The Jump Rope

Kathryn Lynch

Copyright 2020 by Kathryn Lynch

Photo of girls jumping rope.

The demands of World War II required manufacturers to produce various products which were purchased by the US government for exclusive use as troop support. During those years, very few products were made for children for use as toys. Adults too old for the draft who had any skills in woodworking sometimes hand carved trucks or cars for the neighborhood children. Others put packaging material and imagination to good use. Jump ropes with wooden handles was a popular item, but these were expensive and difficult to find.

During the two years following the end of the War, my Dad had been mustered out of military service and our family was complete. Dads who had been older “boys” before the draft were now expected to operate as full fledged “men”. The large influx of males into the working market was difficult for those whose military training did not transfer well into the civilian world. Our family struggled financially for several years. We were poor, but I never realized this until I was much older.

I played with a wooden car which a neighbor had made for us. It was pulled by a piece of twine hooked onto the front “grill”. As it rolled noisily over the floor, it wobbled much as a car with a flat tire because the wheels were not perfectly round.

I also had a jump rope, an old piece scrounged from who knows where. It had knots at each end to keep it intact. One had to hold a large knot in each hand in order to jump. With each jump, the rope twisted upon itself and then it had to be untangled. No more than two or three jumps in a row were possible. I stubbornly persisted in the process until I was considered a “Jumper” at school. Jumpers had to hold and spin the school jump rope at recess, but this allowed a short period of jumping in the middle as a reward. Many school jumpers had jump ropes at home with carved, finger fitting handles set for subsequent practice jumps. I knew that these ropes were expensive so I never asked for one.

I was often asked by my Mom to pick up one or two food items at the little store at the bottom of the hill. The obvious route followed a sidewalk down hill to the store and back up the hill the same way. Immediately adjacent to our house was a patch of heavily forested woods. I was not allowed to play in the woods, so instead of the sidewalk, I often took the well worn path through the “gully” on my way to the store.

So it was, that on a beautiful, sunny Spring day, when I was nine years old, I felt the urge to travel through the woods. Just a few steps into the gully, everything changed. All of the city noises ceased, to be taken over by singing birds and the sounds of running water. Wild rabbits and abandoned backyard chickens meandered about. Bits of pollen flew randomly with the breezes. Butterflies rode the winds with an unspoken purpose. At the lowest point between the hills, a stream covered by water lilies gurgled its way to the West. I knew from past explorations that the stream was full of snails, frogs, dragonflies, mosquitoes and edible fish.

The path traversed the stream on an ancient cement overpass. Remnants of an old railroad remained through vine-tangled tracks which were difficult to see but which ran the length of the overpass. Railings on each side were about 24 inches high made of cement with holes in certain patterns for decoration.

On this particular day, Mom had told me not to use the gully for travel to the store. I replied that I would not, and promptly did it anyway. As I entered the overpass, I could see a rope tied to the railing with both ends over the side. It was a beautiful rope, about three quarters of an inch in diameter. It would make a wonderful jump rope if I could free it and take it home. I approached this task as a naive nine year old girl without any tools, working under the burden of profound undiagnosed nearsightedness.

One end appeared unused, simply hanging over the side. I managed to pull the surplus up onto the bridge. However the rope was firmly tied to the cement railing. The other end was over the side and holding firm to some kind of large weight. As I pulled, the bundle began to swing back and forth. I could make out a round bulbous object. And suddenly my naivety and my nearsightedmess gave way to the realization that there was a dead guy hanging on the rope.

I ran as if all the terrors of hell were nipping at my heels, arriving at the store, winded and pale enough that the storekeeper inquired if I was all right. He was the father of a schoolmate so I had to keep my awful secret to myself. I got my Mom's groceries and determined to return home on the sidewalk. As I began the return, I could see the flashing lights of an ambulance, police cars, and a firetruck next to the woods. Someone else had found the dead guy. I was filled with curiosity about the action in the gully.

So it was, I slipped into the woods and made my way up the trail. When I reached the overpass, a few men remained taking measurements, pictures, and cleaning up. To my shock and surprise, the rope lay on the ground, a long beautiful jumping rope knotted and tangled at one end. When it appeared that no one was looking I began to drag the rope up the trail. I expected to be stopped at any moment, but I made my way back to the house without further incident.

Dad cut off the knotted end and placed a new knot at each end. The rope was about 50 feet long, and it was MINE! At the school, we now held a double rope and perfected the art of double dutch. I was able to join the jumpers by timing my entry to the noises made when the ropes hit the ground. Once in, the jumps had to be in a rhythm. It was not necessary to have good eyesight to move with the pattern.

Epilogue: I never told my Mom or my Dad where I got the rope. Enjoyment of the rope was always tinged with guilt over acquiring it at a moment of disobedience. I never found out about the dead guy on the rope but I thought about him every time I jumped. I will always wonder how he could hang himself in such a beautiful and peaceful place. 

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