Worlds of our own

For a young girl, a public playground offered a gateway to the imagination

BRATTLEBORO — When I was growing up, difficult as it is to believe, there were no TVs, the telephone operator connected you to your party, and a real person actually answered if you called an agency or the electric company. People kept connected by telephone, the post office, and face-to-face social exchanges.

But my best memories are of being a child doing child things.

I entered the playground through a huge gate that was opened in the morning and closed at night. Mysteriously. I never saw anyone who looked like a gate opener in the playground, so I thought it happened by magic. Ten cement steps led down into an entirely different world - an entire half acre that was all mine.

* * *

My first memories are of the sandbox, a huge, cement-enclosed box full of fine, gray sand. I created whole worlds there: cities, castles, rivers, tunnels, roads that rose under my hand. And stories to go with them.

I soared above the playground, visited unknown planets, made up friends from everywhere. And, of course, I, a girl, was always the hero.

Hours later, I would be brought back to reality when my mother said, “Time to go home.”

By the time I was allowed to go to the playground on my own, I graduated to the swings: first, the ones with the bars across, but very quickly to the adult equipment.

My small body would soar into the air, let go, and fly, only to land yards away on my feet. I became a circus performer.

I would shimmy up the swing supports to get on the overhead bar from which the swings were suspended, and I would stare over the chain-link fence, over the wooded hill outside the fence to the Passaic River below.

I could, in my imagination, ride the boats on their way upstream or downstream. A railroad trestle bridge would swing straight up in the air to let a large boat pass under. I imagined trains that hurtled into the sky and traveled to the stars.

Over there, opposite the swings, were hoops. I could hang upside down: a change of perspective that let me see the world from a new angle.

* * *

The back gate of the playground opened to woodland paths. My friend Shirley and I wandered and lived out whole episodes of Jungle Girl, The Black Stallion, or whatever book we were reading at the time.

I even found a new companion there: a small bulldog/terrier mix who just walked up to us. So we took him home.

I named this odd combination of colors and shapes “Treve” after Albert Payson Terhune's glorious collie. It didn't seem presumptuous to me. No one advertised or claimed him. Treve was loyal, loving, and willing to join any expedition into fantasy with as much fervor and belief as Shirley and I.

Eventually, I became old enough for tennis. I had a wooden racket and would spend hours hitting balls against a backboard.

The games I played were all in my head. The adults who played on the two tennis courts there weren't part of my world. They might as well have been ghosts or bit players off to the side. No, the real action was with a racket, a ball, and a backboard.

* * *

I spent many, many hours in that playground, which was enclosed by a chain-link fence. Mother thought the fence kept me from wandering.

This half acre was the gateway to everywhere. While my mother thought I was firmly fenced in there, I wandered far and wide - learning all the time what it was like to be free.

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