Fondest Childhood Family Outings

November 1, 2011
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As a young child, life was carefree and full of simple pleasures. These were times I was able to enjoy many happy memories in the great outdoors. During these years two of my favorite places to go with my family were Krape Park and Edwards Apple Orchard each October. After I turned ten, my family left Illinois and moved to Texas and I had to leave behind these two places and all the fond memories that they held. My life has felt incomplete since leaving these places since a piece of my life and memories felt left behind.

I was two years old when I first entered this magical play land. Krape Park was huge, with lots of choices of things to do. It was difficult to decide where to start—feeding ducks, attempting the balance beam, or playing in the sand with my sand toys and building mini castles with moats and flags on top. I see trees, tall and magnificent, sway in the cool autumn breeze. The sound of children chattering and laughing fills the air. A wide river flows lazily between the hills and a waterfall can be seen battering the rocks near the road. A sturdy white bridge connects a land of fantasy and reality. As the sun rises, I see its rays permeating the dense foliage creating a sort-of twilight zone encompassing the park. The wooden castle playscape, its glorious spires penetrating the air, creates a sense of awe in anyone that beholds it. Under a small pavilion, an antique fire truck, still intact after many years of work and play, stands as a memorial to firefighters of old. Children, living out their dreams of being firefighters themselves, are seen ringing the bell on the fire truck and sitting in the seat, even sliding down the fire station pole nearby.
As my family rounded the final corner and entered Krape Park, the first thing I would see was the historic carousel – a musical pleasure with the old fashioned music and white lights and moving horses, painted in vibrant colors that brought them to life. I would choose a special horse to take me on a ride to a fantasy land, with the wind rushing across my face as my horse moved up and down and the carousel turned in its circular fashion. I begged to stay on my horse for as long as possible, to keep the dream from ending, especially for only 25¢ a ride. I long to return to this place to continue riding as a family on our beautiful horses.

After descending from my steed the tall swings were a place where I could escape reality and feel all powerful as I lifted myself upward until I was flying higher than the carousel and feeling like I was racing the trees skyward. It was also a place where my parents taught me how to pump my strong legs so I could get to the maximum height as quickly as possible and then stay there for as long as I had the strength.

After catching my breath from my swing ride, I would head up to the center of the park to climb a steep ladder that led to the top of the high tower of the fire pole. I would convince myself to reach out and grasp the tremendous fire pole fearlessly, and then hesitantly jump onto the pole and hang on for dear life until I reached the bottom, and felt Dad’s safe arms catch me and hold me tight. The exhilaration of sliding down from great heights gave me supernatural confidence to try anything new that might appear scary, but was really a blast! Next, scrambling over to the antique fire engine I could be found wildly turning the steering wheel while making my own siren sounds as I zoomed up and down hills and around crazy curves until the fire was in sight. Ringing the bell as loudly as a foghorn I would warn anyone in the path of my winding red monster seeking to exhaust any and all fires in sight.

Finally, at top of the hill, the majestic Kids Kastle would greet me as my family enthusiastically raced to a variety of activities that included running, chasing, catching, climbing, hiding, sliding, and laughing together. With all there was to do at Krape Park, the highlight was always the Kids Kastle. My brother and I would play hide and go seek in and around the castle play area and my mom would push us on the swings and we would run around the park trying to catch each other. There were endless possibilities of what we could do as a family. A large sandbox was enclosed by the castle and we would take our sand toys and build things out of sand. I loved playing on the tire swing with my brother until we were dizzy and sick from the twirling of the swing. Picnic lunches were great as well. We would pick up McDonald’s chicken nuggets and as a family enjoy them at the picnic table by the castle turrets as we took a break from being knights protecting our fortress. I never tired of the castle. As I grew bigger it was still able to accommodate my need to fly higher, run faster, hide in new secret places, or chase my brother and parents around and around the different parts of that thrilling castle. I would race across the bouncy bridge and hurriedly slide down a slide before Dad could tag me. I would turn my head and see my brother approaching so I would duck back into my hiding place or dart out and surprise him while racing to cross the tires before he could catch me. I would peek out through turret windows to see where everyone else was, so I could keep my distance from being caught or seen.
After my brother John was born, Krape Park became an adventure to share as brothers, as he grew from a toddler to a big boy who I could race and play with throughout the whole park. I would introduce new ways to play and help him try out things that once were too hard for him to do. I taught him how to climb ladders, pump his legs on the swing, slide down poles, and fit into crannies that I was too big to hide in anymore. I was able to share my enthusiasm with him as we discovered new games to play. Krape Park was a place to call home—it had everything you needed for hours of fun with the variety of activities and play areas. My parents bought a second car after John was born and then we were able to go to Krape Park anytime we wanted to—which was all the time. Even after going during the day and meeting friends to share a picnic and playtime with we would still return in the evenings for time to include Dad in our family time of running, playing, and laughing together! In the fall the leaves were changing colors, from their natural green to the crinkly orange, yellow, reds and browns that made rainbows appear all through the park. What fabulous family memories we shared in this wonder world of Krape Park!

