Monday, October 13, 2014

My Roots: There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe

Every few months I have an experience - either on my own or through my kids - that transports me back to a long-ago moment or a period of time that in some way shaped the person I am today. I want to write about these experiences, to document how they make me feel today compared to how they made me feel when I was young(er), and have decided to tie them into the theme of Chasing Roots because while they are not necessarily Midwestern or Texan, they are decidedly a part of my roots.

Growing up we visited the shoe slide park - named, obviously, for its giant, shoe-shaped slide - nearly every afternoon during the summer months, and as regularly as possible on weekends during the fall, winter, and spring months. The slide, as in the long, rectangular, slightly-curved-at-the-bottom sheet of metal, was just a slide. But the framework surrounding the slide turned the structure into the perfect spot for nursery rhymes, fairy tails, and adventures to unfold. I made lasting memories with my sister, parents, friends, and even my own kids in that shoe, and I'll always remember the joy that park brought me, no matter how old I get or how far away I move.

According to Lost Madison and a number of additional sources I came across, the origin of the shoe slide is a mystery. Many Madisonians remember playing on the slide in the mid-to-late 1960s and the slide begins showing up in city records in 1970, but no one knows exactly when it was built or who built it.

The Madison Metropolitan School District's Recreation Department is responsible for the slide's upkeep (how the school district ended up with this job is another mystery, as the land on which the slide was built is a public park and does not belong to the school district), and they take this responsibility very seriously. Every year, the school district partners with the Madison Art Museum's Art Cart Program and repaints the exterior the shoe. Professional artists plan elaborate, themed murals - we're not talking about slapping on a coat of Benjamin Moore exterior paint in Old Mother Hubbard Blue - and then local children help implement the plans. (Check out a few of the very cool looks the shoe slide has had over the years here.)

While in Wisconsin this summer we read in the paper about an upcoming community-wide painting of the shoe. My mom and I made plans to take Will and Hallie, and as I might have expected, Hallie jumped at the opportunity to contribute while Will opted to skip painting in favor of training for American Ninja Warrior on the nearby monkey bars.

Hallie donned a huge t-shirt smock, listened to the organizers' instructions, and started painting her skyline windows. After she finished her windows, she painted her twinkly stars. And finally, she left her mark - a handprint - on the inside of the shoe. The same shoe that many years earlier left its mark on me. 

Hallie's contribution won't last forever - next year dozens of little hands will create a new mural on the shoe slide - but our memories of her contribution will. Her childhood, linked to my childhood. Her roots, linked to my roots.

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