On a Swing by Jamie Kirkpatrick


Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 7.54.01 AMWe found our porch swing in Galena. It was old, the paint was chipped, and some of the slats were suspiciously spongy, but when my wife laid eyes on it, it was love at first sight. I balked but not for long. The next day I went back to Galena and brought it home as a surprise. It has held pride of place on the front porch ever since.

Like the rest of us, our swing has aged a bit in the last 4+ years. We had to replace all those suspiciously spongy slats. We milled, painted, and installed new ones a couple of months ago and figured we were out of the woods for a while. That was before two large men (OK, one was me) decided to give the swing a road test on a first Friday and heard a loud CRACK. The next morning we saw what we heard. One of the bottom horizontal ribs was dangling and the perpendicular stabilizer was split. I called the doctor.

The doctor (played in this episode by our neighbor Tom) is a highly skilled carpenter who can fix anything. He made a house call and delivered the bad news: maybe it was time to replace the swing. “Can’t you repair it?” my wife pleaded. He could, but repair might cost as much as we originally paid. “Sure you want to do that?” the swing doctor asked. I looked at my wife, then sighed and opened my wallet.

Some things in life are measured by cost and some aren’t. Those that aren’t are measured on another scale: nostalgia, comfort, or some other highly irrational but nevertheless important criteria known only to the user. That is the scale our swing now occupies. It’s just a shabby piece of porch furniture that keeps hanging on well beyond its time, but the comfort of retaining it makes the cost of replacing it prohibitive. I know it’s not a rational equation, but admit it: we all practice that kind of mathematics from time-to-time.

We live in the age of recycling and it has become fashionable to retain, repurpose, and reuse items that are past their prime. That’s a good thing. Every Friday, the blue Infinity recycling wagon stops in front of our house and all those wine bottles and beer cans get a new lease on life. (Soon enough, I suspect, medical science will enable us to do this kind of recycling with human beings but where we will put all these reused souls, God only knows.)

There are, of course, some things in life that have a limited shelf life, like the cottage cheese in our refrigerator which has been known to become a science experiment gone dreadfully wrong or those bell-bottom jeans hanging in the closet that just aren’t ever coming back into style no matter how hard we try. They’re one-and-done so get over it. But otherwise, there likely is some kind of elliptical orbit that applies to human history and we are doomed to repeat our failures if we don’t learn from our mistakes. (Here, I could make the leap to the current Presidential race, but I won’t.) I guess the point is repair or repurpose what you can and replace the rest.

Back to our swing: soon its underpinnings will be good as new; the rest will retain the shabby chic veneer that lets my wife swing to her heart’s content.


Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”

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