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a child in the park

this was no ordinary park, mind you: there
were no swings or children laughing; there were
different children there. There was recreation:

tennis, the pool, and a maze of streets for bicycles
and long walks; surrounded by rows of prefabricated
homes each with one little palm tree by the driveway.

People drove golf carts around in the park, or large
tricycles, or older couples would walk together just as
it was beginning to turn to dusk and long shadows from

tree-tops cris-crossed over the streets. In the afternoons,
the women in the pool would wear hats and sunglasses,
lean against the sides, swing legs in the warm water.

I remember the summer afternoons when it rained in
Florida, and after the rain I would go out in the puddles
in my roller skates, skate through them, feet soaking wet.

There was even a street named after me in the park,
and at the end of Jan Drive there was a pond.
I spent hours there, playing imaginary games,

pretending I was grown-up, feeding the ducks,
watching the fish swim around the rocks at my
feet, looking for the turtles, listening to the wind.

Oh, I remember Mr. Whorall, how he would walk
onto his driveway every time I was playing tennis
across the street. He would watch me, tell me how

I was getting better at the game every time he saw me.
And there was also Mrs. Rogers, who lived up the
street from me. She saw me riding my bicycle by one day

just before Halloween. She invited me in to help
carve a pumpkin. Every year she bought me a Christmas
present. The sweetest woman. The most beautiful woman.

And there was Ira and Betty Wiggins, who lived on
the next street, Sand Drive, with a sign in front of
their house that said, “The Wiggins’ Wigwam.”

They had a hammock on their porch, and art so
beautiful, so colorful on their walls. They lived in
Panama for years, he used to be a doctor. So

many things collected from all their travel. They both
knew so much, they both loved life. Once they saw
me and asked if I wanted to catch a lion. They then

went to the side of the road, and with a spoon pulled
an ant lion from the top of a sand hill. So many secrets.
Every night Ira could be found with cue holder,

decorated with Panamanian art, at the pool table, playing
my father, or another man who died years ago. I remember
that man telling me that when I was younger he would

watch me on Easter Sunday, me in my pastel dress, by
myself, spinning, dancing in the streets. He remembered
me dancing. This is his memory, how he thought of me.

And I remember the McKinleys, Pete and Lindy, another
beautiful pair who talked of Mexico, of all the places
they’d gone, all the things they had seen. So many times I

would visit them just to hear them talk. And Pete would try
to stump me with an intellectual riddle every time I sat with
him; he would ask me about astronomy, what I had learned in my

classes since the last time I visited the park. Sometimes they
would take me to their country club, play on tennis courts made
of clay, how strange it felt on my feet through my tennis shoes.

It was like another world there. The park was
where I spent my Christmases, my Easters. I
remember swimming in the pool, a week shy of

thirteen, when my parents told me I was an aunt.
Now I talk to my sister on the phone, she asks me
if I remember so-and-so from Palos Avenue,

from Blue Skys Drive. The couple that had the ornate
rock garden in their front yard, or the snow shovel
against their light post with the words “rust in

peace” painted in white on the metal. Yes, I say, I
remember them. Well, so-and-so passed away last week,
she says. Heart attack. This is what it comes down

to, I think, all these memories are slowly disappearing.
So many memories. Where there are palm trees everywhere.
It was my other world, my other life, another

lifestyle, another everything. This was not an ordinary
park, but the children were so much smarter, and
still so full of life. So much to teach. So little time.

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