Let the children play

1 Sep

I slid down it. I sat on its wings. I walked along the top. I played hide and seek in it. I jumped off it. It was unlike anything else. Not a swing-set. Not a jungle-gym. Not a tidy playground toy.

It was, after all, an airplane, a Korean War-era fighter plane from the 1950s.

Growing up on Northwood Drive in the Town of Tonawanda, I lived around the corner from Kenney Field, where the big blue airplane in one corner of the field has always been a permanent fixture and something of a childhood right-of-passage.

Often I’d walk to the field with my brothers to play on the red caboose (which is no longer there) and climb the big blue airplane.

When I grew older, I took my baby sister to it, and together we scrambled over it, having as much fun as I did at her age. We sat on the edge and swung our feet and watched as the cars passed.

We slid down it. We jumped from it. We walked along the top and played hide-and-seek in its shadows. As a big sister should, I showed her everything, especially everything I used to do.

I always thought it wonderful that a plane that once was used for fighting is now used for the opposite—play. I imagined that the pilot secretly delighted that his plane was scrambled all over by children. The ghost inside the cockpit smiled.

Then I noticed something funny. One day, while driving past it, I saw tape surrounding the airplane warning: “Keep Out!”

I thought it was weird. Why should people keep off the airplane?

Not long after the tape came something else, something more permanent: the fence. A black wrought-iron fence now surrounds it, sending a clear message: “Don’t come near”; “Don’t touch”; and most importantly, “Don’t play.”

Fences sometimes seem inevitable.

 In my big open yard as a child I played capture the flag in the summer nearly every night until the streetlamps came on. Then came the fences, cutting the yard in three sections, making the games impossible. By the time we realized, it was too late.

The fences were built, and we’d grown old.

But sometimes they’re not inevitable. Sometimes something like play is worth fighting to preserve. And it’s sad to me that somehow because of its age, the plane is now considered too sacred to play upon. It might break.

But something worn and broken from play is more beautiful than something pristine and preserved for show.

And what is truly sacred is not fresh blue paint, but play.

One day, I would like to see the plane as it once was—fenceless and free.

And I would like to see my little sister, once she grows old, to bring a child to Kenney Field in the Town of Tonawanda, to play on the big blue airplane.

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