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The End of an Era



The old swing. Down behind my Dad's garage on the only practical branch in the yard. He put it up in that tree 30ish years ago, I knew it was on borrowed time. I always pictured the faded ropes rotting off, but Dad kept a hearty supply of old school rope. The good stuff, like they tie up ships with. Coiled and wrapped properly, hanging from the rafters like a bunch of double ended hangman's nooses.

It was the branch that gave way, soft and decayed, lying in pieces around the sad seat. Time is Nature, I get it, but I hate to see these markers and milestones. To be reminded. The sand falls through that hourglass, but it never stops, and there's no flip. Forever is a really long time.

Every grandkid and a few great grands have felt the rush of a summer breeze on their face. They would scream to get off at first, then scream to swing higher the next time. I can picture my Mom pushing my between-teeth daughter on that swing, and they both look a LOT younger in that clip. I remember pulling in next door when brother Ed was due up from Carolina. Spotting little Autumn Chelsea sitting on this swing, watching for Uncle Dean to get home. Glowing in the sunshine, I could see her sweet smile from all the way across the dooryard, pretty as a peach. Memories that make me feel my years, I'm getting pretty seasoned, after all.

This happy swing also reminds me of one of my worst days.

I was on a job in California when brother Corey died. I felt every mile of the vast distance from home when I got the awful call. Mom's face filled my thoughts, I tried to imagine how the pain might show itself, but I couldn't. I had never seen her in agony.

We all made it home in a day or two. It was horrible. I've always excelled at keeping emotions pent up, running on an even keel. Steady, Mom needed us to lean on for a while. I stayed pretty well composed, kept a stiff upper lip right up until the day that Dad picked up Corey's ashes.

I remember him walking down the garage driveway, carrying that urn like it was a sleepy toddler. His face was different. I had never seen him anything but smiling or stolid, this was new. This would be the trigger for me to completely expel the feelings I'd been stifling so well. All of them. I felt it coming, like that final shot of liquor that you really should have passed up hitting your belly and trampolining straight back up. There's no stopping it.

I started bawling like I hadn't in half a lifetime. My legs were getting wobbly, I bolted. Away from Dad, away from brother Ed, away from Corey in a box. I folded up when I hit this old swing. Dad and Ed were a step behind, and both grabbed on to blindly help me get through it.

None of us were very good at this kind of thing, bottled up emotion was a family trait. It goes way back.

I wanted to go back as I sat on that swing, squeezing the fat ropes. I wanted to go anywhere, to escape. The flight option. I wanted my brother back. I wished I were 8 or 9 again, that seemed like the time that life started going downhill. Responsibility, pubescence, sociality, all hokey, and there's no brakes. That stupid sand flows down the hole, the swings of life pass time with every arc like a pendulum of providence.

That's what struck me when I saw it lying there. All this and more. Nobody was hurt, the spring winds took it down. My money was on Abel, he's a bit of a chunk, and really good at wrecking stuff.

I'll find a new branch, and put up a new swing. Same story, just the next chapter. I'm the Dad now. Nothing stays the same.

Hang on tight and enjoy the ride.

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