It was an old Manila rope. We found it, like so many of our childhood treasures, in the city dump. We could not believe our luck. It was at least fifty feet long, and other than a few frayed spots, in perfectly good shape. What idiot would throw such a thing away?

My friend, Jimmy, shimmied up the tree, and tied off one end of the rope to an outstretched bough. The free end actually touched the ground, which meant there was plenty of slack to tie a knot with a loose loop in it, which would help us to hold on. The tree itself was sited perfectly, at the edge of the creek’s embankment, meaning that with a good running start we could swing out far above the dry creek bed. It was exhilarating, particularly for someone like me, who is afraid of heights. I got the same feeling of joyous terror years later when I discovered amusement parks.

On the occasion of my ninth birthday I begged my mother to let me go out and play while she prepared Sunday breakfast. My uncle was in town, a rare treat, and she really did not want me to ruin my Sunday best. But she relented, admonishing me not to get dirty. A fool’s errand that, sending a nine-year-old out to play, and expecting a presentable return.

I headed directly for the creek.

Jimmy, and a couple of my other pals, were already there, taking turns trying to outdo each other on the rope swing. Each one took a long arcing run, then leapt from the edge of the embankment. Our friend, Ray, impressed everyone by hiking his legs way up, and actually clearing the landing zone for a second full sweep around. When he landed I grabbed the rope, determined to match his feat.

“Watch this!” I shouted as I dashed off the end of the world.

For a few glorious seconds I was flying, screaming from the pure joy of it.

Perhaps the rope was not as substantial as we assumed. Perhaps our neighborhood terrorist, Blake, had sawn at the knot up in the tree. Or maybe the rope had simply rotted over the course of the summer from continuous cycles of sun, rain, and strain. At any rate, at the climax of my joy, at the very apex of my sweeping arc, the rope broke. Then I truly was flying.

Briefly.

By the time my friends reached me I had somehow managed to sit up. I was too stunned to cry, or perhaps there was just too little air left in my lungs to support a wail. Jimmy bent down to check me out. I saw his eyes grow big, and followed his gaze to my left arm.

It was obviously broken, mangled into an unholy configuration not meant for this world. Suddenly I somehow found my breath.

At the hospital, through the fog of pain, I heard bits of whispered conversations between my parents and the doctor.

afraid of doing further damage…
could sever the median nerve…
permanent loss of the use of that hand…

With these lovely sprites dancing in my head I was carted off to surgery.

When I awoke my mother was sitting at my bedside. She smiled, and welcomed me back to the world of the living. Then she explained that dad had taken Uncle Dan to the airport. “He had to catch his flight. But he wanted me to tell you, you’re one tough trooper, and that he loves you.”

“Is there any cake left?” I wanted to know.

She laughed, and ran her fingers through my hair. “Of course, silly. It hasn’t even been cut. We’ll have it tomorrow, with ice cream and presents.”

I cheered up a bit at that. Then I braved a look at my arm, laying atop the sheet. It was in a full L-shaped cast, with only the thumb and fingertips exposed. In bright green marker were the words, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!”, signed by someone I did not know. They had drawn festive red and blue balloons to each side.

My mom saw the puzzled look on my face.

“You came back from surgery with that. It’s the surgeon’s signature.”

I gave my fingers a tentative wiggle. They moved. I realized then he had given me the best possible birthday present, bundled up in half-inch thick plaster of paris wrapping – a fully functional left hand.

I can’t recall what Jimmy gave me.
~
(c) 2010, by J. M. Strother – All rights reserved.

Two Inspiring Ladies

This post is doing triple duty for me this week. First off, it is my #fridayflash. Second, it is my contribution to India Drummond’s Writing Adventure Group (#WAG on Twitter) prompt – Broken. Third, it is my entry in Deanna Schrayer’s first writing contest over at The Other Side of Deanna. It has a Birthday theme. So I pondered over “broken” and “birthday” for a few minutes when this concept sprang to mind. I was pretty pleased with it. Not too often I hit three birds with one stone, whether they’re in the bush or not. Thank you India and Deanna for the inspiration.
~jon

  81 Responses to “The Rope Swing”

  1. You write stories like this in such an easy way that it feels like a conversation and not a story at all.

    I am wondering what kind of childhood you had that gives you such a wellspring to draw from? ;)

    • Well, when I was about thirteen years old, and my uncle Warren was in town, I begged my mom to let me go out and play while she was making Sunday breakfast…
      ~jon

  2. The first paragraph sucked me right into the story. I was right there with them, throw away a 50 foot length of rope, that must be crazy!

    The tone of the piece was so laid back it felt as though you were telling the story from the heart, like you lived it and it wasn’t a piece of fiction.

    Great story, it brings back memories.

