The Pumpkin Patch sits on top of Signal Mountain tucked safely behind Walden Town Hall just outside of Chattanooga. It’s our favorite playground. Ever. There are zip wires, little slides, bigger slides and the daddy of all slides. There are four or five swing sets, play places for little ones and big ones, a covered picnic area, drinking fountains and a bathroom. It was forty-five minutes from our house when we lived in Tennessee and we scaled the mountain from time to time to play under the shady trees. We miss it.
We had been scouring the land for a good playground somewhere near Smallville for about nine months when an acquaintance asked me if we had discovered the wooden playground just a few miles from Stuart’s work. We hadn’t due to the intricate road layout in the Land Flowing With Milk and Honey.
"You should definitely take the kids there. It's a great playground."
I had her repeat the directions a few times and on the next grocery day we traveled a few minutes off the beaten path and pulled into a gravel parking lot where swings and slides and wooden bridges shimmered in the 107 degree heat. We didn’t get out but made plans to come back when the temperature dipped low enough to allow for breathing.
It’s been several months and the children have anxiously waited for the thermometer to drop into the eighties. It finally did and last Thursday we pulled into the same gravel parking lot. The three little ones were quivering with excitement with visions of the Pumpkin Patch etched in their little heads.
I, on the other hand, was watching a Mustang Convertible come squealing up behind me in my rear view mirror. He pulled into a parking space in a swirl of dust. Two teenage girls came giggling over to the car wearing shirts that might have fit them comfortably four or five years ago. They decorated the driver’s side door and pulled out their cigarettes. I considered my options. Well, I didn’t really have any options because I had promised and the kids had waited for months and we were finally here and I couldn’t very well tell them, “Sorry guys, creepy people to starboard.” So we got out.
We walked through the gate and under the archway and the kids made a beeline for a dragon made out of tires. They scrambled to the top and and a little girl named Alyssa came over to watch. I know her name was Alyssa because she told me.
“What’s your name?”
I was distracted helping Charlie clamber up the dragon and I thought she was talking to Faith. “That’s Faith and this is Charlie and that is Claire,” I told her.
“No. What is your name?”
“Oh, I’m Alyssa.”
Charlie made it safely to the top so I turned to look at her for a minute. She was the same size as Faith with white blond hair and dirty bare feet. “Hi Alyssa. Who are you here with?”
“My brother.” She pointed to a middle school kid sitting in the only square foot of shade on the playground. “And my sister.” One of the giggling girls I had met on my way in.
“How old are you?”
“I’m seven. I’m in second grade.”
“Oh, so you are the same age as Faith.”
“How old are you?”
“Wow! That’s old! My grandmother’s thirty-nine.”
Thanks kid. I needed that boost of self-esteem.
I lifted Charlie off the dragon and we went over to the tire hammock. Alyssa came too.
“Everybody climb on. I’ll push you.”
Charlie fought his way into a secure position. The girls hopped on and I rocked the swing. Charlie leaned back. Then he rolled over and licked the tire.
“Charlie! Don’t lick that! That’s disgusting!”
"Yes. It has germs."
“Yeah! My little brother threw up on this swing once. Right there.” Alyssa pointed to the exact spot that Charlie had just licked clean.
That did it for the hammock. Everyone rolled off the swing and began to crawl through the tire tunnel. Alyssa crawled right after Charlie. “My brother pooped in this tunnel once.”
You’ve got one gross brother kid. “Who wants to swing?”
Everybody did. We walked over to the swing set where we discovered that the sun had baked ripples into the plastic seats. I eased Charlie onto a swing and gave him a few test pushes. The swing held. I pushed harder.
“Once when I sat on that swing it broke.”
“I can see why. They don't seem too sturdy do they?”
We moved onto the telephone tubes and the tic-tac-toe game that was set up sideways so the X’s and O’s rolled from the positions we put them in. We held our pieces in place as we played.
Mercifully, the minutes ticked by and finally it was time to say goodbye to the playground and the giggling girls and our little tour guide.
"That was fun, Mama! Can we come back again next week?"
" Next week, I think we just go back to McDonald’s and get a milkshake. It will be healthier."