The Rope Swing [Read This Free]
Remembrance of Things Past
By Diana Braskich
This feature is presented free in its entirety for the first part of November.
Since my birth in 1983 at Kootenai Memorial Hospital, or “The Big Blue Hospital,” as my friends and I loved to brag (as if being born at the nearest regional hospital were somehow prestigious), Coeur d’Alene has seen a lot of growth and change.
We’ve become a much more diverse city than we used to be. For the most part, I like our expanded town—there’s so much more here than when I was growing up. But I often find myself driving through the city and missing the great pockets of woods, the vast empty fields, and the long-closed businesses.
For example, the closing of the waterpark called Wild Waters was a travesty to me—which is no offense to the area’s two exceptional contemporary waterparks—but I drove by Wild Waters yesterday and felt the urge to break in and explore, despite the decay and rampant graffiti. I lived at Wild Waters during the summers of the early 1990s. No doughnut has ever passed my lips that can compete with the freshly made glory sold at their doughnut shop, and even though their rough, scratchy slides shredded the bottom of more than one swimsuit, I hold those rides in higher esteem than their presumably much smoother, and safer, modern counterparts. The tourists can keep their climate-controlled indoor parks and hotel packages. No matter how thrilling today’s parks are, they cannot overcome my nostalgic love for their predecessor.
The Showboat Theater is another long-lost love, despite the obvious superiority of the current cinema complex at Riverstone. As a small child, I longed to play with the model of the steamboat, frustratingly out of reach behind its velvet ropes. As I teenager, I found myself deliciously traumatized by the decaying red velvet curtains, whose ambience increased the terror of late-1990s horror classics like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer. While the Showboat lacked the comfort and quality of a contemporary cinema, it more than made up for that with character.
My favorite antiques store as a kid still exists, but seeing the vacant disrepair of its old locale, the Montgomery Ward building on Fourth and Lakeside, breaks my heart. I spent many a happy hour there as a child, and while I’m glad to know that its previous tenant has survived, I also love the building itself. It was a living, breathing antique, full of unexpected corners, magnificent, never-ending staircases, and, at least to a ten-year-old, a scrumptiously frightening old basement. It was the architectural jewel of my youth, and I wish I could take my daughter exploring through it, vacant or not, as I did decades earlier.
But the two hardest changes to see pertain to woods that once were adjacent to Thomas Lane just north of my childhood home and the faithful rope swing hill just south of it. The woods were in jeopardy for what felt like forever, and the slow development around them had tricked me into thinking they were safe from eradication. The subdivision and park there now are quite lovely, and I don’t begrudge the residents their homes, but I miss the woods.
When I was a small child, the thinning out had yet to begin, and I remember it as a dense and frightening forest, full of mysterious paths and tantalizing secrets. I never ventured far in, which of course only increased the appeal. (After all, anything could be in there). The one lone house across from Twenty-first Place always called to my mind the Ingalls family of the Little House on the Prairie television series. I imagined those neighbors, whom I never met, to be rustic sorts who hunted in the woods and smoked their venison in a hollowed-out tree—this despite the cars in their garage and other modern comforts.
By the time I was in middle school, the thinned woods were less menacing, and I often accompanied my mom and our black lab/great dane mix on walks across them. Our dog, smelly creature that she was, never failed to find a pile of deer droppings to roll in, and my mother and I would enjoy a quiet and solitary stroll without having to worry about cars or other people.
When I was in high school, a great, potholed dirt road ran straight across the woods, from Thomas Lane to Margaret on the other side. A friend of mine had an ancient green truck that we once drove over that road at a recklessly high speed. The bench seat and lack of seatbelts, combined with non-existent shock absorption, resulted in near concussions and constant collisions with my co-passengers. It was a brief, beautiful journey of hysterical laughter. At the time, I was scared out of my mind, but now I remember it as one small moment of freedom in a period of my life when I felt constantly trapped.
When I see that lovely subdivision, I also see the ghost of my childhood.
Yet the rope swing hill, located on a cul-de-sac at the end of Twenty-second Street, is by far the most painful loss. I spent seemingly entire summers on that brave little mountain. I knew every nook and cranny of all the paths to the top, including the ancient wire fence we trampled over on the climb, presumably placed there to keep children such as myself at bay. The other neighborhood kids and I systematically divided the hill into various regions. For example, there were two “bathrooms,” one for the boys and one for the girls—as walking a mere block home to actual indoor plumbing was just too much for us. There was a small, secret meeting place at the base of the hill, and downed trees had blocked the path for so long that we leapt over them without even thinking.
In the winter, we’d sled down the same paths we climbed in the summer, ripping the bottoms out of our sleds as we bounced over stones and rocks. On the best winters, one could gain enough momentum to also ascend the enormous berm left by the plows, and find oneself sledding down a second hill, directly into potential traffic that, thankfully, was non-existent.
As a pre-teen, I ventured well past the rope swing and found a lovely cleared spot that I treasured. I once came out from behind a tree and found myself face-to-face with the most beautiful deer I had ever seen.
There were tall tales about the land beyond the swing. It was said that a crazy old man up there would shoot at you if you dared to cross the invisible line dividing his property from the rest of the hill. The older kids in the neighborhood claimed to have spent years dodging bullets at every turn, an assertion I came to dismiss only after years of somehow, despite the odds, never once getting shot.
The highlight of the whole place was of course the swing, hanging from a gnarly old tree in a small clearing, from which you could swing out over the edge of the hill. There was a pile of rocks to climb upon, and when you let go, you’d fly out over the abyss and take in a view encompassing the entire street below.
Some of the more lunacy-prone kids would jump from the swing, despite the only landing pad being a rocky cliffside filled with prickle bush, assuming they were lucky and didn’t fall all the way down the hill. The lack of permanent bodily injury suffered by my friends and me is one of the clearest testaments to a higher power I have ever seen.
I never jumped, having a much healthier sense of self-preservation than some of my cohort. I did, however, once ricochet off several trees before landing in a heap back at the rock pile, bruised yet heroic in my defeat. I regaled the masses with that story, complete with embellishments, for so many years that I no longer remember exactly how many trees I hit. Surviving such idiocy was a badge of honor in my day.
There’s a private, gated community on that hill now. I walked there a few times after the fence went up, as it was pretty easy to get around on foot, but the endeavor was pointless. The spot where I saw the deer is probably someone’s bathroom now, and the people who live there made it clear with their body language that my presence in their neighborhood was unwanted. Even though I never owned the land, it still feels to me like the new residents are the trespassers.
As a child, I never imagined such bittersweet realities of adulthood. I’d listen to grownups lament the good old days and not comprehend how they could fail to appreciate the awesomeness of now. In adulthood, I understand the duality of appreciating progress and still yearning for simpler times, and that our mourning for things loved and now gone comes largely from the inability to share them with our children.
Or maybe I’m overthinking it. Maybe I just miss my rope swing.