  3. What a beautiful story. My son’s nine, and you made me tear up a little. But in a good way.

    • Nine is just about the perfect age. Old enough for fun and adventure (even if there is a little pain) but before the tumult of adolescence. Eight, nine, ten, and eleven – probably the four best years of my life. Enjoy him.
      ~jon

  4. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Walt White, Catherine Russell. Catherine Russell said: RT @waltw: Just read "The Rope Swing" by @jmstro for #WAG. Great childhood story that brings back memories. Check it out: http://is.gd/dAKFp [...]

  5. Love the last line!

  6. Wow, a vivid and compelling story (recount?) of frightening childhood events. A great read and a brilliant slice of life for me.

    Thanks for this one, Jon.

    • Thanks for the kind words. Yes, a bit of fact, a bit of fiction. The rope swing, the broken arm, the trip to surgery all real. But it wasn’t my birthday and I was a bit older.
      ~jon

  7. What a sweet story, told so well I would have thought it was a short piece from your childhood.

    Helen

  8. Great story, as always. :)

  9. love the idea of a ‘neighbourhood terrorist’

    Course where I grew up a rope would only have swung me flat bang into a brick wall!

    marc nash

  10. Something about non-fiction that colors fiction with beautiful hue. The characterizations, storyline, flow – everything read smoothly. Well done.

  11. Fantastic story as usual Jon, and thanks so much for entering the contest!

    I too used to love digging around at the dump with my sisters and my mom’s best friend’s kids. It was amazing what treasure we found. Probably why I still have the tendency to seek out yard sales. :)

    • Thanks for having the contest, Deanna. I thought long and hard trying to come up with something new, then that Broken prompt came along and viola – a story was born. Beats dredging up something from the archives. I hate it when I have to do that.

      Somehow I don’t think most kids today play in the city dump. They made for some great stomping grounds.
      ~jon

  12. It’s hard to top a hand. Maybe Jimmy could give him an entire arm, thus granting him titan-like bonus limbs. But that’s a rare gift from friend or family.

    I continue to enjoying visiting your sunny world, Jon. It’s sometimes cloudy, sometimes night, but feels distinct, pleasantly nostalgic, and possibly orbiting the same star as Garrison Keillor’s.

  13. I was always afraid of those swinging ropes breaking.

    Nice birthday story tugging at childhood memories familiar to many. Sometimes the fondest memories are the ones where we get hurt.

    • Pain and near death experiences have a way of engraving themselves in our minds, don’t they? Then time does its trick, turning them into fond memories. Funny how the mind works.
      ~jon

  14. The narration in this made it a fun read despite the badly broken arm. And just like a nine year old–more interested in cake and presents than his well-being. Good story!

  15. Aside of the broken arm, this sounds like a story one of my childhood friends could tell. There always seemed to be a rope swing going up someplace as well as treehouses and forts.

    Thanks for the memories Jon.

  16. Love the way you’ve written this, makes is so easy to read and gets you involved from the start – great piece, thanks for sharing :)

  17. Excellent flash, Jon!

  18. Loved the tone of this, the narrator’s memories forming the frame of the story. Great last line too. As Laura points out at the top of these comments, you write this kind of thing so well. :)

  19. There were so many things to like about this story – the mischief that kids get into, the grand adventures, the unexpected, and the things we remember. It was completely enchanting from the get go.

  20. There is a wonderful sense of innocence and joy in the recounting of play, despite the broken bones, which become the war wounds of any kid at school.
    Makes me remember the joy of my own childhood.

    • I know I loved that period of my life. Probably lived the motto Carpe Diem more then than at any other time. I think the innocence of is what made each day a new adventure.
      ~jon

  21. This seems effortless — the mark of you having paid your dues in prior effort. Brilliant memoir.

    Thanks for coming by WAG#30 “Paybacks are Hell.” Thing about forgiveness, it’s as much for the injured as the guilty. She forgave him so they could each move on. It took time.

    Come have a look at “Laugh Til You Cry.” http://www.katemcintire.com/?p=1356 Cheers, Kate.

  22. Jon, this so took me back to my wayward youth where I experience countless similar escapades. I love how you focus laser-like on what is important to such a young boy – cake and presents.. Really wonderfully crafted.

  23. Your story handles all three of its duties quite well!

    What a beautiful vignette of life where a young boy enjoys dashing off the end of the world, and learns what it means to come back to earth.

    Your writing always shows what a craftsman you are, Jon. :)

  24. Ahh, the rope swing that universal favourite of boyhood memories. I remember my best friend broke his arm (not on a rope swing I must add) and had it in a cast for months. I was so envious of that cast from all the attention he got. If only I had conceived of a plan that involved me wrecking a limb it would have been me in the spotlight.

  25. This is a really wonderfully told story Jon. It reads as if you are the narrator and you’re telling us this story. You’re going to have to convince me this isn’t true.

