The Junk Park

Tuesday December 30, 2003

My grandson Aaron is 12 now, almost a teenager, and very nearly out of my grandmotherly reach. But I still have wistful memories of when he was very young, and we started to go off together on private adventures—just the two of us. 

We had been to some of the local playgrounds near where he lived, in Concord; and he had fun playing in the sandbox and going down the slides. I’d taken him to Heather Farms in Walnut Creek, where he enjoyed feeding the ducks. But nothing compared to the thrill of the first time I took him to Adventure Park in the Berkeley Marina. 

I’d picked him up at my son’s house in the morning, and we headed down the freeway towards Berkeley. As we walked from the parking lot, his little hand in mine, the park came into view, and he eyed it with deep suspicion: it’s a raggle-taggle assortment of rickety wooden shacks, and old tires; a motley collection of randomly painted structures, with a giant spider web made of various kinds of industrial webbing in the center. 

There were a few children about, climbing, hammering, painting...and some parents, also hammering, building flimsy boat-looking objects, adding sections to some of the wooden buildings. I could tell Aaron didn’t quite know what to make of it all. This didn’t look like a proper park at all! 

He surveyed the area with a slight scowl on his face, and tentatively poked into some of the dark interiors of the little buildings. He seemed equally dubious about some of the other children who were cavorting about. 

He finally settled on the giant spider web to experiment with. He struggled to get a footing on the webbing, which was loose and wiggly. He made his way upwards slowly, and with obvious difficulty, but with a look of fierce determination on his face. 

In a little while other children about his age and size joined him on the web—but their footing was firmer, and they were less cautious as they advanced up to the top. I could see Aaron studying them and taking courage. I could almost hear him thinking, “Well, if they can do it, I can do it too!” And his movements became more assertive. 

The father of one of the girls soon joined in the fun, and asked Aaron what his name was, and the other children introduced themselves to him. The father started to crawl under the webbing and announced that he was a giant crocodile and was going to eat them up! The kids scampered about with glee, including Aaron. 

As I was watching, I noticed that outside the play area the girl’s mother was setting up a party table, and it was clear that the children were guests at the little girl’s birthday party. 

After a while the father announced: “The first person who finds three nails gets a prize!” The children dispersed. Aaron ran up to me excitedly, “Grandma, we have to find three nails, so I can win the prize!” 

How to explain to him that the other children were part of a birthday party, and that one of them, not he, would get the prize? It saddened me to see the subtle changes of expression on his face as I this sunk in. He was clearly disappointed, but he understood. And, with a slight shrug of his little shoulders, he went off to explore some of the rickety wooden tunnels nearby. 

From that time on, each time I saw him he asked when we going back to what he had named the “Junk Park.” And the next time I picked him up for our adventure he was brimming with excitement, and chatted with great animation the whole trip to the park.  

He once more put his little hand in mine as we walked from the parking lot, but, once we got there, he immediately darted from one activity to another, with great confidence. 

We decided to paint our names on one of the shacks, and went to the attendant to get some paint and brushes. She told us we would first have to find 10 nails on the premises and bring them to her. We thereupon started to hunt on the sandy ground, and nail-by-nail we found our 10, and presented them to the girl in charge. Then we carefully discussed what color we should use...and then where we should paint our names. And soon, for all to see, in bright green paint were “AARON” and “ESTHER” on the wall of one of the shacks.  

Then he continued on to the next adventure. Another young boy was looking for 10 nails so he, too, could get some paint, and Aaron went up to him and helped him find his quota. And went on to explore, in turn, each of the numerous attractions in the area. It was difficult to pry him away from the park when it was time to go home. 

Our “Junk Park” adventures continued for many years, and before long my granddaughter Emily, Aaron’s little sister, joined us in our explorations. It was always their first choice of where to go when they came over to visit at Grandma’s house.  

Alas, that time is now gone, and they are now off on their own adventures. But whenever I have out-of-town guests with small children, I take particular delight in introducing them to that very special park, and sharing their amazement of that wondrous place.