When I was growing up the second street playground was about four blocks or so from where I lived. My dad always called it the “measles, mumps, and chickenpox” playground claiming that everyone who played there always got sick. I think he just didn’t like going there because he preferred the playground on Ocean Parkway. The Ocean Parkway one was beautiful, surrounded by trees, and it was much larger than the one on second street but that’s another story.
My cousins Donna and Susan and I always went to the second street playground, chancing all those measles, mumps, and chickenpox germs. It was always filled with kids playing on the swings, the monkey bars, playing basketball, and sother tuff. It was a nice enough neighborhood park.
The swings for the older kids were in the back of the park, closer to the street and the baby swings for toddlers were in the front, closer to the boardwalk.
Donna, Susan, and I hung out on the older kids swings, after all we were 10 years old. Well, Susan and I were 10 Donna was 11. My cousins would take to the air on their swings, flying up high while standing on the seat. Me, nope. I sat on the swing, making sure one foot was always touching the ground. Heights frightened me, heights still frighten me. Let’s face it, I’m a born coward.
That summer of 1962 my favorite pair of shorts were my white ones. I had three pairs of white shorts and wore them everyday during the warm season. Granted, one pair was a little snug on me because not only did I like my white shorts I also liked ice cream which caused one pair of shorts to become a bit snug. I was lucky all my shorts weren’t snug.
Anyway, picture this – late summer beginning of fall in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, New York – the year was 1962. Donna, Susan and I were commenting on the political problems of the world. Ha, hardly. Ten year olds didn’t really care about politics back then but we knew something big was going on. Our parents were nervous and in whispered voices kept talking about war, President Kennedy, Cuba, and Russia. Donna, Susan, and I didn’t know what was really going on but we were frightened because our parents were frightened. All the adults tried to cover their fear to the kids but kids know when adults are worried and we were worried because they were worried.
One warm afternoon we were sitting on the swings, I’m not sure if my snug white shorts were on or I was wearing a pair of jeans, but we were sitting on the swings. Donna and Susan was swinging like I was, foot on the ground just going back and forth a little.
I remember looking at the boardwalk and the beach beyond figuring that I was staring to the south. Wasn’t Cuba south of us I wondered. Having an active imagination I was able to visualize Cuba hurling bombs directly at Brighton Beach. The missiles flying over Florida, the Carolina’s, the Virginia’s, DC, and New Jersey, aimed right at my New York community. Cuba wanted to destroy Brighton Beach. I knew it like I knew I’d have to get a larger pair of shorts the next year, if I survived the Cuban missiles that is.
The second street playground would be nothing but ashes; all of Brighton would be a towering inferno; Brighton Beach Avenue would be gone, and so would I and my parents, my sister, my cousins, aunts, uncles, grandmother, friends, and neighbors. This is where my history of panic attacks started. In the second street playground, in October of 1962.
Yes, I was afraid and even though I didn’t voice my fears to Donna and Susan they had the same panicked look on their faces.
Of course, as we all know, Kennedy got us out of that mess. Brinkmanship they called it when I studied the crisis in college.
So today I took a walk to the second street playground. It’s still there but looking far different than when I was a kid. There weren’t any children playing probably because they were in school and it was cloudy, windy, and cool out. But I was there. My 10 year old self was there too carefully swinging on the swings, watching for the Cuban missiles to take us out. I could swear that I also saw Donna and Susan swinging right by my side even though they were both taken out a few years back from another sort of missile called breast cancer.
Exactly 54 years later I found myself standing on the boardwalk, looking at the second street playground remembering what went on over five decades earlier. It’s very strange that whenever I think of the many years I swung on those swings all I can really recall were those days in late October of 1962 when I thought that Brighton Beach wouldn’t be around for much longer.
No, I luckily did not live through a war but the threat of possibly living through one is still nagging at me and the memory of it is still alive and kicking. I guess some things you never forget.