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Posts Tagged ‘andretti’

It’s late May and as Spring comes on, I am longing again for home. Being at my folk’s farm, mushroom hunting, seeing the dogwoods, sugar maples, beeches and the sassafras come on and watching for the Jack-in-the-pulpit and the Dutchman’s Britches; generally the smell and feel of Spring in Indiana, and going to the track in Indianapolis. I thought I’d re-post this, one of my first pieces after beginning AAH. A kid’s view and memories of May in Indiana.

If I could say thanks to someone today, it would be all the friends I have mentioned in this piece. Gosh, my memories and joys are greater for them.

Finally, today, this piece is dedicated to Mr. Robert Phillips, my principal at Sugar Creek Consolidated Elementary School, who passed away last month. A good, good man.

– – –

swingWe know that smell is strongly linked to memory. Likewise, certain events or situations can trigger the recall of a significant memory.

For me fatherhood has provided the opportunity for a particular remembrance (among many) to be triggered, and like so many of these, it is one I really enjoy. It’s really pretty simple. Taking my son, Jace to the neighborhood playground and swinging on the swing set. He loves it, of course, and wants to go as high and as fast as he can.

Memory. That moment in our mind when we travel back to a place and time that cannot be recreated anywhere except in our thoughts – the perfect, indestructible memory. Almost perfect, and almost indestructible. But in our mind’s eye, we can recreate that time and place just as we want. And we are happy to make it perfect and clear. And why shouldn’t we? It is the wonderful and mysterious capability of our mind.

We can see it, feel it, right there. So real in the mind, it’s almost hard to believe – hard to accept – we can’t go any further and actually have it – make it be so – because it’s that real in our memory. We can even find a way to smell it, maybe even taste the air of that moment past. And perhaps the strangest of all, the one thing that lends such realism to the memory is the “feeling” – the sensation (for lack of a more adequate description) we have from that time; we remember what it felt like. Strange. Strange but wonderful. Not always wonderful, understandably, but hopefully, wonderful more often than not. I’m not sure how much it really matters that our memories are faulty, and more so as the years pass. No, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t really matter much at all.

So often the bricks and mortar are gone. The people have changed – like ourselves – to the point where we don’t quite recognize them anymore. Certainly not compared to the memory we hold. Some of those dear people have even gone.

Scale also changes. When I was six, seven, eight years old, everything was bigger, of course. The time was 1967, 1968 and 1969.

A cool early morning outside often takes me in my memory to two places: our cabin in Canada, and the playground at my elementary school in West Terre Haute.

The playground at Consolidated Elementary was huge – it went on forever. I’m pretty sure it was big enough that I never went all the way to the far, south end. First, as I remember, that’s where the big kids – 5th and 6th graders – played; I wasn’t about to go out there. This was not a place for amateurs. Maybe the really good athletes like Jace Hargis, Jim Thornton, Dennis Morgan, or Steve Haywood, but not me. But beyond that, it was just too far, and I was afraid to go out there.

So my “world” there went as far as the kickball diamond and where we played Red Rover. Inside that sphere was the best of everything anyway: the “huge” sand box (again, there’s that little kid scale thing…) lined with the concrete edge where we played marbles, and the monkey bars. These were the ones that Paula Bramble fell thru – top to bottom – in her plaid skirt, landing on the hard ground inside the middle of the contraption. She cried, understandably, and Greg Aff, whom I was playing with at the time, climbed inside, picked her up and lifted her out, then carried her… I think… to the nurse’s office. Wow. What a hero. By the way, that event set my image of Greg for life. And of course, he reconfirmed it by being a football star in high school; big, muscular, tough… and friendly – and now a nice guy on a Harley. There were also the teeter-totters and the merry-go-round with thick, wood planks for seats. And the swings.

The swings – in my memory – were about three, maybe four stories high. Huge, towering things; very imposing. Two or three sets, facing directly east, into the morning sun. They were located on the Northeast corner of the playground near the corner of the school and facing the road that eventually led to Susan Phillips’ Grandparent’s farm.

I loved the swings. I would rush to the swings right off the bus, before school started. Now in my mind, I picture the immense height of the structure above my head, and remember the thought that if I were to swing too high, I could be killed. I would accidently swing out into space, flying off the seat and be launched high into the sky and across the road, tumbling end over end high over the houses and yards, on the way to Becky Kasemeyer’s house, all the way down her road, and far beyond where it actually ended. In my mind, West Terre Haute or even Terre Haute across the river several miles away did not exist in the threat of stratospheric flight skyward and eastward. Instead it was oblivion. Space. Remember, we had just lost three astronauts a couple of years before (including Gus Grissom from Indiana), and were headed off to land on the moon that summer of 1969, so I knew what could happen. I would be killed in the flight into the nothingness that is left when my butt leaves that rubberized sling of a seat.

This was real danger.

So of course I – we all – pushed it. Swinging hard and high, to that point where you could feel the chains slack, just ever so slightly. If I wasn’t launched out of the seat, then either the force of my forward momentum would be lost and I would come falling straight down, no more “swing” left – and crash, or more likely, thud into the ground. All my bones would be crushed into dust and goo wadded up inside a floppy bag of skin. Dead. OR, even worse, I’d have so much forward Umph that I’d go all the way over – around and over the top – which of course would allow me time to see what was coming and to think about it just long enough to know it was going to hurt real bad, and that I couldn’t do anything about it.

All were bad options. So, I pushed the envelope anyway. I’d swing as high as I could, as high as I dared, and for good reason. I was an Indy 500 driver.

The great drivers of that time were Mario Andretti, AJ Foyt, Al and Bobby Unser. (Come to think of it, they still are. There were many more, of course, but this is my memory). There I was, on the swing, facing the rising blaze of orange, morning sun, getting up more speed with every lunge of my legs, and on the forward, down swing, I would yell out the name of my favorite drivers. “MmmArio Andretti!”… I am now as far up and forward as possible, and starting to come back down, backward…. Legs back, heels hitting my rear-end, as high as I am going to go on the backswing, then, forward: “AJ Foyt!” all the way through the next high-speed forward swing. And back again, then it would be “Al Unser!” at the top of my voice, then on the next one, “Bobby Unser!” and on, and on again, passing cars one after another, faster and faster, Turn 1, into the Short Chute, the Back Straight, faster than ever, then the Short Chute again out of Turn 3 into Turn 4, then the Front Straight. I can see the white flag now; one more lap and I do it all again, all the names I can think of, all the speed I can muster, all the height I can possibly get out the this thing – flooring it all the way around the track… then… the bell rings. I’ll finish the race at recess.

And I have lived to race – and swing – another day.

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