We called it “Radio Park” because of the radio tower. It seemed impossible that you couldn’t climb that radio tower when you looked at how teeny-tiny the triangulated rungs became near the airplane light at the top. You could see that light from my brother’s bedroom window.
Radio park typically stood empty, unless one of us brought a friend. People walked by with their dogs, or used it for a shortcut to get from Larkin to Glenway. Most of the time it seemed to serve more as a landmark than a destination “Go to the top of Larkin and turn right on Plymouth Circle by the park.” We knew that reservoir meant water, and I pictured the big plateau in the center of the park like I pictured a camel’s hump–a hill of grass with a big watery-center. Still, all we saw was a hill and the water part still doesn’t figure to me to this day.
A playground lay at the base of the reservoir, and a slide made for transportation top -to-bottom. The perimeter grew thick with brush all around—ready for dogs to adventure or people that didn’t mind burrs.
As a preschooler I put my belly across the hard plastic swings and pushed with my feet. As a kindergartner I learned to sit and pump my legs–too scared for under-ducks. As a grade-schooler I braved standing on the swing, or tangled the chains around each other tight until I’d let go and spin like the circus lady aerialist. Sometimes we pushed each other so high we thought we might flip over the top. In middle school we forwent the swings, holding on to their foundation poles, flipping ourselves over and choreographing routines.
The playground also had a swinging gate and a see-saw that would land you hard if your partner got off at the wrong time Trying to balance a see-saw makes hard physics for little kids, and perfect physics for older brothers to little sisters–BOOM.
I lived on the Larkin side of the park, and my friend Emily lived on the Glenway side of the park–beyond a secret gate with a trail that led directly into her backyard. I walked that path to pick her up on our mile-and-a-quarter walk to school, and ran back down in reverse after our playdates—sometimes even after dark when I could barely make out the trees. My heart thumped with one big-breath-of-a-start from the trail, through the gate, past the see-saw, and the swings to the safety of the streetlight. Then another big breath for the two short blocks around the curve and up my front lawn.
Back to the slide. The slide!! A long double-slide with a divider for two kids side-by-side, racing straight down. You had to climb up a wooden plank with rungs—holding on to the chain all the way up. You could do a somersault (more choreography) over the top of the pole, land on your butt, then fly down. You could plummet head first and land in the sand pit. If you wore short-shorts your skin acted like breaks and even squeaked sometimes. If no one else was waiting, you could use the bottom of the slide for your recliner, and bake in the sun and look up at cloud shapes and the radio tower. Couldn’t we climb it? I mean, the bottom triangles are huge–we’d need a ladder–but then a total cinch, right?
One day my friend Katy and I saw a man wearing only running shorts and I think touching himself on the reservoir. I don’t even know what we saw, and I can’t really be sure because we ran and ran and ran. But I still remember it.
Sometimes, the swings became a place to run to in a rage–to sit and cry.
The very last and very vicious childhood fight I had with my brother took place at the reservoir–the kind of power struggle that can drive even high-schoolers to tears. I don’t recall the details, but I do recall that my friend Chelsea and his friend Nick witnessed the whole thing.
Now the playground is gone. The swings and the slide and the seesaw and the gate. That house off of Plymouth Circle-the one I grew up in–belongs to a young family now. The reservoir and the radio tower remain for the child who lives there to wonder about, watching the light at the top of the tower from his or her bedroom window.
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