Although perspiration caked our T-shirts that humid Chicago summer, my husband and I had little choice. We jimmied the windows of our third-story flat shut to ward off the sulphuric stench of carbon monoxide. Toxic fumes escaping twisted tail pipes triggered miserable morning sickness. We had to heal our lungs.
We purchased the fourth house from Winnemac Park just months before our millennial was born. Once settled, we were spared the constant whir of sirens and skidding rubber that, until then, had monopolized the urban soundtrack of our lives. We enjoyed our first peaceful sleep in years.
Our nervous systems relaxed even more that spring as the sun disappeared beneath a sandpaper hill steps away. Ambitious wildflowers soaked up April drizzle. A sprawling willow draped lithe limbs over soft patches of fertile soil and auburn seedlings. Occasionally, a rose red cardinal made a cameo. Feisty black squirrels scouted out fallen acorns.
Toddlers laughed riotously as the new swings coaxed their calves to spawn wings. The palleta man’s cart chimed, drawing children to coconut scented Heaven.
As our children grew, that willow doubled as an all-weather clubhouse, where, sprawled on pastel pillowcases, ten-year-olds plotted sleepovers and made mother’s day bouquets from dishwater blonde dandelions. After the streetlights turned on, they lightly cupped lightning bugs in elastic palms, marveling as the illuminated prey escaped to freedom.
Camping out on woolen comforters, we celebrated fireworks, carefully employing a glow stick as a compass, and if the sky turned postcard blue, we sunned on lawn chairs and roasted hot dogs.
When snowflakes fell again, we laced up snowshoes and trampled up the hill, balancing our weight with makeshift walking sticks that shadowed the early morning light. And in autumn, we relished chameleonic colors, as vibrant and variegated as one’s first box of school crayons.
Like an ancient sundial, Winnemac Park allowed our families the luxury of carving out time, creatively and collectively.