The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Grapevine Swings 'N' Things

By Sophia Servis © 1990

Issue: March, 1990

"What did you do for entertainment before the days of television?" today's youth ask. They can't envision a life without "The Wonder Years" and weekend sports.

On the farm where I grew up there was an abundance of pets to play with, castles to be built in the trees with branches and moss, slingshots to be made and hunted with, dams to build and swim in the creek, and in winter, acres of snow to sleigh ride on. But perhaps best of all, there were grapevine swings.

The woods on our farm in Carroll County, Virginia abounded with wild grapes from their clusters high in the trees, and we had our own cultivated vines for making jelly and juice so we children were allowed to use the wild vines for swings.

Even though we had a chain swing in an apple tree that our father had made for us, the grapevine swings were special. They were a challenge against nature.

To make the swing, my older brother would chop off the vine at the base and eliminate about a foot of the bottom of the vine. Then it was my turn to give it a trial swing because I was lighter, he told me. Years later I learned it's called being a stooge.

Hopefully the swing would swing between the trees. If it didn't, there were often bruises and abrasions to be dealt with after the first swing.

Once there was a near disaster when one of the tendrils holding the vine in place snapped, and I was thrown sharply against a tree and knocked off to land six feet down with my back across a log. I thought I had died when I couldn't breathe for a minute, but my brother pulled me up and I was soon back on the swing to chart a new course.

After the course of the swing was established and the underbrush and saplings were cleared away, we were free to spend our leisure time sailing through the air. Sometimes we concocted variations to give the ride a greater challenge. Once we balanced a felled sapling against the old chestnut the swing was swinging to. Then we swung out, let go of the grapevine and shimmied down the sapling. I burned the skin off the outside of my pinkies from friction, but I didn't tell anyone. I had to be as tough as my older brother and his peers.

Sometimes we were allowed to have friends come home with us after church on Sunday to play for the afternoon. On a summer afternoon a grapevine swing was the perfect solution to an afternoon's entertainment. On these occasions, the entire family of ten joined in the fun.

On one such occasion, a neighbor adolescent, who was endeavoring to win the attention of my older sister, missed his mark on the tree where we kicked ourselves into reverse and got his heel caught in the fork of the tree. There was a great deal of concern and many helpful suggestions, but nothing effective until my father brought a ladder and climbed up to free him. Much to the young man's embarrassment, he had definitely gotten my sister's attention.

Once my brother came up with an idea that concluded in my getting a mud bath; he decided to combine the tire swing with a grapevine swing. After he had attached an old car tire securely to the end of a grapevine with fodder twine, he stuffed me securely around the inside of the tire and gave it a hefty push. I sailed far out over a swamp until the swing stopped to reverse itself. At that point, the tire detached itself from the grapevine, sailed through the air until it landed in the swamp and bounced and rolled its way to the edge of the swamp where it joined a cold, but fortunately shallow stream. Luckily I was unhurt, just very dirty, wet and scared.

Now tell me, how can a television sitcom or drama compare with the excitement of a grapevine swing?