Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Jackson Park Love

Today a guest post from an inspirational local writer, Donald George MacDonald, about one of my favorite parks- Jackson Park. This was posted originally on his Facebook page. 

We cannot fully appreciate what we take for granted. Over time, we seem to take for granted what we do have and what we once treasured becomes tarnished in time. 
Such has often been the case with my possessions and even with people I have known, except when it comes to the permanence of our home and the permanence of our neighborhood and the permanence of our Jackson Park and the permanence of Michelle, my wife. 
My wife and I are extremely fortunate and thankful to live directly across the street from Jackson Park located in the southwest area of the City of Milwaukee. When I look out my front windows and see families playing across the street, I frequently, jokingly proclaim to Michelle how great it is for so many people to visit “my park,” knowing, of course, our park is for everyone to enjoy.
One of the many reasons I love our home near my park in our Jackson Park Neighborhood so much is because the first time I lived on our block across the street from Jackson Park was between 1961 and 1967, when I was 11 to 17 years young. When we first moved to our block in 1961, I lived a mere 3 doors down from our home we live in now. Our Jackson Park Neighborhood has changed some over the years, of course, but it is very similar in many ways as well. 
Most of the homes in our neighborhood are modest, single-family homes. There are a few Victorians built in the 1910s, the many Milwaukee Bungalows built in the 20s, a few Tudors built in the 30s and the many Cape Cods built in the 40s.
Michelle and I have owned our home for almost a quarter of a century now and most of my neighbors on my block have lived here for well over a decade. Michelle and I take great pride in our “Milwaukee bungalow.” Our home was built in 1924. We love the craftsmanship in the curved and coved ceilings made of plaster and the stained glass windows and the maple floors and the built-in china cabinet and the wide, oak trim around the windows, floors, ceilings and doors. 
We also love the improvements we made over the years, such as the thick, kitchen counter-tops we made from a bowling lane rescued from a warehouse, reclaimed as local history. We love our state fair special sale, 300 gallon Softub in our back yard for hot water soakings, even during snowstorms. I extremely trimmed our large, front juniper bushes to try to make them look like bonsai trees. For many years when we were younger, Michelle and I and our 2 children, Michael and Zoe, worked together in our extreme, annual flower gardens. The summer decorations of multicolored, choreographed, varied flowers felt to us like we were giving our neighborhood Christmas presents in July. But alas, now in retirement we must let perennial flowers suffice with less expense and labor required.
Another frivolous improvement we made was to attach a wood cupola and copper weather vane to the roof. The copper weather vane is in the shape of a duck with its webbed feet extended and with its flared wings pulled back to catch the wind, flying lower to a watery landing. The duck swivels to always face the wind. We liked the idea of a duck as a weather vane because there are so many ducks at my park's lagoon. The ducks do occasionally fly over the house, but their migrations are not as anticipated as those of the Canadian Geese, honking loudly as they perform low flybys in formation over the house in the fall and again in the spring.
The improvements we made were not so much motivated by materialistic, selfish comfort and pride (except for the Softub), but more as a way to express our love and gratitude we feel for our home and for our park and for our Jackson Park Neighborhood. We always believed that the improvements we made to our home over the years have benefited and enhanced and beautified our neighborhood. 
Jackson Park is sort of triangular in shape, located between S. 35th St. on the east, S. 43rd St. on the west, W. Forest Home Ave. on the south and railroad tracks beyond the woods on the north. Kinnickinnic River Parkway curves its way through our park which allows children to be driven directly to where they would want to play at the pool or at the lagoon or at the playing fields and at the tennis and basketball courts. 
Manitoba School adjoins the park on the west, next to an expanse of a grassy playing area. The large wall on the west side of the school is perfect for handball where players compete while people gather to watch as their children play on the adjoining, recently constructed, colorful playground. From our front porch, the children attending Manitoba School seem to have it made as I frequently hear the joyful screams of children and see them playing on the grass. The only thing I don't like about our neighborhood is when the joyful screams of children move elsewhere during summer vacation.
Within our park are 2 recently constructed, colorful playgrounds, the very large swimming pool, the “stone house” in the center of the park, the lagoon with 2 islands and a large “boathouse,” a large, open but covered wood shelter for both family picnics and large meetings and many paved walkways and meandering, forested trails to explore. There are many designated picnic areas with numerous picnic tables throughout our park and we even have a 35 foot tall (including the new pedestal) “Spirit of Commerce” statue that now stands proudly next to the lagoon. I also must add that when Michael was 9 years young in 1993, we walked on one of the trails through the dense forest area and we “discovered” the statue at a time when it was then located elsewhere, overgrown and camouflaged by the encroaching forest. Many children, other than us, probably felt they had likewise “discovered” the statue. Our statue was later rediscovered by many others and about 15 years ago was relocated to a deserving, prominent position next to the lagoon. 
