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August 2011

Swinging Abby Part 2: The Beginning, Revisited

"What's it like to sit on a swing for two weeks? I'm not sure I can really say. It all seems like a dream now. The events of the days and nights, whether big or insignificant, all seem to run together like watercolors on a wet canvas. Each day seemed the same, yet in its own way each day was very different. Every few days the park seemed to change and look different. The wind blew from a different direction. The people looked different. Even I felt different. Only one thing remained the same: that constant back and forth, back and forth, back and forth motion that soon became a habit. A way of life. The only thing in the world that was real…"
 
I wrote the above shortly after the end of the saga, and it's as true today as it was then. When you're trapped in a device and your entire world shrinks to about twelve square feet (no, I'm not going to bother with that pesky 3rd dimension - you know what I mean) your outlook on your place within it and that of those around you changes drastically. Adapting to strange, new and sometimes unexpected circumstances was the only way to survive and stay sane. Well, as sane as one can be while doing a pretty insane thing.

Shortly into the wee hours of the endeavor I met my first two enemies. They were named Cold and Damp. Here I am warding them off the next morning with three sweaters, a knit hat, jeans and a blanket. I guessed this was what it felt like to swing in the 1800's wearing big dresses and petticoats, but obviously I'm pretty comfortable with it. Note the crossed feet. All I needed was a footstool and an endtable.

Keeping warm in the morning chill.

 
Pretty early on I also met my first new friends. They were named Policemen and Reporters. They would visit every day, not always in conjunction with Cold and Damp, but nevertheless they cheered me up despite Cold and Damp's attempts to depress me into giving up. It's fun having people interested in what you're doing, and I could not have imagined the attention with which I was about to be showered. Pretty heady stuff for a kid who turns fifteen today.
 
Oh yes, did I mention I spent my 15th birthday on a swing? Yeah. That's a party you don't get to throw every day. Just be careful you don't drop the cake!

Cake break!
 

"That whole afternoon now seems like a blurred mixture of strawberry bubblegum, cramped legs and warm sun. It felt like an all-day picnic, with aunts, uncles, cousins and friends there constantly."

Or so I wrote in my little memoirs. Ah, the simple things. They were about to change forever.

Swinging Abby Part 1: The Lightbulb Moment

Whenever I regale someone with the story of two weeks living on a swing set in a public park, it's inevitable that I will be asked "why in the world would you do that?" or "what gave you the idea?" These are actually two different questions with two very different answers. I'll begin with the second one.
 
The summer of 1979 was a good one for me. I had lost 20 lbs. on my first ever self-imposed diet, had attended and learned a lot from my art teacher's summer class, was regularly adding new items to my Beatles collection and had pen-pals far and wide who shared my interest in that hobby. One afternoon in August I was reading the latest issue of Seventeen magazine and looking at all the fashionable clothes I wanted to wear when a silly little article caught my eye about how summer was almost over and how to enjoy what was left of it. One of the suggestions under "do something crazy" (I'm paraphrasing - I don't actually have the article anymore) was the suggestion "try to break a world record". Now I had always loved reading the Guinness Book of World Records. I also loved swing sets (and roller coasters, but you can't put those in the back yard). A little kernel of an idea began to form and it percolated for several days before I said something to my mom. Honestly? I don't remember how I convinced her to let me go through with it. But I did. Next thing I know, I'm in a small park in Athens Pennsylvania on the evening of August 21st with my family, my aunt Mary Lou and Glenn Rolfe, reporter for the local newspaper, to cover me jumping onto a swing and starting…NOW. Here I am that evening, both before and long after sunset, all fresh-faced and full of energy!

Abby, day one.    Abby, day one evening.

 As to the question of "why?" I could write a bunch of clichés like you only live once or he who hesitates is lost, which are both very true, but the answer is "why not?" Once I get an idea into my head, I'm pretty darned determined to make it happen. Even as a child my response to the word "no" was "don't tell me that", and unless you have a more logical response to my "why not" than "because I said so", rest assured you've wasted your breath with the "no". The bottom line was that I wanted to end the summer with a bang by doing something "wowza" that no one I knew had ever done before**. Something that would be fun, attention-getting, and leave a mark in history. How to do that all in one fell swoop?
 
Try to break the world's swinging record, of course. Aaaaand here we go!
 
**Note: my maternal grandfather, John "Freddy" Rumpff, beat me to it. Unbeknownst to me until this saga began, he, his brother, and two friends tried to set a record in 1931 for keeping a bicycle going. Here they are in a newspaper article. The things you learn when you set a strange goal!

Grandpa John Rumpff, 1931 bike record.