When we were kids living in an old farmhouse in Rochester, Michigan, there was a tree way out in the back yard with a rope swing in it. It was the perfect rope swing. The rope was thick; probably not as thick as I remember, but holding it in my smaller hands, it was the perfect size to get a tight, two-fisted grasp around it that included elbows. The knot on the bottom was wide enough to accommodate both butt cheeks, but you could still lock your knees and legs around it for dear life. Picture someone trying to climb a rope, and that’s the form we seemed to take when we would first attempt the swing.
I’m third of 11 kids. I have an older brother and sister, and then a whole bunch of boys follow with another little girl thrown in for good measure. I was probably nine or 10 before I worked up the gumption to finally climb into the crotch of that tree and sidle out the thick limb that had the bark worn off from bottom after bottom sliding off into the air. I can still feel the trembling and the panic in my heart as I sat there terrified I would fall off waiting for someone to toss me the knot, praying I would catch it with my feet. Then, God help me, I had to pull my knees up and reach for the rope, all the while balancing and shaking like the leaves around me!
To their credit, my siblings were pretty good about urging me on, telling me I could do it. Looking back, they probably just wanted me to hurry up so they’d have a turn. I’d certainly been in that position before and not gone, so kudos to them for what I took for encouragement.
But that first time … Honestly, I can still feel my butt slowly slide off the branch while holding onto that rope like a baby chimp to it’s mother, my hair flying, hoping I wouldn’t swing back and hit the tree (never!), listening to the cheers of my brothers and sister. Heart pounding, a wide grin on my face, I savored my first flight down and out over the septic field, back and forth, finally slowing down and relaxing enough to trust my legs to hold me when I jumped off.
It was certainly a right of passage, an unquestionable confidence builder that perhaps led to my love of flying!