Sunday, April 3, 2011

Dismantling Memories

As I began the work of dismantling the children's swing set/playhouse/fort combo yesterday, I found myself self waxing strangely sentimental.

We purchased the set when Ab was very small.  It was made of good quality, heavy duty materials.  The local company from whom we purchased the monstrosity constructed it on site at our old house.

She was too small for both the slide and the swings when we bought it.

Ab is now twelve years old and almost as tall as her Mom.  AA is just nearly three years behind her and only a couple of growth spurts away from seeing eye to eye with his Dad.

Throughout their lives the old faithful play set has sat there in the yard, beckoning. . . "c'mon take a run or two down the smooth green slide"...  or ... "how about one last turbo-push on the swings just before dark?"

Underneath the "tree-house" decking was the perfect place for a little picnic or a sandbox.  It was always filled with an eclectic collection of weathered toys, digging implements and various leaves, stick and rocks.  It wasn't unusual to find a spare lizard, frog or grasshopper under there either.

The bannistered walls of the tree house had survived numerous coatings of sidewalk chalk; and the pounding of playground balls and make-believe swords.

We have only attempted the monumental task of moving the behemoth a few times:  I remember a band of guys from our Sunday School class (including some family) that showed up one evening to move it over so we could have some landscaping done; and then when we moved to our present location R.'s Mom and Dad took it apart while we were at work and moved it piecemeal.

A couple of years ago, after the swings sat idle for quite awhile we removed that portion of the set along with the slide and the tarp roof.  The tree house was now something of a "deck" to go beside the above ground pool in the summer. 

It's weathered look had become something of an eyesore and it competed in size with the trampoline, so it was time to take it down.

I found a date painted on the side - most likely put there by Ab who has often had an interest in noting items for posterity - it was last June and it recorded the names of those present.

A similar notation was on the inside of the tree house this time in pencil. It was either from two years earlier or 10 years earlier - I couldn't make out the date that well.

At the base of the edifice, one is always sure to find interesting articles....

... a "hair-thingy" as I call it ... these turn up everywhere... they hold tales of by-gone summers when a busy little girl felt the need to cast off her restraints....

... a slightly mangled, wooden alligator. . . this was a souvenir from some place.  AA applied his own creative decorative capabilities to give the gator a unique visage.  The alligator joins an entire army of action figures and "Happy Meal" promotions that future archaeologists will likely be digging up around here for ages to come. 

In addition to the colorful items that surround the base of the  structure, there are stories literally attached....

...The small rope, a reminder of last summer's goat adventure.  This bespeaks the evening that I tried to tie them to the play set.

All these memories flooded my mind yesterday as I dismantled this fixture in our lives... little curmudgeons leaning out of the side of the tree house with smiling, dirty faces ... cries of  "Higher!" ... "Higher!" from a catapulting swing and the gentle sing-song squeaks that yielded a comforting "all is well".

I know that new adventures await us, but none will replace the sweet innocence of childhood.

Of Bicycle Chains and Bell Bottoms

For the first time in a long time, I took my bicycle out for an extended ride yesterday evening.  A spring break trip, a cool snap, a good bit of Spring rain and general busy-ness have resulted in my being fairly inactive the past few weeks.

I have a goal in mind (which I won't share right now, since I don't want to be held accountable) so beginning with April I need to be more active.

My brother-in-law and I were riding bicycles fairly regularly until about a year ago.  We broke up the tandem due to the time change - I think.  My brother-in-law and I take two very different approaches to bicycling:  for him, speed is important and getting the task done is the aim; for me, I prefer to take a more leisurely pace, and enjoy the ride.  Also there is that thing about not being able to breathe when we travel fast - I find that somewhat disconcerting.

Because of this different mindset, and the fact that he has one of those scaled down, really fast bikes ... and possibly because he is in better shape than me - he is often left biding his time at the top of most hills, waiting for me to catch up.

My brother-in-law also dresses the part.  He has the helmet, the wind resistant sunglasses, and those panty-hose-looking shorts.  I sometimes wear the reflective safety vest my wife gave me one Christmas and some of those blousy, long basketball shorts.  I think my wardrobe choices might be a little embarrassing to him - not to mention the fact that they slow me down a little more.

Yesterday when I re-entered the biker's world - I was certainly not dressed for the part.
Sometime ago, R. bought me some of the "guy-version" skinny jeans.  They ride a little too low for my taste and they're bell-bottomed.  So that was what I was wearing since it was Saturday and I was working outside a lot.

