N and R on tricycles KSCNaomi and Ruth

“Let’s swing,” said my sister, Ruth, in a soft voice.

It was a sunny, but cool afternoon in Alaska. Her husband had built a tall swing set for their grandchildren and situated it carefully in their manicured lawn, which was surrounded by a fence to keep out the moose. Ruth continually sought to tame the ever-encroaching wilderness and had cleared the underbrush between spruce trees she had left along the edges. The little trails beckoned me to morph into my little girl-self and run among the trees, play chase, and disappear.

Ruth and I started swinging when we were preschoolers in Kansas City, where our father was doing his medical residency. It had been a little metal-pipe swing set, just our size. We also had a tire swing. When it rained, a puddle formed beneath it.  On subsequent hot, humid summer days, we would giggle with glee, hang with our bottoms beneath the tire, and swing through the puddle.  Our undies were a muddy mess; all the same, our mother didn’t say a word. She brought out a bucket and we took turns trying to sit in it, wash off, and cool off.

A decade later, in Alaska when our parents were proving up our 80 acre homestead and clearing land, our father trimmed out, but left standing, two tall, close together spruce trees. Somehow he climbed to the top, fashioned a sturdy crosspiece, and attached two thick ropes for a swing. In the evenings of the Midnight Sun, on the longest swing ever, we stood on the flat wooden seat in our puffy Baby Doll pajamas, and took turns swinging high and wild, shouting and laughing, feeling the wind in our hair and dodging mosquitos.

A few years ago, I took my grandboy to Alaska. We went to Ruth’s place and pulled ourselves onto the two swings and started pumping. “Watch me,” I instructed him. I jumped off and turned around. He jumped, too, nearly yanking his arms off.

“Oh dear! Time for a lesson.” And so I taught him to pull his arms around to the inside before he jumped. “Now you won’t pull your arms out of your sockets!”

He rubbed his shoulders – and laughed – and tried it the way I had shown him. “That’s better, Nomi,” he said with a big smile.

And so it was last summer that Ruth said quietly, “Swing with me.” Silently, we pulled ourselves onto the swings, each in our own thoughts. My eyes teared up. I slipped back in time and thought of us as two little girls. I could see her beside me, her brown hair curling in ringlets around her face. When we were ages four and five, we were uprooted from our Kansas prairie and transplanted to the Alaska tundra.  Away from cousins and grandparents, we were there for each other.

Yes, my dear sister, I will swing with you, then, now, and into the sunset.

(First printed in the Kansas “Country Register,” April/May 2019 issue.)

  1. As child, where did you swing? Your backyard? A schoolyard? A park? Over a creek? On a tire?
  2. Do you swing now?
  3. With whom do you swing?
  4. How do you feel when you swing?

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