It takes hearts, and bolts, to build a playground
I had the worst vacation of my life last week.
And the best.
On the negative side of the ledger I list the common ailments of a manual laborer whose skill with even basic hand tools is so meager as to be dangerous to passers-by.
I refer here to myself.
I tweaked a tendon or a ligament or anyway some part of my right wrist while shoveling gravel into a wheelbarrow.
I gashed my left arm on a section of plastic fencing whose ends ought to have been labeled “Ginsu.”
I almost glued two fingers together.
(My own fingers, fortunately.)
Yet the aches dissipated, and with a speed no salve or balm could match, the instant on Friday, May 16 when I glanced over at the new playground in Geiser-Pollman Park and saw that children were climbing every ladder and careening down every slide.
There was an insectile quality to the scene that reminded me of nothing so much as a colony of ants which has just discovered the remnants of a discarded ham sandwich.
Except ants don’t shriek with glee as they twirl inside a spinning plastic capsule or crawl through a tunnel.
I nearly laughed aloud as I watched that rarest of spectacles: undistilled joy.
It was the sort of moment you hope gets stored in the memory lobe that is the brain’s equivalent of a Blu-Ray disc.
There is it seems to me a unique pleasure — indeed, it’s a privilege — to be associated with a project that will delight many generations of children.
This is true even when your contribution is so slight as to be imperceptible, as mine surely was to the Playground Project.
I am terribly biased in this matter, to be sure. My wife, Lisa, along with Megan Fisher, came up with the idea to build a modern, fun and much safer playground. And over more than two years they have shepherded it from a mere idea to the steel-and-plastic reality that lured dozens of kids to the park last weekend and no doubt will do so until I’m well along in my dotage.
Yet I feel not a shred of guilt in being biased, because my bias is absent any exaggeration.
Although dozens of people helped both with the planning and with last week’s flurry of construction at Geiser-Pollman, including parks director Joyce Bornstedt and other city officials, it is beyond dispute that the playground would not stand were it not for Lisa’s and Megan’s efforts.
The cynical side of my personality insists that I acknowledge the almost formulaic flavor of this story. We’ve all read about dedicated mothers, concerned about their own kids, who conquered apathy and bureaucracy to accomplish something that benefits everyone’s kids.
It’s almost an archetype of small town life — the coin drive or bake sale writ large.
But this in no way diminishes the reality of what happened last week in Geiser-Pollman Park. And I’m not so cynical as to be emotionally obtuse about watching this dream of two years and dozens of meetings and hundreds of hours of volunteer toil come finally to fruition amid the squeals of youngsters.
I can only hope cynicism never overwhelms my humanity such that I can’t smile at these sights and sounds, and wonder whether the smile will turn to tears.
I wrote a bit earlier that I felt privileged to be involved with the Playground Project, and after considering the matter while crafting the ensuing paragraphs I can’t come up with a more apt word.
I feel a trifle guilty, though, for claiming even that.
Other than tossing around some gravel and hefting a few support poles into place (and almost gluing two fingers together; can’t forget that), I contributed nothing to the endeavor.
A few people have asked me whether I was relieved that the playground was finally finished, the implication, or so it seemed to me, being that now I would get my wife, and my normal life, back.
It’s a reasonable question, to which I gave noncommittal answers.
But the truth is that Lisa managed somehow to oversee this immense project without sacrificing anything but her own free time, something she has no surplus of.
Neither I nor our kids, Olivia and Max, suffered. Instead we bask in the glow of her achievements.
Sure, I could give you a tour of the playground, could point to screws I tightened and platforms I helped to hold in place while they were leveled.
But those are mere details — the mechanical minutiae that could have been completed by robots.
You need more than bolts and brackets, sockets and cement, to build a playground.
You need love and commitment, the ingredients that Lisa and Megan contributed and that are the true foundation for this wonderful addition to Baker City’s public spaces.
The rest of us put our backs and arms (and, possibly, ligaments) into the new playground.
Lisa and Megan put in their hearts.
Jayson Jacoby is editor