand of woven white synthetic-fiber rope about as thick as a peeled banana, hanging from a tree that happened to perch on the top of a downward slope—that's all it was. There wasn't even a seat, just a large, hand-tied loop at the bottom. To sit in that loop for long was painful; when sporting bare summer legs, one had to keep the rope placed securely underneath the seat of one's shorts or risk severe rope-burn.
Many of my friends looked utterly unimpressed when I'd hurry them out to the swing. "Come on, we'll play on the rope swing!" I'd holler. They'd survey the boring thing with undisguised ennui. And then? I'd show them the ropes, so to speak. I'd do a few practice swings out over that steep precipice, demonstrating the wonders of the rope, how a running start was essential; I'd hurl myself into space and spin madly, all while dangling over the small, grassy cliff that ended in our garden far below. Then, my friend would be hooked. She had to try it. All children did, boys too—family friends, neighbor kids, every one was eager to give the swing a "whirl" after witnessing the awesome acrobatic possibilities hidden therein.
You see, it wasn't just a frontwards/backwards swing. Because of the tree's strategic location by that hillside, and because of the length of the rope and my father's safely hanging it far from the tree base, the arc of the swing covered a huge amount of space. A determined child could start on one side of the tree, some distance from the trunk, and then swing out and away from the hillside's edge before landing clear on the other side of the tree. (That poor tree. It's still there today, and it seems to be making a comeback, but for years the thing looked pitiful and sickly, its roots exposed by hundreds of footsteps pounding across, a permanent scar in the large branch that held the knotted rope through my youth and beyond. Talk about a giving tree...)
At one point, a looooooooong time ago, I distinctly recall managing eight spins as I flew from one side of the tree to the other. That was only after I'd bashed into the tree many times, of course; sticking the landing was quite challenging, especially since the ground was roughed up and uneven and you were usually coming out of dizzying rotation as you attempted to find the earth unseen with your feet.
I couldn't tell you the hours I spent under that tree. What memories: spinning on the swing, lazily riding it out over the garden, climbing the tree, falling out of the tree, watching my sisters try stunts, watching one sister fall gracelessly into the garden when the rope gave way one day without notice... Ah, such fun—especially when injuries are involved. (No worries: my sis and I both came out of our experiences without a broken bone or internal bleeding.)
I learn, more and more, that commonplace pleasures are the finest; the joys they bring are irreplaceable. I'll never remember playing a computer game with the same fondness that I recall hanging onto that rope and flinging my body around the shady boundaries of that old maple. Swinging ropes, Play-doh, crayons, sandboxes, blocks, and the more grown-up versions of those pastimes will always rule in my world.