Right away I noticed a problem: first my left trouser leg began hanging up on the portable bicycle pump attachment on my bike.  Next the other trouser leg began -first flirting with- and then catching onto the large chain drive near my pedals.

There are few worse predicaments than getting the cuff of one's pants hung in one's chain. 


I think 1974 was about the last time I had the cuff of my pants caught in my bicycle chain.  Wearing bell-bottoms greatly intensifies the likelihood that one will find one's self strangely drawn in by the ankle into the grinding teeth of the bicycle chain.

Anyway, on the chance that my brother-in-law might happen by and see me and die from sheer embarrassment - I decided not to apply the age-old, tried and true remedy - of rolling up one's pants to the knee.

Instead, I just made a mental note to myself to avoid bell-bottoms on future bike treks.

We live in "the country" - a very rural area.  I like that, but it means that people often let their dogs run loose.  Some of those dogs find it quite sporting to terrorize small children and old people who toddle by on their bicycles. I like to know the dog situation before I ride into unknown territory.  If you haven't ridden in area in over a year - you can't know the dog situation.  This added a level of fear to my journey.

I was happy to see that one house that I used approach with trepidation because of the snarling, slobbering bulldog of some kind that lived there and was sometimes unrestrained - now was home to two yapping little dogs.  Annoying but not threatening.

I chose a route different from the one I had customarily taken when riding in the past.  It was a road with two long, high hills.  On the one other time I had taken that route, I was almost to the top of the second hill when I was greeted my a gang of three canine carnivores ... one was a Great Dane.

As I approached the area, I tried to remember which house to avoid.  Somehow I cheated death... I passed the house and heard some distant barks after I was well over the hill top and enjoying my ride downward.

A small, puppy-looking dog came after me a short time later but he proved to be all bark and no bite.

Finally, I reached the farthest point of my ride, and rather than just turning back and retracing my trip, I took another route down a little country road that I had traversed only once on bicycle and going in the opposite direction.

Is it possible that there can be MORE hills when going the opposite direction on the same road?  That certainly seemed the case as I struggled slowly up every precipice.

This was where I faced my first real dog threat.  I happened up on two resting dogs on a front porch.  As I reached their house they awoke in a huff - realizing that they were already behind in the chase, they both bounded off the porch in a barking cacophony.  Only one made it to me, a spotted mutt with brindle markings -like he had been sleeping in motor oil.

I think if I ever had a guard dog, I would dip him in motor oil.  There is something very threatening about a dirty-looking dog.

He made two or three attempts at biting my back tire... I was glad that he preferred tires over ankles.  He soon gave up the chase and returned to dream about tasy tire treads and what might have been.

I began to relax, I knew that I was nearing the end of that unknown territory and would soon be back on familiar roads.  I also figured somehow that I had faced the worst threat of the day. Like the soldier in the old war movies who says, "piece of cake!" just before a snipers bullet takes him out... I had that "piece of cake!" feeling.

I began a long descent into a valley which was followed by an equally long hill.  At the top of that hill - a farm house.

At the farmhouse - two good sized dogs became aware of my approach and announced their displeasure.

My first thought was to turn back.  However, I remembered the brindly- tire-biter that awaited me along with his slow-footed partner.   So I proceeded down the hill cautiously.

The dogs employed a strategy of barking at one spot and then having established their ownership of that portion of the field, they moved forward a few more paces and again established their dominance of the territory.

I tried to remember if this was a good sign or a bad sign.  I watched for any sign of friendliness - the least bit of motion that might resemble tail-wagging....


By now they had proceeded down the hill toward me.  I surmised that I would be most vulnerable at about the spot they were standing, after having pumped that far up the hill to meet them.

Having attended a Reformed Theology church now for almost three years, I am more attuned to the sovereignty of God than ever before.  But at this point, I reverted to some of my Arminian roots - and began to pray in a slightly manipulative fashion. 

I must admit that it wasn't my hope that God would choose to somehow glorify Himself through a dog-mauling . . . I just wanted deliverance. 


There were two of them before me.  The first one had bright blue eyes... I tried to speak calmly to the first one. 

Were his eyes glowing?

I rebuked the second!

.... and rode past.

They never offered to even follow.

From there it was "downhill all the way" - though not literally.

After almost an hour, I returned home - though fatigued I was no worse for wear... except of course for the oily chain marks on my bell-bottoms.