The huge poplar tree just outside our front-yard fence was almost always filled with birds and kids. It stood on the bank of a large irrigation canal, and with plenty of water it grew to more than 60 feet high.
A large limb reached far out over the canal, and from it hung a long strong rope that had come from the old hay derrick. We could pull the rope over to the bank, grab hold of it just above the knot, and swing across to the other side. Those of us who were really good could sail out over the canal in a wide half-circle and land on the bank on the other side of the tree.
On hot summer days it was great fun to swing out over the canal, let go of the rope, and splash into the cool, slow-moving water. Kids from all over the valley gathered at the tree to swing and swim.
Our place was located at a crossroads, and the kids from the north road and Baker Lane met there to catch the school bus. They all had a good time on the swing. One morning, little Jamie wanted to try the big rope over the canal. One of the kids showed him how to hang onto the rope, pulled him back, and let him swing across; another kid caught him and sent him back. He thought it was great fun.
"The bus is coming!" someone yelled. We all ran over to line up and get on - except Jamie. No one noticed that he had decided to try the big swing by himself. He pushed off from the bank, went about half-way across, swung back, crashed into the tree, and dropped into the canal. When he screamed, everybody ran for the bridge. He could dog paddle a little and was keeping his head above water. I got to the bridge in time to grab him by his shirt and pull him out. He was plenty scared, but the bus driver checked him over and said he was OK.
He told Jamie that he couldn't go to school all wet, so Jamie picked up his lunch and headed up the lane.
When we got off the bus in the afternoon, Jamie's mother was waiting. She was really young for a mother, and very pretty. She could do about anything on the ranch: drive equipment, handle horses, pitch hay with anybody, and pick up a sack of grain and toss it on a truck. She had a pinto horse that could run like the wind and she liked to race the guys; she could beat most of them. She was always smiling and friendly, and I liked her a lot.
She sure wasn't smiling when I got off the bus, though. She said it was my fault that Jamie almost drowned and that at 13, I should have been more responsible.
I started to explain, but she didn't want to listen. She said the swing was unsafe and that she was going to the house to tell my father that it must be taken down.
I told her Dad was at a Hereford auction and wouldn't be home until tomorrow.
She looked up at the rope and said, "How can you call that ragged old thing a swing, and how could you possibly have fun on it?"
"I'll show you." I took the rope, swung across the canal, touched on the bank, and came back. Then I gave it my best shot. I ran out from the tree, pushed off from the bank, sailed in a wide arc, and landed on the other side of the tree. Coming back, I twirled once over the water and made a perfect landing. I laid the rope over the fence.
She picked it up, held it with both hands, looked up into the tree and out across the canal. Then she laid it back on the fence and said, "I've got to be getting home."
I told her I was sorry about Jamie but he wasn't hurt and he swam well enough that he could have gotten out of the canal by himself. I promised her I would look after him and see that he played only on the small swing in the yard. I don't believe she heard me. How could a grown-up understand about swinging on a rope anyhow? The swing was doomed.
LATER that night, just after dark, I had to run an errand to Uncle Rob's place down the road. As I went out the front gate, I noticed a shadow moving down by the big tree. I thought I should check it out. As I came near, there was enough moonlight so I could tell somebody was on the swing. And when I came a little closer, I couldn't believe it. It was Jamie's mother. She took a couple of running steps, sailed out in a perfect circle, and landed like a feather. Coming back, she took off, twirled around in the air twice, and made another perfect landing. She was good!
Perhaps a grown-up mother could understand. I backed away quietly and went down the road, leaving her twirling and soaring high over the canal.