There are several open, grassy playing fields in our park that are used for soccer and football. There are baseball diamonds and basketball courts and there are tennis courts. There are hundreds of towering, mature trees throughout our sunlit park. They provide high canopies of leaves for low patches of shade throughout our sunlit park.
From early morning until dusk all 7 days a week, people can be seen walking alone or walking their dogs or walking together on the ½ mile path that winds around the lagoon. About 10 years ago, massive, light-colored granite slabs were placed around the entire lagoon that now contrast between the dark grass and the dark water.
In the summer, the YMCA provides child day care in Jackson Park. Zoe was fortunate to attend day care in Jackson Park during several summers during the 1990s. The children are dropped off at the boat house where they play inside and by the lagoon. Then the children swim at the pool just up the hill from the boathouse and later move to the “stone house” to eat lunch and play until picked up.
In the summer, there are free concerts every Tuesday evening in August where music is played come rain or shine, protected by the large, open, covered wood shelter. 
Now there exists a Jackson Park Farmer's market at the lagoon boathouse from 4 to 7 pm every Thursday. 
Especially on weekends and holidays, the main streets around our park are often lined with cars carrying visitors to picnic and play in our park. 
Fireworks and special activities are enjoyed on the 4th of July. Even though I do not watch bombs bursting in air in public, I must honestly admit I watch them from my front porch. 
The first time I lived across the street from Jackson Park was between 1961 and 1967 when I was 11 to 17 years of age, the winters did feel colder than they are now. The lagoon would always freeze over and when the ice became 6 or 8 inches thick, county employees would open the boathouse and plow the snow to the shoreline. Soon, dozens and even hundreds of children and adults would arrive to ice skate on the enormous, smooth ice surface. Some skaters used hockey skates and some used racing skates, but most used figure skates. The boathouse was where we checked our shoes and put on our skates and where we purchased snacks and hot chocolate. The ice rink was displayed by towering lights at night and music played for some skaters to dance to and for all of us to enjoy. At that time and in my idealized memories, the frozen lagoon with the clean piles of snow pushed up to its edge, the warm glow of night lights on ice and the many colors of flowing skaters looked just like the winter ice skating scenes painted on Christmas cookie tins. 
In addition to skating, we could walk to the “stone house” where we could rent long toboggans. 2 or 3 or 4 of us would haul the heavy, wood toboggan up a high flight of stairs leading to the flat ramp where we would place the toboggan. We would place the sled on the horizontal ramp and climb on board, our legs extended over the boots of the rider ahead of us. Then the operator would release a lever to tilt the sled downward. The toboggan would slide down the ramp at a terrifying speed and keep going quickly on an ice track that would through our park. We would eventually come to a stop, then haul the sled back to the ramp again, haul the sled back up the stairs again, then slide back down the ramp again at a terrifying speed, not once, but many times.
During the summers, I spent many afternoons and evenings at the swimming pool, sometimes trying to get the lifeguards wet with cannonballs and jackknives. 
We rented row boats and rowed around the lagoon and to the 2 islands we explored. 
We fished in the lagoon, but joked that the small fish from the cloudy water were radioactive and we just threw them back. 
50 years ago, I taught myself how to play tennis alone, well enough to join my Boys Tech High School team. Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall were my daily opponents, especially at match point of the 5th set at the U.S. Open. I pounded tennis balls against the large, brick wall of Manitoba School for many hours, playing against the same wall where young people now pound handballs against the wall for many hours.
Milwaukee County has been highly praised and honored many times during many years for the quality and location and abundance of our parks. Milwaukee residents are extremely fortunate to live where we can enjoy our very great parks system. Our parks were created and exist to provide recreation and health and happiness for our citizens. Our parks are a living testament to the vision and work and commitment of many people long before us which continues today. Their legacy of our very great parks system continues today and will continue to serve us for many more decades to come. Our very great Milwaukee County parks system is a treasure that must never become tarnished and must never be taken for granted in time.
So summer is finally here!
I hope you will soon visit and enjoy our Jackson Park! 
Enjoy a ½ mile walk around our lagoon today! 
After all, our neighborhood is only as nice as the people who live and visit here!

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