(A short story I wrote for a creative writing class in college. In honor of Father’s Day.)
The old rugged tree stands ominous in a sea of weeds. The branches have clearly weakened in their age. The gnarled twigs twist toward the ground, falling from destiny. The years left for this tree are limited, and the leaves have long ago disappeared.
The longest of the branches, seemingly unaffected by the years of weathering, supports two ropes. The tattered ropes extend from the branch of the tree to a couple of feet from the earth. The ropes are frayed down to the bitter ends. At the end of one of the knotted ropes hangs two pieces of plywood, barely connected.
The old swing sways in the light breeze, the rotted wood refusing to fall. The mass of weeds underneath the swing had once been an oval of dirt created by the soles of a child’s shoe.
The swing had been handmade, making it much more valuable than the fancy store-bought kind. It had been carefully nailed together, and it was beautiful. Each day it would carry her away. Lifting her higher and higher, it supported her dreams and diminished her doubts. That swing was a rocket to her future. It took her far away from her loneliness. With each pass under the branch she would attempt to get higher, hoping one day to touch the sky.
The swing had been her fantasy, she had wanted it for a while. Her father knew he could not afford it, but how do you explain that to a child? He would take her to the park each day to play on those wonderful swings. As she ascended into the air, her giggle began to echo. Her happiness was important, and his poverty disgusted him.
So one day out in the barn he invited her to play. He handed her two pieces of wood and said, “We will build you a swing today!” As she squealed with delight the two conquered their task. When at last they had finished, they took along some rope and set out to find the perfect tree.
They arrived at the largest tree around, and she knew this would be the one. She could hardly wait to sit on that swing and swing into the sun. First her father tied a rope to each end of the swing. He then began to climb the tree to tie the rope to the branch.
As he climbed higher into the tree, he remembered the days of his youth. He had climbed this tree many times as a boy, and it had become his favorite. Seeing the delight on his little girl’s face meant the world to him. Her excitement and anticipation made him smile in self-satisfaction. As he tied the second rope to the branch, he gave a securing tug to the knot. The swing lifted majestically into the air as the little girl gave a clap, “You did it, daddy!” she squealed. As he descended the trunk of the tree, the little girl was already seated on the swing. He hurried over to push her, but it did not take that much. For he had already taught her how to swing. As she pumped her legs in and out she reached higher in the air. She looked so beautiful with the wind blowing through her hair.
That little girl turned sixteen today, and the legacy of the swing is living on, but there is a different man pushing from behind. Daddy does not like him, says, “he is not good enough.” She is “in love” as teenagers claim, and heeds not what her father says. Blissfully she carries her courtship throughout her high school years. Never realizing the true man who remains through her laughter and her tears.
That twenty two year old woman got married today, to her beloved high school sweetheart. As her daddy walked her down the aisle, he gave a little tug. “Are you sure this is what you want to do, because you can change your mind,” he asked her in a whisper. She replied, “Daddy, I love this man, and soon you will too, because you are bound to realize, daddy, he is just like you.” A tear rolled down his wrinkled cheek as she gave him a hug. From that day on he got along with his son-in-law. He came to realize what she had said was true, because they did have a lot in common. She was their greatest love.
Daddy’s little girl became a mother today, and Grandpa could not be more proud. His granddaughter is as bald as he is, and as beautiful as her mother. The man could not wait until the baby was old enough to have her turn on the swing, for he knew this day would come.
The little girl turned three today, and wanted to play on that swing. Her parents stood close by as Grandpa gave her a reassuring nudge. He set her softly onto the wood, and gave her a slow push. Her giggle illuminated the old tree, identical to the way her mother used to. She had not yet learned the art of swinging, but he would teach her soon enough.
The old man died today, and his daughter could not be more devastated. The tree had long ago shown evidence of its withering spirit. She went to visit it one last time after her father passed away. She reached the tree and fell to her knees in despair. The tree that had been her father’s playground, now wept in his honor. The branch that had withstood almost a century of nature, could not bear this latest disaster. The branch had fallen to the ground, and the hand-crafted swing lay beneath it.
The woman reached over to free the swing from its trap. The swing, miraculously, remained in tact. She smiled at the memory of her daddy’s tired hands that day in the shed. How hard he had worked to make the construction project seem effortless. Now, years later, she held the swing in her own hangs. The legacy remained unbroken, and if she had anything to do with it, the swing would stay that way.
She gave the tree one last reassuring pat as she walked away. She took the swing back to her house and her own daughter. She had the perfect tree in mind for the swing. As she was hanging up the swing, her daughter came bouncing out of the house. “Mommy,” she said, “will you push me on the swing?” With a tear in her eye, the woman laughed, “Sure, honey.”
As she pushed her daughter higher into the air, the little girl’s laugh once again echoed. The woman could almost hear her father laughing in unison. “Mommy,” said the little girl bringing the mother out of her memory, “You’re the best swing-pusher I know.” The mother gave the only appropriate reply, “I learned from the best.”