A Bicentennial Swing Set Birthday

I want to tell you something.

I want to tell you about how I’m turning 50 in a few weeks, and how I can’t stop thinking about my 5th birthday.

My parents bought me the most extravagant gift: a swing set. Here’s a picture of it, but I’m older here. That’s me on the left.

My mother was a waitress at Borden’s Cafeteria and dad was a factory worker in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and money was so tight.

But I was turning five, and I’ll tell you I know without a doubt it was my dad who wanted to get it for me.

It was my birthday, but it was also our nation’s birthday: its bicentennial, so almost everything was set to theme. This swing set was GLORIOUS.

It had everything.

Red, white, and blue paint from top to bottom. It was all flags and eagles and I was HERE FOR IT.

There was seesaw swing (that would definitely be banned in 2021 because it’s NOT SAFE) to ride on with a friend. I had a few, including Erin who also was named Coleman, so we thought it made sense that one of us was adopted. I also had a friend named Jeremy, who held my hand when we walked to school in first grade, and thought that OF COURSE we would one day be married, because we both loved Scooby Doo and this is the bedrock of any successful marriage.

It has two regular swings with blue plastic seats and shiny silver chains connecting them to the top. I would swing as hard as I could, my stringy legs pumping furiously, and then at the highest point JUMP to my death, pretending to be Wonder Woman. I did not die, but I did knock the heels of my boots once I the fourth grade and they had to call my dad. Another story.

There was a basket swing that would set four kindergarteners like myself, and two older kids. Many picnics and serious discussions occurred on this swing. Also life plans, like being an extra on I Dream of Jeannie.

I can’t forget the most glorious slide that would suck in the heat of the Oklahoma sun and channel it into the fires of hell on my little tanned legs. That slide: how many times would I perilously perch at the top, pretending to be the Queen of all I surveyed? How many times would I barrel down its center? How many times would I try it head first to scare myself? I would even drag my wading pool over and submerge the bottom of the slide inside, trying to recreate a KOA pool experience, even going to the extreme of turning on the water hose and placing it on the top of the slide, so that it would feed a steady stream down the aluminum center. Also not safe, but this is why Gen-X’rs are fearless: because we faced certain death every day of our childhoods.

I think my dad thought I was too small to tip it but he was wrong. I was practicing my trapeze act when it happened. It flipped clean over and the top of it landed on my neck. I was still somehow fine and just needed a few extra cookies.

Even now, I picture the sun-washed yard that seemed to span acres but was probably just a postage stamp size in sepia tones. I remember the outside of the house itself only vaguely, but I do recall the yellow kitchen, maybe because it is in a few pictures in the dusty album. I remember the wallpaper with yellow daisies, and my birthday cake with Snoopy in his doghouse. My tiny grandma, only 4′ 11″, came to my house that day and I know she loved me, but now all these years later, I also know her secrets.

I was the only child then, and sometimes lonely, but happy. I remember my mom making gallons of sweet tea, putting cold water and tea bags into a rinsed out milk jug, setting it up on the top of the slide to slowly brew in the steamy summer sun. In the evenings, she’d take the tea bags out and add a cup of sugar, stirring until the little granules would mostly (but not completely) dissolve. That tea tasted like summer.

I was thinking about the swing set yesterday as I made sun tea and set it out on my son-in-law’s grill to brew in the steamy San Antonio sun. I was thinking about that birthday and this one. I was thinking about how that day was perfect, maybe because of everything I didn’t know then. It was before, way before, anything bad ever happened.

But that’s another memory and not one to associate with this one.

This is the swing set memory.