Daily Inkling Prompt: Backtracking
“You return to your hometown or community after five years of being away. Give us a rundown as you rediscover things place-by-place with new eyes.”
The last time I stepped foot on the Biddeford Primary School playground, I was around seven years old, in the second grade, and was getting ready to move on to our local elementary school. I hadn’t been back to my hometown, nestled along the coast of southern Maine, in just over five years, but decided to return home to surprise my mom over summer break, and bring my husband and four-year-old son for visit. It was their first time seeing the ocean, and it had been impossible to pull them away from the sandy beaches and sunshine the entire trip.
I was nursing a pretty brutal sunburn, and made the decision to skip the beach trip, and visit some of my old, favorite spots around town instead. I wrestled with the task of creating a mental list of local destinations for an hour, and eventually decided to start at one of the places that I spent the most time at as a child: the primary school playground.
I drove to the old school, nestled in the heart of the town. It looked exactly like I had remembered. The playground was located around the side and back of the school, on a large plot of land. The biggest playground I’ve ever known, even still to this day. I walked up the familiar, paved road that wrapped around the building, following the large, painted tiger paw prints that are spread across the pavement, each with a classroom number painted on it. I can still remember where all three of my classes’ paw prints are from my days at that school. The only thing that I immediately noticed was different was a large, beautiful sensory garden, right next to a set of school doors that were only a few feet away from where my second grade classrooms had been.
The playground was as massive and enchanting as I remembered. The main feature was a large, wooden structure, that was probably as long as a football field, but wrapped in a “U” shape. It contained wobbly bridges, rope swings, giant tired for climbing, stairs and stages for climbing, and multi-level castle, wooden structures at both ends. Even as a 29-year-old woman, I wanted nothing more than to run from end to end. Scattered inside the wooden “U” castle structure was a series of other, wooden features made for climbing. A large, wooden firetruck, a train, more tires, some balancing beams, and some more steps and stages. All along the outer fringes of the playground were swings, tire swings, zip lines, and slides, including the same, 12 foot, tower slide that I remembered fondly, with the wide, metal slide, big enough for five or six kids to go down side-by-side.
Everything was exactly the same.
Behind the large slide, tucked into the back area of the playground, was a sitting area, with long, wooden benches, around a wooden stage, nestled in the forest at the base of some tall cliffs. One thing I always loved about the playground was that there were no fences. The playground, and back of the school, was mostly surrounded by thick, Maine forests, and rocky cliffs. It just screamed “Maine” to me. It was rustic, and beautiful, and made for some great adventures growing up.
I climbed up onto the old, wooden stage, and looked out at the empty benches. I remembered fondly how my friends and I would dance and sing, and put on little shows for all of our school friends. Suddenly, I felt a bit emotional, remembering how carefree and happy I was as a child, and how stressful life had become as I grew older. Even though I was elated to be standing on the magical playground that I had spent so many years playing on, I couldn’t fully enjoy it. I was too tall to play in the castles, too heavy to swing on the swings, or use the zip lines, and definitely too weak to climb the ladders, or use the monkey bars. I was older now. Heavier, weaker, with much less energy. Although the playground looked exactly how I remembered it from over 20 years ago, I had changed. I had grown up.
With a mix of emotions that I couldn’t quite describe, I left the playground, and began heading back to my hotel room to wait for my husband and son to get back from the beach. As I took one last look at the playground over my shoulder, I smiled, and made a mental note to take my son there tomorrow. I knew that he would love it, just as I had.