The Swing

by Jack Van der Meulen

Steefenie Wicks began writing for the Sausalito Historical Society in October, 2012.  It is now 2016 and she’s embarking on her 50th story for the town of Sausalito and the Historical Society.  It should be noted that she is not the first waterfront writer from Galilee Harbor who has written for the Historical Society; both Thomas Hoover and Jack Van der Meulen came before.  Both were founding members of the Historical Society, and like Steefenie, both were founding members of this 32-year-old organization called the Galilee Harbor Community Association.

Recently, Jack visited his old community and when he returned home he remembered this piece.  He emailed Steefenie, “Came across one of my old ‘Elephant Walk’ columns and fell in love again with the years spent at Galilee – so wandered around the harbor a bit last week and hence I had to send the column as an ode to the tenacity over the years of difficulty. “  

Galilee Harbor group shot 1986 (Jack Van der Muelen front left) Photo BY Steefenie Wicks

Galilee Harbor group shot 1986 (Jack Van der Muelen front left)
Photo BY Steefenie Wicks

The article, entitled The Swing, written and published in Marin Scope in December of 1986, recounts a whimsical tale of how an everyday swing was installed at Galilee Harbor, as told through the eyes of a writer/poet like Jack:

The Swing

Otto built the first community swing.  He banged up the support out of old but sturdy 2x8’s.  He used cheap poly-pro rope, which was knotted to hold up the seat board.  Subsequent adjustments and repairs were made by using a variety of knots.  As many kinds of knots as there were mariner fathers in the Harbor.

As can be imagined, over the years the many knots weakened the ropes so badly that about a week ago, the pleasant pastime began to unravel completely.

Little Jennifer said, “Fix my swing.”  Little Sarah asked, “When will my swing be fixed?”  Very little Rose burled, pouted and waved her hand where the swing board used to be.  Siri visited and inquired, “I was hoping to swing?”  Young Jonah declared, “I don’t want the swing fixed, it is more appropriate for a boy to be climbing well knotted hanging ropes.”

It was the Saturday of Jonah’s 8th birthday.  Also a neighborhood workday – a day for fixing swings.  We pointed out that there were more girls around than boys.  We reminded him that in the afternoon there would be a party in his honor with balloons, cake, songs of commendation and accomplishment.  Later there would be a bridge birthday party with fireworks across the evening sky.  We asked, “Surely a repaired swing won’t ruin such a wonderful day for you?”

Jonah returned with a gang – his gang.  We were in the middle of establishing galvanized eyebolts into the crossbeam.  We were splicing new rope around timbales.  Suddenly the boys began to chant in chorus,” We demand climbing ropes with massive knots.  We demand triple strand three quarter inch caliber Dacron rope for its strength the and durability – as we ourselves have been installed into a grim and fearsome world and have deep concerns about our individual and collective security.  We demand an opportunity to place a modicum of faith in at least playground equipment.  It is the very least the adult world can do.  It is at least something.”

But we went ahead and put up a real classic swing anyway.  We used five-eighths caliber triple strand nylon rope.  We seized all the splices and gusseted the seat bottom.  It was not quite all up spec, but the best we could do within the budgetary constraints.

When it was all accomplished, the little girls came by.  They asked if we might orient the swing in the most scenic direction.  “We have been installed into an ugly and chaotic world,” they cried in unison. “The very least the adult world can do for us is to orient our pastimes in the most pleasing direction possible – we have grave fears about overall ugliness and creeping chaos and confusion.  We expect a gesture of aesthetic concern.”

So we conscripted four strong fathers and we twisted the whole affair around so as to face the finest motif in the Harbor.  A motif favored by photographers and itinerant watercolorists.  It contained in order of diminishing perspective: An infant oak.  A handsome old Tugboat.  The open water of the bay.  The place on the horizon where the moon most often comes up.

Finally, on Sunday, we added a climbing rope for the boys.  We pooled personal resources and brought triple strand, three quarter inch caliber Dacron rope for its strength and durability.  We used galvanized hardware.  Then we cajoled the top marlinspike in the Harbor to tie elaborate but firm knots into the rope.

We were pleased.  Everyone seemed quite pleased.

Jack’s Note: As should be obvious, certain liberties of transcription have been taken in this column: particularly as regards the choral lyrics attributed to the children.  It has been done to protect innocence.

Steefenie’s Note: The history of a place is kept alive in the people who live and work there.   The Sausalito waterfront is rich in the heritage that it has been able to maintain.  Without the rich archives of the waterfront, stories like this would be lost forever.