the pleasantest thing

I was working-tap,tapping away at my computer, windows open, dinner cooking, wine poured. Typically a quiet time of day, the normal sounds of summer had suddenly risen to a boisterous pitch. Across the street, over a stone wall, and up a grassy hill, four children were swinging in their backyard. From where I was sitting in the dining room I could see them, and oh were they swinging.  Obviously deep in the throes of competition, they were going as high as they could, yelling to one another gleefully. The instant that I looked up and saw them I was awash with the remembrance of that soaring, thrilling feeling on my yellow swing at Alconleigh.

Over, above and almost around-It was a homemade swing, my father built it from sturdy materials of longevity. Thick chains, hanging from a large piece of timber that was secured to the trees with massive bolts. The seat was a large chunk of wood sanded smooth and painted yellow with real oil based paint that wouldn’t peel, chip, or weather.

The pine trees it hung from soared up forever into the sky, trees that had been standing there for a century before they became the sentinels to my yellow swing. Something about the height of those trees made the swinging seem small, that no matter how high you could get you still were only frolicking around at their bases.


That feeling of freedom encouraged my mind to wander and though I paid not the slightest bit of attention to my safety, instinctively I held tight, managing to  stay with the swing even when the seat came out from under me at the highest peak when, upside down with feet pointed toward the sky, the chains would slacken and the swing start to fall back on itself. This only added to the thrill.

photo 2(2)
the only picture I could find. not very clear but you can see little Bebe flying low,  the barns of Alconleigh in the background and the corner of the dollhouse to the right

Occasionally we would jump off rather than come to a stop, arms and legs flailing to get the most  of the brief moment between swing and ground. I only see unsupervised children do that now.

And the space trolly was the cats pajamas.

photo 1(3)
My Uncle gives my cousin a ride. That little squidget now lives in Manhattan, teaches fourth grade in the Bronx and has a little squidgett of her own. My younger brother, on the right, now has two little squidgetts and has taken to wearing shirts

Despite the picture, this was for older kids only as it was frought with dangers from which little tots could not protect themselves. We were warned: keep hands away from the cables or fingers could get cut off, dont bounce or the cables could rip out of the tree and slice our heads off..the  warnings were dire. It was not for the faint of heart. Should you twist around the wrong way you would go crashing through the rhodedendron or careening into the rough bark of a sturdy pine. But all these dangers only enhanced the feeling of freedom as you flew 100 feet across the yard. No helmets, no knee or elbow pads just scrapes and bruises and exhilaration.

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!
The Swing, Robert Louis Stevenson

14 thoughts on “the pleasantest thing

  1. What a lovely memory so beautifully told you share sending my mind racing back to that age of innocence. Yes, of course I was one of those boys who would launch themselves catapult style just before the swing reached its apex to show all the neighborhood girls what swashbucklers we were.


  2. My best memory of swinging was when Hunter and I, in college, went to a park. On the upswing his swing broke and launched him up, out and flat on his back. He had had back surgery probably a year or two earlier. I literally had to crawl to him, I was laughing so hard trying not to pee my pants. He was f.i.n.e. I still chuckle.


  3. Wonderfully written memories of childhood Bebe. I too had a swing in my garden as a child. However, actually swinging on it was not the dangerous part. No, I managed to crack my head open, requiring stitches, while sitting on the swing when stationary. I was busy fiddling with an unopened packet of candy cigarettes, tugging at the wrapper, when suddenly I lost my balance, hitting my head on the stone pavers. I know smoking is deleterious to one’s health, but this is ridiculous!


    1. Oh dear! did you tell the doctor that it was a swinging accident or a smoking accident?
      You must have looked like quite the tear-away swinging away, cigarette dangling from the corner of your mouth and a bandage around your head. We would have been great friends


  4. Mrs. Bebe
    That is simply a wonderful retelling of a wonderful childhood memory. The imagery is so southern, with the pines, and the white outbuildings. I absolutely loved the space cable, still do. My sister has one for her children and I have no problem pushing the little tykes out of the way, so I can take yet another ride.

