In the swing of things no more

Twelve years ago, in 1996, my friends Gerd Krahn, Rudy Cram and I assembled my daughter’s wooden swing set. Actually, Gerd and Rudy did most of the assembling because they both worked at Goodrich Aerospace in Vergennes, which meant they were far more competent than I was when it came to understanding the complex aerodynamics and lengthy assembly instructions of a swing set. Also, they were both better than I was at banging nails straight into wood. And that baby used a lot of nails. In addition to swings, it had a slide, a climbing net, and an elevated platform.
The swing set was used by my daughter and her friends in the manner the designers intended for the next five years. Then, beginning around 2001, it served for a while as an impromptu movie set. In that period, my daughter and her pals seemed only to be on the swing set when they were dressed up in dancewear or ball gowns — purchased for a buck or two each at the annual Lincoln clothing rummage sale — and using the camcorder to film their activities. Finally, beginning around 2005, it was used largely by our cats as a high perch from which they could lust after birds, which would dart past them like the biplanes that tormented King Kong atop the Empire State Building.
And so this spring we said goodbye to the swing set. The swings and the slide era at our house officially came to an end, and my daughter, 14, passed another marker in her transformation from child to adult. The verdict to part with the swing set was reached quickly, and like many important decisions in my life was made in consultation with the aforementioned Rudy Cram.
Rudy has a tractor and I don’t, so Rudy cuts my lawn. Rudy, for those of you who actually have a life and haven’t been reading this column Sunday mornings since 1992, is also my next-door neighbor. And when we were surveying my yard at the start of the mowing season, he confessed that the presence of the swing set meant it would cost an extra $4 every time he mowed. Given that he would probably cut the grass 19 or 20 times, this meant that a swing set that is used entirely by my cats was going to cost me $80.
Now, here is how things work when the stars are perfectly aligned. Among Rudy’s and my other neighbors are Ethan and Katina Ready. And so I said to Rudy, “I understand. But I was sort of hoping to hang onto the swing set until Ethan and Katina have a baby, and then just walking the swing set over to their yard. It’s in pretty good shape.”
And Rudy replied, “You haven’t heard? Katina’s expecting a baby this fall!”
Then, right on cue, at that precise moment Ethan emerged from his house and wandered into his backyard. I nearly brought him down with a flying tackle.
The rest, as they say, is history. It took six strong men to carry the swing set from my yard to the Readys’. And the stars were in such an ideal arrangement that I wasn’t even one of those six men. I happened to be on, yes, a book tour. When I returned, the swing set was gone, and by Halloween, I will be $80 richer.
I should note that my daughter had no objection to losing the swing set. I did ask her if she wanted it, and it was as if I had asked if she wanted to spend the summer folding laundry for fun.
The only downside to bidding farewell to the swing set? My cats are sulking.
And, yes, in one more way my daughter’s childhood exists only in memory — and in those videos she made years ago.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on July 13, 2008.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.

One thought on “In the swing of things no more

  1. Neil says:

    I hear the same voice in your weekly columns as I do in your books. In the column the voice is always dad, husband, neighbor, friend in his late 40s. In your most recent book Skeletons at the Feast, the voice is a teenage girl coming of age in the 1940s in Poland as the Russian army advances and the Third Reich retreats. Both voices are equally authentic and compelling. I have but one question. How do you do it?

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