Monday, June 6, 2011

The Park Of My Dreams, The Island Of My Youth

My parent's home would probably win out as the setting for the majority of my childhood but a close second would be our county park in St. Marys, WV. Blog readers may recall my Water Babies post when I spoke lovingly of the county swimming pool where I waded away many a day and that pool is located at the Pleasants County Park. Kristy and I embarked on an ambitious (for us, anyway) walk through the park of our childhood.

The park is barely a block from our parent's homes and we headed out early to hit the trails. The main purpose of this walk for me was to catch some good photos as I was newly armed with photography tips from my friend Connie. The first buildings to appear are the Community Center building; once the Park School where I would spend my fifth grade year before we were moved to the Middle School in Belmont. This is where I had my first kiss; the one and only home run that I would hit in gym class at the baseball field and where we would wile away many a winter afternoon riding sleds behind the school. That baseball field would become Dave Wilson Field; named after a beloved teacher and coach and that building also held the concession stand once known as Dink's, where we would saunter down from the pool for Freeze-Pops, Push-ups, Chicko-Stix and Sprees.

Further up the hill was the almighty pool itself, painted a sky-blue that makes it as inviting as ever. Looking out over it kicks up a tsunami of memories and I could barely walk away from it as I was nearly overwhelmed by the flashbacks. I spent every day that I could at that pool and I would later work there as a lifeguard. I was also looking on with envy as the pool now features a megaslide that would have been a blast when we were kids....hell, it would be a blast now! On the other hand, we had a high dive and those are rare these days. Down the street a bit, we would discover the elaborate jungle gym in place of our old rusty monkey bars and swing set. Kristy wasted no time climbing on and I looked around; taking it all in and remembered spending a fair amount of time here as well.....I remember hanging here with my buds and Richie, Connie's brother, would bring his portable cassette player which always had a Seals and Crofts tape on it. To this day, if I hear "Diamond Girl", my mind drifts back to this play area.

As we started into the hills, I was struck by how majestic the trees felt. They had changed and grown so much and the park seemed more lush; almost tropical. I peered up toward my favorite shelter, Shelter No. 3, where my favorite birthday cookout was held; my ninth. We trudged up through the winding trails and the foliage became thicker as if they were bending down to protect us from the elements. We climbed higher and higher and my awe continued to grow with the climb; my fascination endless with the natural beauty that surrounded us. Finally, lungs heaving, we reached our main destination in the park: Gobbler's Knob; the summit. We then wound down carefully through the sunlit graveyard to Lover's Leap, the grand rock formations that provide one of the most breathtaking views in town. Its my favorite spot in the hills and I spent many a young moment here. The view still takes my breath away.

We wound back down through the park and headed for downtown. I shot a pic of a 6th street grave marker that's been around for many a moon and several blocks later, strolled past our old Elementary School before heading downhill into town. Once through town, we walked past the old Bank Barber Shop and soon hit the old bridge onto Ingram's Island, crossing the river inlet and moving down into more lush foliage. So lush in fact, that I had an alarming allergy attack during this part of the trek. It's still beautiful, though; this setting of my Senior Night graduation party, and its now a National Wildlife Refuge. We walked a fair amount of the tree-lined trail and enjoyed the occasional clearing, when the mighty Ohio river would come into view. As we left the island, I was feeling spent and relieved that this somewhat arduous journey was ending until Kristy reminded me that we still had to walk uphill to her home....I let out a few expletives and insisted that this was all a part of her evil plot.

All kidding aside, it was a great bonding morning with my longtime bestie Kristy. My girl's embarking on a new lease on life herself and this was the latest ambitious chapter in a healthier new life for her. She's well on her way....while I was fending off allergy attacks and a pair of glasses that started falling apart; she was unbowed in moving forward....literally on this day and figuratively in life. I could not be prouder of her.

She also reminded me that the county park of our childhood was a rare thing and she's right: I've lived in many other places that feature attractive local parks that are generally flat and open. Pleasants County Park is like a mini-state park; an enchanted forest all our own. This walk had another side effect that I hadn't planned on....

Earlier in the week, Kristy and I visited the graves of my father and sister and her mother on Memorial Day at Willow Island. This was my first graveside visit since Dad's burial. I found myself a bit choked up as I remembered that Father's Day was coming up.... the first since Dad passed and the anniversary of the day we buried my sister Mona; when Dad would lead us in prayer at her gravesite. I would later feel those spirits lift when Kristy and I realized that an alley separated her Mom Mary Alice's grave from Dad's grave....they were neighbors again, just as it was in real life; separated by an alley.

Keith would later remark to me that he was surprised that I sought a graveside visit. He and I agreed sometime ago that we wanted to be cremated and that grave markers weren't important to us. We agreed that a stone didn't mean that the person we loved was truly there....their spirit was with us and in the universe. I wanted to see the grave at least once and while I was overcome for a few minutes there; thinking back on it, I realized he was right. I felt far closer to Dad on my walk through the park. I had even commented during the walk that I was clearly out of Dad used to polish off this climb through the hills well into his 70's.

I felt his spirit throughout that walk, remembering my near slippage down some of the trails; Dad always attempting the monkey bars on Gobbler's Knob; me gasping for air even then as he barreled through, loving every minute of the exercise and the commune with nature. Once again, I was able to recapture Dad when he was at his best.

Dad's spirit is alive in Pleasants County Park and now again, after all of these years, so is mine.


Lisa Mandina said...

That looks like a very pretty park. So nice to go back to the places we remember.

Willie said...

One of the reasons I love reading your blog is that you somehow find your into my thoughts and feelings. Today you have masterfully accomplished this again! As you know, I lived my high school years just across the alley from the park; if you had asked me then, I would have claimed it as part of my backyard. The pool was my refuge away from home as an elementary aged child. And the Island was the best place for skinny-dipping! Thanks again for the wonderful trip down Memory Lane!

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Willie.... your blog really finds its way into my psyche. I absolutely loved this post.... the pictures are amazing and certainly bring the memories flooding back from my younger days. We were lucky to grow up in such a cool place......

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