An appreciation for a toy shared and loved by a group of neighbors in San Francisco

By Elizabeth Weil
Marisol Ortega

My neighbor to the east has three hand-painted tombstones in her tiny San Francisco backyard, commemorating the lives of “Clancy, a hen so sweet,” “Flower Dowager, poultry supreme,” and “Dupres, a very fine chicken.” The birds had hopped every day through the hole we cut in the fence that separates my garden from hers and had spent a lot of time bawking outside my office's glass door. She also had a gravestone for “Chix, an excellent cat.’ Now we need a marker for another death in the family: the trampoline.

It appeared one day, 14 years ago, the relaxation therapy of a tenant who, within six months, had moved in and out of the apartment, leaving behind this 12-foot-round specimen of rubber, aluminum, and joy. In the years that followed, our baby grew into a toddler and our toddler into a preschooler, and then one day my husband yelled to the new tenant, a single mom with a son between our girls' ages, “Hey, neighbor! What do you think of me cutting another hole in the fence right here?’ She gave the thumbs-up. My husband found his Sawzall. Fifteen minutes later we had a kid-size hole in the redwood.

Out the front door on our San Francisco block were cars, danger, a whole adult world: aging parents, too-expensive groceries, garbage cans to try (and fail) to remember to pull onto the sidewalk each Wednesday night. Out the back were giggles and low-key mystery, a child's world: Meyer lemon trees, a garden fountain on which to launch roly-poly bugs, the endlessly undulating trampoline. Soon the family of five who lived kitty-corner from us cut a child-size hole in their fence, and then the family of four to the south of them did so too. No parental permission was required for the kids to go jump. Sometimes mine screamed, “Mom, bye!’ Often they just self-released. On the trampoline was a whole life, or practice for one. At age 14, my older daughter sat on it and tried to figure out how to stay close to the best friend she'd had since kindergarten and was starting to outgrow. At age 12, my younger daughter jumped out there with her sixth-grade boyfriend, because what else do you do with a sixth-grade boyfriend?

Then, a few weeks ago, the trampoline died. The rim rusted out, and the formerly single mother's hunky new husband lovingly disassembled it and carted it off to the dump. I'm fighting the urge to replace it—circle of life and all. “RIP trampoline, a true backyard gift.”

Weil is the coauthor, with Clemantine Wamariya, of The Girl Who Smiled Beads.