I remember when I was young, my family and I would travel to Edwards Apple Orchard each year – a sort of pilgrimage every October. It was a novel experience because unlike Krape Park we did not come here very often. I could smell the warm apple cider and doughnuts from anywhere on the farm. First, since we had saved our appetites for this savory experience, we would buy a gallon of apple cider and a couple dozen cinnamon doughnuts. I could taste the sweet bitterness of the cider mix with the crumbly, sugary taste of the doughnut when I dipped the doughnut in the cider. Next, we would partake of the delectable caramel apples. Sweet Fuji apples were smothered with warm caramel, and then dipped in crushed peanuts. The caramel apples were so delicious we would buy a dozen in a box to take home. We would then wander inside the largest barn where there was a whole corner with nine or ten different varieties of apples sliced up for sampling side by side so we could decide which ones were the most appealing. We would buy a half bushel of Fuji and Jonagold apples to take home, as they were our family favorites! The scrumptious flavors of the foods and scents in the air were the taste of autumn.

As I am surrounded by fields and fences, a small farm hosts annual harvest festivities. Cars are parked on the grass and live bluegrass music can be heard nearby. Large concrete floored barns have booths selling all sorts of apples, doughnuts, and other autumn-themed goodies. Outside, children play on a long wooden train or large wooden ship and swing from the ladders. Adults and children alike try to find their way through a mesh-fence maze. Families are taking pictures on piles of hay and measuring their height next to a scarecrow. Inside a small barn, a dark room smells of freshly made apple cider and cinnamon doughnuts. Cider swirls through machines and are sold by the gallon. Across the road a large field houses hundreds of pumpkins grown on the spot.

The highlight of this yearly pilgrimage was to choose our own pumpkins from their huge pumpkin patch. I would step out into a huge field where vibrant orange pumpkins of all sizes were scattered for as far as I could see. My brother and I would each seek out the perfect pumpkin that we would later carve into our jack-o-lanterns. We would try to out do each other by picking the biggest pumpkin and my dad would commonly ask my brother to walk back to the van so the stroller could be used to carry one of the pumpkins. The pumpkins would be weighed and we would excitedly pack them for the trip home. Later we would carve them into giant jack-o-lanterns as we prepared for our night on the town trick or treating as a family.

After eating and selecting our pumpkins, my brother and I spent hours in the large play area where there were many structures for kids to climb over and pretend to be pirates, conductors, and farmers. A huge ship drew me and my brother to its plank, luring us upward into the depths of adventure. After climbing up the plank walk onto the deck we could look out and see all the festivities from the highest part of the ship. My brother and I would then climb down into the underside of the ship where as we sat on the benches we became pirates traveling over the ocean in search of great treasures. I also adored the long wooden replica train, in which I could climb through and over each of the cars. It had four train cars trailing behind and I loved standing atop, being taller than everyone. I would stroll through the cars, as the conductor or I would be the engineer controlling the train and taking cargo to other parts of the country through thick woods. My brother would try to chase me around the train without me touching the ground as I swiftly climbed over and through the cars. The smell of the wooden train was comforting as it reminded me of home. Playing on the huge tractor by the play equipment was also a blast! It was a real tractor minus the engine, so it was as close to the real thing that I was able to “drive”. I loved sitting with my brother on the huge worn seat, becoming farmers, putting the tractor in gear and driving it across the farm and the fields as we harvested our crops. These were awesome memories with my brother.

Each year my family would stand by the colorful painted scarecrow holding a measuring stick made of sunflowers, leaning against one of the barn walls. We would stand together and see how tall each of us had become. My dad would always be the tallest but if we were to go back again today maybe he would not be the tallest anymore…My memories of going to Edwards Apple Orchard in Poplar Grove, Illinois takes me back to a time when things were simple and I could just play and bond with my family. It was also a time to celebrate the change in seasons as we enjoyed the fall colors, activities, and flavors of harvest foods.

When I was ten years old my family left these familiar attractions of Krape Park and Edwards Apple Orchard when we moved to Texas. Since moving to Texas I have felt sad, torn, and empty because I thought I had left behind an important part of my life in Illinois and it has bothered me for many years. I have since realized that I still have my family and that is what makes those memories so special. Instead of focusing on missing the places where those memories took place I need to look for new memories to make with my family members in new places and situations.

For example, even though we never found another park quite like Krape Park, we did discover Sweet Berry Farm in Marble Falls, which provides our family with a fall pilgrimage each October. The thing we love most there is the Texas-shaped corn field maze in which there are twelve different destinations. These destinations are Texas cities placed in the correct geographic locations throughout the maze. We work together to find each city and punch our cards, showing each destination we have located. We are always sure to get some of the homemade berry, pumpkin, and vanilla ice cream as we enjoy the petting zoo, pumpkin displays and other activities as a family.

Even if I went back to Illinois everything would be different—everything would be smaller, both literally and figuratively—both in size, and importance. Yes, these places enhanced my growing up years and helped me appreciate the good times I had as a child and those memories cannot be taken away from me. My childhood years were formative and these places really bonded my family and I was able to enjoy carefree happy times in the great outdoors and during different seasons of the year. In looking back I am grateful for the four seasons we were able to enjoy each year, with the changing colors, temperatures, and the sunshine, rain, and snow. What is most important is that I continue to appreciate the relationships I have with my parents and brother and look for ways to keep those relationships developing in the future in new ways as I enter different seasons of my life.





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