My sister and I were often given the chore of watching the younger of our two brothers while playing outside. Since our one-acre backyard abutted the playground of the Pennsville Elementary School, we often went there to swing, ride our bikes and play on the teeter-totters. That playground, like many flat surfaces in town was covered with cinders and clinkers from the nearby coal-fueled power plant. A high swing set with long supports of steel pipes had wooden seats supported by heavy chains. My sister and I loved to get on one of the seats together, with one straddling the other, face to face, and “pump” the swing as high as possible. There was a school-yard story, probably a myth, that a boy had once gotten the swing to go so high that he went clear over the top bar of the swing-set. Every child in the school probably dreamed of accomplishing the same incredible feat.
Anyway, one day we took our little two-year-old brother with us as we went to swing. We got on one of the seats, together, and decided that we’d have to put him on there with us in order to keep him safe. We didn’t want to chance knocking him down as we were swinging. We began to swing, slowly at first, but working harder and harder to make that swing go higher. We were doing pretty well, too, until all of a sudden that little boy was the one flying. Right off our laps he went, launched headfirst in a wonderfully fearsome arc. He literally flew through the air, well out over a wide space of cindered ground. Having no innate flying skills, though, he crash-landed nose-first in those terrible cinders. His face, hands and knees took the brunt of the abrupt stop. Bloody-nosed, scratched and scraped, crying up a storm, he was almost as scared as my sister and me.
We quickly stopped the swing and went to assess the damages. He was pretty messy and bloody, and howling with pain. We knew we had to get him home for attention, but we were afraid of the consequences. This was Mom’s baby, and we’d been told to take care of him. We had to act, so off we went, running as fast as we could while each of us held one of his little hands, lifting him as we ran. When we got home there was no consultation as how to handle the situation. With one thought, without a word, by common, silent intuition, we quickly shoved him through the back door, called loudly for Mom, and then beat a hasty retreat out of eyesight and out of hearing range. By the time we returned home for supper, three hours later, the atmosphere had cooled down a bit. Dad was home from work by then and had little tolerance for boys who cried. Our little brother, after having been tended to, given a bath and a nap, was proudly showing off his newest battle scars. Tears and fears were forgotten. All was back to “normal.”