Ah, childhood. It’s a glorious time that most of us recall fondly, where bills never had to be paid and we never had to worry about things like making regular doctor’s appointments, paying off the car loan or worrying about whether we completed that last task at work. Instead, we rolled around in the grass without fear of ticks, we drank from the outdoor hose, we stayed out long past dark and we lived life to the absolute fullest. As Robert Brault wisely stated, “Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”
Recalling childhood seems to be a common occurrence on some of the Facebook pages to which I belong. On one site, known as “Growing Up Italian,” a young man posted pictures of his Nonna’s home, where one could easily find a pitcher and ewer on a stand “to wash your hands,” jars upon jars of homemade tomato sauce and palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. Believe me when I tell you that when you know, you just know.
One of the websites posted a picture of a very tall metal slide, which was labeled “torture device.” As one who often frequented those awful slides, I could not agree more.
Way back when, there was a playground at the park by the North Village Green in Levittown. The swings seemed to swing so high that I imagined that I touched the clouds as I leapt off and landed on the grass below. There was one of those spinning carousels that gave me the worst case of motion sickness, but I continued to twirl around on it like a maniac because it was so much fun. Afterwards, I ambled through the play area like a drunken sailor and made my way towards what has been fondly described as “the slide from Hell.”
One would think that the slide was manufactured in Hades because during the summer months, that thing was hotter than the bottom of my mother’s frying pan. It was also very high, which caused me to wonder whether I would have a nosebleed on the climb to the top. The grip bars were equally scorching, which meant that as one climbed to the top, it would be impossible to hold on tight, an admonition that my parents often screeched from the ground below. Oftentimes, it felt like standing atop a very tall mountain. I often imagined them miles below as I waited behind several other children on the blazing metal steps.
Once I reached the top, I often tried to avoid scorching my legs on the shiny, burning metal by lifting my legs a bit. This position offered the fastest route down, although sometimes I would lose my balance towards the bottom. Other times, my legs literally stuck to the metal. I often wondered what degree burns I had given myself each summer because of those metal slides. (A favorite pastime was a perusal through medical books. It is no small wonder why I chose to become a registered nurse.)
Fast forward to when I became a parent of a very active young child. It was a challenge sometimes to keep her entertained, so I often took her to an old neighborhood park nearby. At that time, the old metal slide still stood erect in the park, while off to the side, lolling pandas on giant metal springs were giggling to themselves about what would surely happen next: our daughter was going to burn her legs on the slide.
She took off like a rocket, her little hands oblivious to the heat that the handrails omitted. I stood behind her, fearful that she would tumble backwards. At the top of the landing, she crowed, “I made it, Mommy! Watch me, watch me!” I prepared myself for a scream and some solid crying, but instead, she landed on the bottom in a fit of giggles. “Again! Again! I want to do it again!” She had flown down that slide in a blur of pink and yellow, her baggy shorts the perfect medium for a rapid ride.
Several years later, that slide was replaced by a large plastic jungle gym, which clearly got warm in the summer sun but did not burn like the slides of old. Several times, our daughter complained that the slides “weren’t as fast as the big metal ones”. She often got stuck in the center, especially if the tan plastic was dirty or scraped up. We often found ourselves at Woodland Elementary’s playground, most often to ride the “bumpy slide” with black rollers that propelled children off like toys on a conveyor belt. It wasn’t the same as those old metal slides, but it was better than the plastic ones.
Memories have a beautiful way of being sweeter than the actual experience. As Alain de Botton once stated, “Most of our childhood is stored not in photos, but in certain biscuits, lights of day, smells, textures of carpet.” De Botton forgot to mention that it is also stored in experiences on the playground, when the backs of our legs ached from the heat of metal slides but we continued to fly down them anyway. To this day, I can still “feel the burn.”
Patty Servidio is an Anton Media Group columnist.