    • Thanks, Rachel. The arm part and trip to surgery is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty (particularly Blake). The birthday part, pure fiction.
      ~jon

  26. Jon – for a worrying (some would say neurotic) mother, this has not helped my nerves *at* *all*. ;-) But at least it does have a happy ending. Triple duty for one story is impressive, i don’t think i’ve ever managed better than double duty. And it’s a nice story on top of all that :-)

    • Ah, the bittersweet role of parenthood. You have to let them fly (hopefully not like this) but worry like crazy while they do. I know the feeling well.
      I tended not to tell my kids about my childhood exploits until they were old enough to know better. :)
      ~jon

  27. You evoked a childhood rite of passage – the broken bone – very vividly. I enjoyed the casual tone and happy ending.

    • Thanks, Pamila. Both my sister and I broke our arms as kids. We must be real klutzes. My wife waited until she was in her 20s. The dangers of folk dancing – but that’s another story.
      ~jon

  28. This was absolutely darling Jon. Great entry for the contest!

  29. It’s such a little thing but when you said “Jimmy shimmied” it made me smile. Don’t you wonder how young kids write stories sometimes? Experience seems to be coming in handy in my finding stories. Good luck with your other entires. I entered Deanna’s, too. I have an idea for a contest but wouldn’t know how to begin to put it together. It’s a simple concept. I’ll DM you about it.

  30. Oh, this was wonderful! I was afraid he might lose his arm…
    Until something like this happens (or worse), we tend to forget how precious health is.

    • I went to surgery for my broken arm. But they never had to cut me. The doctor said that he gently pulled on my finger tips and everything just fell back into place perfectly. I was in surgery as a “just in case” measure. But those quotes as he’s drifting off pretty much echo what was said to my parents. While my surgeon did not sign my cast, he did give me a fully functional left hand.
      ~jon

  31. This has the feel of a true story, and that authenticity helps drive it home and make it memorable. Glad the arm got saved; that’s some heavy stuff!

  32. Great slice of life Jon! And I’m loving the resulting memories.
    I managed to get an old half-rotted hosepipe high into the big pine tree in our garden and swung off that. My mother hated that thing, even though it never broke. It’s actually still there, no one could get to it :-)

  33. Fantastic, Jon. You have such a light and easy touch with stories like these, I always find myself at the end without realising I’ve been reading. I think I may just envy you your childhood.

  34. You have an uncanny knack for recollection or recreation of childhood, Jon. This story held me from the opening.

    I just love this:

    “Then I truly was flying.

    Briefly.”

    There’s a certain air of resignation in the word “Briefly” that’s just perfect.

    Very evocative. Nicely done.

  35. Wow, Jon! This is a beautifully written story that so many of us can relate to on so many levels. It’s tight, yet it flows. It’s evocative enough to bring tears to my eyes, and to remind so many of us of similar events in our own/siblings’/friends’ childhoods. It’s the kind of story that makes you smell summer. Well done. ~ Hazel

    PS I wanted to leave you a general comment on the #Fridayflash initiative. I think it’s a wonderful idea and am very grateful to you for organising and ‘minding’ it. I have only taken part twice – last week and this – but I have enjoyed reading the stories, and been very encouraged by what others have to say about my efforts.

  36. [...] My friend, Jimmy, shimmied up the tree, and tied off one end of the rope to an outstretched bough. The free end actually touched the ground, which meant there was plenty of slack to tie a knot with a loose loop in it, which would help us to hold on. Read on… [...]

  37. Nice story, took me right into childhood. You have a great ‘kid’ voice. Peace…

  38. Man, you are the king of writing combination ;-) – three birds with one stone. I love how easy it all seems to you. I am not sure if it is, but the words just fly off the screen at me with such ease, and I am always filled with wonder… and completely jealous of how you do it.

    ~2

  39. OH… and you bring back such memories. I swear I was a little dumpster diver. We dug out so many treasures… I am kind of ashamed to admit.

    too late now.

    • You know the old saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” I wouldn’t mind having some of that stuff back now, but it’s long since become yet another man’s treasure.
      ~jon

  40. Wonderful start… it was kids up to mischief, so it made me read on. A generally well-written, compelling story. Well done.
    lose ‘the occasion of’
    Mon xx

  41. Just a quick note to Jon’s readers – there’s less than 15 hours left to vote in the contest. Have you cast your vote?
    We’ll be partying at The Other Side of Deanna on Monday. I hope everyone can stop in!

  42. Thanks so much for entering the contest Jon, and for stopping in at the party. I can’t wait to hear what word or phrase you come up with!

    I hope everyone can stop in at the party today: http://theothersideofdeanna.wordpress.com/2010/08/16/party-time/

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