In 1984, a tiny Lutheran grade school on Chicago’s North Side received an infrastructure upgrade in the form of a small rear play lot. This was an exciting event for the student body. At the time Pilgrim Lutheran did not have a gymnasium (I believe it still does without) although the auditorium was suitable for physical education because there was no permanent seating to be considered. But a new park, hidden within the school’s property like a small faux green oasis! For a then-working class, inner city neighborhood institution, it seemed so luxurious.
The two most vivid memories I have from my days on the play lot both involve music videos. This is as it must be. In 1986 Madonna’s “Open Your Heart” from the True Blue album was everything. It definitely was for young Becky. I recall sitting on the tire bridge with a few of my little gal pals having one heck of a singalong. Knowing every lyric and note as though they were the Gospel read in First Communication class, I was the envy of all. A self-aware eight year-old with a rough home life rarely experiences that level of peer triumph.
That same year, I was enthralled by Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” – song as well as MTV experience. Trying to duplicate one of the band members’ high-wire stage floats, I stood atop the play lot’s multi-colored, metal geodesic dome structure. I’m an infamous klutz so you can probably predict what ensued. I did a half flip off the dome that concluded with my person lying on the AstroTurf in an ignominious heap, head colliding hard with the bottom rung. I escaped concussion but the Jon Bon Jovi stage diving career was over.
Last week Tuesday, the day after birthday number 38, Bob, Jude and I walked down the alley behind our building to find the play lot lying on the school’s basketball court in disassembled pieces. From my vantage point since moving in with Bob in June 2015, I’ve watched my alma mater grow in population and funding, using its resources to make positive investments in facilities and programming. I’m proud to see the institution that counts my maternal grandparents, mother, sister and I as emeritus, surviving and thriving.
But I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the play lot without warning. Self-inflicted head injuries aside, nothing bad ever happened to me there. There aren’t a lot of environments about which I can say this from that period of my life. I took a disbelieving Bob for a viewing of the site on our first date. He’d lived 150 feet away from the mini-playground for three and a half years without ever suspecting its existence. It was a safe, happy space that felt like the special secret of 22 years’ worth of children who passed through Pilgrim’s hallways. Kids like myself who had no other place to channel Madonna with abandon.
I have no idea what they plan to do replace the old turf and dismantled equipment. I was hoping that the project workers would move pieces of the geodesic dome into the alley dumpster, where I’d look for an advantageous time to swipe a memento. A metal bar that may once have supported my small head. But it seems like there was an independent pickup of the play lot’s remains. I hope it means the stomping grounds of my early childhood will be rebuilt somewhere else, allowing spirited little girls to perform modern musical acrobatics.
Change is a necessary part of life, although it would be swell if it were less painful. I’m keeping an open mind. For all I know the old play lot simply made way for something even more thrilling. A place to build new memories. School starts again next week and Bob and I can always use a date night.