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Alice learns to swing
by Dawn Dillon Barrett



The house where I grew up was located just east of town near the creek that defined the city limits. There was and still is a huge yard with a driveway that begins at the highway, runs along the crest of the ridge and curves behind the house to exit on another road. Four large water oaks, one an ancient giant, line the driveway near the house. In the years before air conditioning, even the hottest summers were bearable there, as the oaks spread their mighty branches, sheltering us from the westering sun.

One of the limbs of the largest tree swooped across the driveway and had, in fact, to be cut eventually. But before that time, the sandy spot between the drive and the tree itself was the perfect place for a swing. So one afternoon my dad came home with some new rope, sorted through the used lumber out behind the barn until he came up with the perfect piece, and fashioned one for us.

My little sister Alice and I were thrilled. These were the days before jungle gyms and school playground equipment, at least in our town, but in a simple rope swing one could be anything Ė an airplane pilot, a bird, even a queen looking at the world from her tower balcony. Up and down, up and down I would go like the child in Robert Louis Stevensonís famous poem. To me also, swinging was ďthe pleasantest thing ever a child can do.Ē

There was just one problem. Alice couldnít swing. Iíve forgotten her exact age at the time, but I donít think she was more than three years old, and it takes practice for a little kid to learn how to move a swing on her own. I pushed her for a while after Iíd had my turn, but I soon grew bored with that. I had bigger and better things afoot, dolls to dress and books to read and pretending of my own to do. Mama and Daddy were busy in the yard, so Alice was left on her own.

She was always a determined little thing (still is), so when she finally realized I wasnít going to push her any more, rather than sniveling or whining, she kept at it. She soon discovered that she could walk backwards while sitting in the swing. Then if she stuck her feet out in front of her, perpetual motion (we didnít, of course, know what it was called) would move her in ever-diminishing glides until the swing stopped. So again and again, she backed up as far as she could, stuck out her feet and coasted to a stop.

Then, on one of her backward peregrinations, her feet slipped in the sand. She pulled them up underneath the seat, and when she stuck them out in front of her again, amazingly, the swing moved on its own. Her eyes opened wide, and she tried it once more just to see. And again it moved on its own. She uttered a crow of pure delight, her face aglow with the kind of joy that perhaps only a child can feel. And then, feet pumping away, she swung to her heartís content.

She swung as the day wore on, tiny legs pumping higher each time. We all went in to supper and still she swung. We called her in to eat, but she heard nothing except whatever was pushing her on. My mother began to worry that she would swing herself to sleep and fall off, but she just kept swinging. Long after the sun had set she swung in the dusk, until at last my mother, who hated to spoil her pleasure, could stand it no longer and went out plucked her off.

We would talk about that day many times in the years to come. My parents would recall the moment occasionally as we sat at our meals, their faces a study in fond remembrance, yet with a hint of sadness. They were, I suspect, experiencing that eternal paradox of parents throughout the ages: a satisfaction in what has been learned but knowing inherently, perhaps unaware, that on some inevitable tomorrow their children would lift themselves aloft and soar alone.

My sister did eventually fly on her own, as did I. But we had some tender pushes early on.

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A resident of south Mississippi, Dawn Dillon Barrett writes for the Magnolia Gazette.

Read many more great stories listed on our USADS Articles pages.

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