Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Playground

Last week I wrote about Granada Park, where my friends and I spent many happy days in our childhood. Several people asked, “But what about the playground?” I decided I had far too many memories from that magical place to lump it in with the rest of the stories of the park, so today I’ll tell you about it.

At the entrance to the park was a fishpond. Some friends caught pollywogs in the pond, and many played around it. (I didn’t catch pollywogs or frogs or toads there, but I remember the sound of the frogs and toads on warm summer evenings coming from the catch basin at the end of our street, where Hathaway Ave. and Sarazan Drive met. We called it ‘the Gully,’ but others had different names for it. I was too chicken to spend any time there because of the snakes and other critters, who lurked in the muck.)

Eventually, as I recall, a couple of children were injured in and around the pond, and it was filled and turned into a rose garden. They later took out the garden and replaced it with a fenced cement catch basin. I don’t know if it still exists.

At the south end of the playground, near the tennis courts, a cinder block building held the restrooms. I remember very little about them because the playground itself offered such pleasures.

We celebrated my fifth birthday at the playground with Diane Graham and her mother, Laura Lee, and Wilma Sehnert and her son, Dan.

In the photo below, my brother looks a bit bewildered after his ride down the slide. Yours truly prepares for a fast run while Diane Graham waits her turn.

The big slides were high and fast! The metal ladder led up to a platform some fifteen to twenty feet off the ground. From there, the rider had a choice of two options. The right slide was straight and ride was fast. The left slide had a dip in it. The ride was slower, but if you were moving, you might lift off as you left the bump in the middle—sort of like a ski jumper hitting a mogul.

We usually packed a lunch to go to the park. Then we used the waxed paper from our sandwiches like sleds to make the ride even faster. Because the slides were made of metal, they became burning hot in the sun. The heat melted the wax and formed a slick surface. I remember returning from a day at the park with the backs of my legs red from the slide.

However, the slide was not my favorite of all the activities at the playground. I loved the swings!

The park boasted two sets. The ‘little kid’ ones consisted of a slatted wooden structure with back, seat, and sides. The corners connected to chains, suspended from an A-frame tubular metal structure embedded in the ground with cement footings. A parent or older child placed the little one on the seat and then lowered a metal bar with holes on the ends, through which the front chains slid, to secure the child in the seat. The bar also offered a handhold. Then the older person pushed the little one.

However, I loved the big swings. They were large enough even our parents used them. They were constructed on the same type of A-frame structure as the little ones, only this one was about fifteen to twenty feet high. (Of course, I probably remember it larger than it was, but it was at least twice the height of our parents.)

The seats were made of heavy woven material with metal attached to the ends. Like the little swings, these fastened to a mechanism on the crossbar above. After a few years, the fabric began to wear and caused abrasions on the backs of our legs. Still, we were not deterred.

Swinging always brought to mind a poem I memorized when I was about two years old:

How do you like to go up in a swing,
   Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
   Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
   Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
   Over the countryside—

Till I look down on the garden green,
   Down on the roof so brown—
Up in the air I go flying again,
   Up in the air and down!

We’d kick off from the ground, and then lean forward and back to gain momentum. The goal was to get so high the chains snapped. We had no fear of the supports lifting off the ground as we did on the Jungle Gyms in our friends’ back yards.

Eventually, we allowed the swing to lose momentum—usually because others were waiting for a turn. None of us ever dragged our feet to stop the swing, however. When we deemed it safe, we leapt off at the farthest point forward in the arc and landed (or tried to) on our feet. Sometimes I missed and ended up with skinned knees for my effort.

Opposite the swings was the ‘merry-go-round.’ It looked something like the one above. Each of us grabbed one of the metal bars and ran as fast as we could around the circle. When we reached a speed where we could no longer run, we threw ourselves onto the spinning platform and enjoyed the ride.

Next to the merry-go-round were the teeter-totters. Like the swings, these were long enough for the adults to use. Like the other play equipment, they were made of metal. Some kids could spend hours going up and down on them, but I was easily bored and lost interest after a short time.

During the summer, we spent a lot of our time in the cinder block shelter at the opposite end of the playground from the restrooms. This consisted of two side walls, a back, and a roof. Inside, several permanent tables provided seating. However, during the summer, we were offered an array of crafts. For a small amount to cover the cost of the materials, we could spend days creating wonderful objects. They often became gifts for our parents. I presume the program was run by the Parks & Recreation department, but the specific instructors remain faceless and nameless.

