Yesterday, I jumped on the trampoline with my cousin’s kids. We hopped around for hours until I ruptured L4, L5, and S1. It was great.
I remember when my old man bought a trampoline for me and my kid sister before he died. Trampolines were a big deal in Kid World. My family had never known such shameless expenditures. A trampoline was a novelty such as had never been seen before by our kind.
The view of my people was that trampolines were for rich folks. They were luxury items for the well-off.
Moreover, my old man was tighter than a duck’s hindparts. We never expected him to splurge on a piece of equipment intended for something as unproductive and wanton as acrobatic play.
I come from a modest family of humble fundamentalists. We bought our bread from the day-old bread store. We saved our newspapers. We donated our used teabags to missionaries.
We never left lightbulbs on in rooms unless we were physically inside the aforementioned room.
My father inherited his frugality from his grandfather. When my great-grandfather was on his deathbed, half blind from diabetes, he squinted into the darkness and said, “Is everyone here?”
“Yes, Daddy,” the family said. “We’re all here, gathered around your bed.”
“But, if you’re all here,” he said, “then why in the name of God are the lights still on downstairs?”
I remember the afternoon my father put the trampoline together in the backyard. It became the hottest news to ever hit the Kid Telegraph. One boy came all the way from Greensboro just to see it.
Within the span of one day, my backyard became the most popular place in six counties. After that, on any given weekend you could see a single-file line of runny noses stretching from our trampoline into the street.
We kids jumped for twenty-six hours per day until we either fell from exhaustion or sustained a concussion.
I can still recall when Donny Randolph broke his nose during a mid-air collision with Bradley Albertson’s shinbone. His nose started to bleed and he ran home screaming, “MAMA!”
His mother arrived, storming up our driveway, carrying the wrath of God upon her. Her forehead was hot enough to melt her cat-eye glasses.
“I demand that you dismantle this thing,” she said to my father. “My son’s lucky he didn’t break his neck. I oughta sue you!”
So my father agreed to take the thing apart. The next morning he got out his toolbox and started disassembling the Wonder of Childhood while 1,284 children gathered around him to mourn. I could swear I heard “Taps” playing somewhere in the distance.
“Please, Mister Dietrich!” the kids cried in unison. “Please don’t get rid of the trampoline!”
Children began throwing themselves onto the ground, wallowing in agony, rending their garments, and openly weeping.
Thankfully, my father agreed to leave it standing.
And so we tykes lived on that trampoline. All kids. All creeds. All denominations. We ate lunch upon it. We played Spin the Bottle, Truth or Dare, and Telephone while seated on its black fabric. It was our life.
Sometimes, after dark, a random neighbor boy would still be jumping in the backyard. Occasionally, someone’s mother would nab her kid from the trampoline at dusk, then drag the child home by his or her earlobe, angrily muttering, “When I call you for supper, you’d better come, buster!”
We were all “buster” back then.
Then my father died. It was a dark period indeed. That trampoline became like a tomb to me. Nobody came around to use it. There were no children at my house. It was like the thing was cursed.
My kid sister and I quit jumping altogether. No more fun. No more games. Often we would lie upon the nylon and stare at the cold sky above us and wonder why.
Why does life hold treasures for some, but deliver suffering for others? Why do good people die?
“What does the word suicide mean?” my baby sister asked me one day while lying on the trampoline.
And it was there, upon a backyard toy, where I gently explained the manner in which her father met his end.
After a while, since nobody was using the trampoline, my uncle took it apart. He put the thing into a giant box, and that was that.
Not long thereafter, I remember there was a family at our church who was going through hard times. I was invited to a birthday party at their house. My mother loaded the trampoline into our truck and gave it to the needy kids as a birthday gift.
That night, when the trampoline was erected in the family’s backyard, I remember watching kids jump and shout with adolescent joy. And I cried. Hard. But my tears, you see, weren’t sad tears. They were tears of—I don’t know—gladness, I guess.
Because to me, it was as through the spirit of my father lived on somehow within that stupid apparatus. He would have loved to see children laughing. It was one of the things he loved most.
And wherever he is now, I’d like to think he still enjoys watching children laugh happily in mid-air.
Even middle-aged ones.