    The swing your father put together is/was magical. The first thing I thought of was how he suspended it from a pine tree. Then I saw the picture. Then I saw the brace. Then I smiled…


    1. Dearest GF
      Thank you for your kind words. Especially today as I awoke in a funk-does that ever happen to you? Much better now and feel validated by your mention of usurping the childrens space trolley because I was in the backyard this morning scouting locations for one. Would that be strange, do you think? -zipping across the canopy of Woodcock Pocket at my age?


      1. Darling no, not strange at all, after all we’ve earned the right to be kids again, just try not to zip around after three or four French 75’s. At our age, that might not be such a good idea, landing does seem a bit harder these days! Funks do appear, fortunately not lasting too terribly long. My blessing, or curse, is the ability to see humor everywhere, in everything. I can assure you, the older I get; the more I depend on that personality trait.

        Oh, when speeding along on the space cable, make sure to say hello to Toot and Puddle for me…


  5. What a beautful romantic way to start a modern novel!!

    “I was working-tap,tapping away at my computer, windows open, dinner cooking, wine poured. Typically a quiet time of day, the normal sounds of summer had suddenly risen to a boisterous pitch. Across the street, over a stone wall, and up a grassy hill, four children were swinging in their backyard. From where I was sitting in the dining room I could see them, and oh were they swinging.”

    You better be careful or some famous writer will nick your stuff off you. I go to two writing courses and that is the best “scene setting” I’ve ever read. Natural too.

    Swinging is like diving into a pool isn’t it. Immediately makes you feel free and ten again and you wonder why you’re not doing it every day.

    You were a very cute little Bebe too! Love that you have that photo. Our parents took walk and snap ones so most are quite fuzzy.


    1. Oh Jody-you quite take my breath away! Thank you for such a wonderful comment. That’s an inspiring time of day-relaxing, peaceful, mind wandering.
      Or maybe it was the wine.
      You are absolutely correct about ‘diving into a pool’! It transports one back to the mindset of a child-free, energetic and happy. Im still considering a space trolley for the back yard. Will you come over for a ride?


  6. New to your blog today. Such a lovely evocation of the bliss of a happy country childhood. Nowadays in cities, most children are so supervised and protected from risk that they don’t have the freedom of previous generations to explore their world and experience the thrills of swinging high. Of course really they’re lucky children, they’re loved and sheltered.
    When I was very small I lived with my grandmother for a while when my mother was ill. On weekends she let me wander alone in the bush, picking wildflowers. She warned about the dangers of snakes but let me go into the long grass anyway. Other times I played in the children’s park close by, quite unsupervised. It was usually full of unsupervised little boys who were desperately trying to swing hard and high enough to go “over the bars”. It was their dream. And they used to dare me to try and follow them. Being a silly little girl I used to try but could never succeed. Your post has brought back many memories. Pammie


    1. Welcome Pammie! Thank you for such a kind comment. I know what you mean-most children today are protected from the world to such a degree as to render them unprepared for adulthood, though it’s not always the fault of overprotective parents. The dangers seem different now, the hazards more menacing


  7. Hello, Darling Bebe,

    In the heady days of Summer where we now find ourselves, this is the most perfect of posts. How well we too can recall swinging high and higher as small children, never supervised as our parents were far too busy (doing what we now ask ourselves) for that. And, of course, the decision making process of when would be the perfect time to launch oneself on a trajectory of adventure and, often, injury, from a great height to the ground beneath. The freedom of movement, coupled with a freedom from responsibility made these the most wonderful days of childhood.

    And, how different it all seems to be today. Thankfully, you can still witness the unbridled enthusiasm of children on swings in your neighbourhood, absentee parents making for the perfect adventure. It seems to us that children are ever more closeted indoors, glued to computer screens or wrapped in cotton wool if they should venture outdoors. Perhaps the dangers are more intimidating or, are they simply perceived to be? Without children of our own, we know not.

    Whatever, you capture here so skilfully the childhoods that we certainly recognise and that made us who we are today…….


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