Every kid in the neighborhood carried a skate key. The challenge was where to carry it since some of our clothing didn’t have pockets. Soon all of us had created lanyards from plastic string on which to keep our keys. Some created several in different colors to match our clothing. We also made square keychains. I’m sure our parents treasured those we created for them.

Some of my friends still remember basket weaving at the park. I remember the tubs of wet reeds, but I suspect the baskets were more expensive, and we couldn’t afford them.

I do remember using a manual drill to twist crepe paper into colored rope. We then glued the rope to old bottles to make vases and candle holders. Another treasured gift for our parents.

I recall painting plaster knickknacks. We carted our masterpieces home after the instructor sprayed them with a clear sealer. Since my mother saved very little, they decorated the house for a short while and then disappeared while we were at school.

We also took thin sheets of copper and traced designs on them. Then with a burnishing tool, we embossed them to give the designs dimension. Afterward, we painted them with paint that resembled tinted clear nail polish. I think I mounted a set on blocks of wood as bookends, but like most everything else, they eventually disappeared.

We made things with leather, too. We bought a pre-cut piece of leather, then used leatherworking tools to make a pattern. I made a comb case. Once the design was complete, we used a leather thong to lace the sides together. Now that might have been worth keeping…

Unlike today, when playgrounds are covered with foam or rubber matting, ours was straight dirt. Once in a while, the groundskeepers smoothed out the surface—especially under the swings, where dragging feet made grooves. No one seemed overly concerned about our safety. I’m sure children probably sustained injuries, but we didn’t hear about them.

I know lots of the kids who grew up in the area have equally vivid memories of the time we spent at the park and the playground.

What are your favorite summer memories from childhood?


  1. Yeah... home for us during the summer. I'm sure my mom was happy to have the park nearby!!

  2. Yeah... home for us during the summer. I'm sure my mom was happy to have the park nearby!!

    1. I'm sure all the moms did. We took it for granted. It wasn't until I became an adult and a parent that I realized how extraordinary our childhoods were.

  3. I always remember in the summer in the mornings there was always a sand lot ball game. and in the fall the Sunday afternoon Football games. They could get really ruff. And more then one person broke something. Those game Would show if you you were a man or kid

  4. Thanks for helping me bring back some memories like using wax paper on the slides and making those lanyards out of plastic strips! My name is Susan Bonander Popenoe I was in AHS class of '62! I couldn't figure out how the "comment as" choice works!

  5. Hi, Susan! You were in Larry's class. Glad it brought back good memories.

  6. Thanks, Lorna for bringing back all of the wonderful park memories. I too remember the wax paper on the slides. We had a Springer Spaniel that was good at climbing up ladders and we had Duke climb up the slide ladder and then slide down. I don't think he realized what was at the top of the ladder and the ride down was his last! We couldn't convince him to do it twice. I think we all jumped out of the swings and I got pretty good at it until I tried it on the Larson's swing set next door and broke my elbow by doing a rough landing. :( I wish kids today could have the freedoms we had. Doing crafts at the park kept us busy for hours and most likely gave our mothers that down time they needed.

    1. I don't ever remember seeing a dog on the slides, but sounds like this was a one-time event!

  7. Thanks, Lorna, for memories of "Day Camp" at Granada Park. We also made a sort of "hot plate" out of interwoven ice cream sticks. I'm not sure our mom's treasured them, but they tried to look appreciative! Way over at the opposite (northwest) end of the park, there was a beautiful rose garden. Our first grade teacher at Marguerita (Miss Olson/aka Mrs. Gough) took us to that part of the park for a picnic near the end of school but warned us little tykes to keep from those thorny bushes. Years later, in eighth grade, we celebrated our graduation with a party at the park's clubhouse on top of the hill.

    Thanks again for jogging our memories,
    Lee Nichols

    1. i forgot about the ice cream sticks. I think we also glued them around a can and painted them to be used as pencil cups.

  8. Great post, Lorna. I had forgotten most of those details about the playground, but they came back to me as you described them. That photo of you at the park is how I remember you from grade school at Marguerita. That area near the intersection of Garvey and Atlantic that you called "the gully" we called "the swamp". We used to catch tadpoles there and then take them home, put them in tubs of water, and watch them mature into frogs. All of those frogs hopping around in the back yard presented a problem, though. since we always had a lot of cats that enjoyed chasing after them, so we ended up either giving the frogs to cat-free people or returning them to the swamp.

    1. Most of the kids on my street spent a lot of time playing with the frogs and snakes. Not this kid!