The legend of the Nanaw swing

Kneeling: Duane Evans, left, who was inspired by the legend of the swing, and Brad Campbell, president of Integrity Designs; top row, Jarred Neeley, Nick Campbell, who were responsible for straightening and welding the wreckage; far right with a white beard is Tom Parker who cut the wooden slats for the seats. Photo by Heather Paris Photography

Sometime you take for granted the things that have always been a part of your life, so much so that you tend to see right through them. Then something happens to make you realize that the most important things, the things you treasure most besides the people in your life, are those which are the most simple yet the most poignant and treasured of all your memories, the part that makes you who you are.

So it is with the Nanaw swing…

In about 1950 give or take a year or so, William Reason Young hitched a trailer to his old Oliver tractor and loaded up a double seated, metal framed glider swing that his parents,  Arthur and Viola Jackson Young, gave him as a gift for his children, all eleven of them. The Youngs lived in Landersville, about seven miles, as the crow files, west of Moulton, Alabama.

He and his wife, Edna Roberts Young, lived about a mile down the road in a house that was built sometime before 1915, and was once a dogtrot cabin with an outside kitchen. By the time William bought (circa 1920) it had been updated to include an indoor kitchen, the dogtrot closed in and the house enlarged to accommodate their growing family: Mary Helen, Bob, Jack, twins Maye and Faye, twins Joan and Jane, Jerry, Ann, David and Ruth. At this particular time the oldest three were married and lived elsewhere, but the rest of the kids were still at home.

Joan Young Lang vividly remembers playing on the swing when it sat in the shade on the side of her grandparents home across the street from their store in Landersville. “We didn’t get to go there much, eventhough it was close by,” she said. “But when we did, we loved to play on that swing!”

On this particular day their daddy pulled up, grinning like a possum, and called loudly for them as he turned into the driveway. Some were within ear shot, others were out by the barn and saw what he was bringing. All of them ran screaming and yelling to one another, “Look, look! Daddy has the Nanaw swing!”

“Look what Nanaw wanted y’all to have,” he said to them.

It was always referred to as the Nanaw swing because that’s what they called their grandmother. People back then, especially rural farmers, didn’t spoil their children with a lot of fancy gifts, take them on vacations or shower them with a lot of toys and games.  Christmas was always a good time for the children, crops were in and cotton was ginned, and the proceeds were partially reserved so that they might have something extra from Santa. “It was the only time of the year that we got toys,” Joan recalled. “The little girls always got a pretty doll, coloring books and set of Jacks, and everybody got a ball of a different color and size. The boys got new knives, small tools and one year a puppy was in a box under the tree. We all got a few pieces of fruit, but games were something you made up out in the yard with your brothers and sisters; hopscotch, keep away or hide and seek. All that to say that this was a momentous occasion in their lives. “We didn’t have much, and now that swing was everything,” Joan declared.

This swing sitting high on their daddy’s trailer was the most wonderful gift they could ever imagine getting. It was certainly the biggest, but it was more than just a swing. It was a symbol of their grandparents’ love and affection for them. Not overly prone to favoring any of their grandchildren, it was a real surprise when they chose William’s children to be on the receiving end of their generosity. They had five other children and lots of other grandchildren, but none of the others had so many children. Besides, they were probably tired of mowing around it and were glad to give it to their grandchildren.

Still squealing with delight the older kids assisted their dad in getting the swing down and set up on the ground near the west side of their house. Their mother would be able to see them from her kitchen window.   

They stumbled all over each other trying to get to a seat, or even to stand up and hold on, rocking it from side to side and making the old swing creak and groan.

Joan and Jane (Rains) think they would have been around 10 at the time. For all of the children it was a moment in time that stands out from days picking cotton in the hot Alabama sun, helping their mother in her huge vegetable garden, chopping wood and coal for the fireplaces, endlessly dusting from the fine silt that came in through opened screen covered windows and helping with the animals on the farm from which their sustenance was derived.

They would be in the fields the next day, but today, in what was left of the warm glow of a setting sun, they played on the swing, its double seats facing each other, some of them standing in the middle and making it go higher than was perfectly safe for the baby, Ruthie. They played until their mother called them in for supper, reluctantly giving up the intoxicating excitement of the swing to go inside and sit like stair steps at the dinner table, then get ready for bed.

For years, at least up until they got a television set, they played on the Nanaw swing every free moment unless it was Saturday night, which would have meant that they would be watching Gunsmoke. If that was the case, it meant that not a word was to be spoken, not a playful laugh among them, no squirming and tickling or anything that might make their daddy give them a stern look and say in his gruffest voice, “Hush! Listen!” as Marshal Dillion and his deputy Chester Good, foiled another bank robbery while Miss Kitty watched  from the swinging cafe doors of the Longbranch Saloon.

It might have been new to them, but the Nanaw swing was already at least 30 or 40 years old, at the very least. Built by a neighbor, Mr. Buddy Latham, it was sturdily constructed of metal with the exception of the seats. A metal grid spanned the distance between the facing seats where feet pointed toward each other toe to toe, and metal struts made hanging on easy even if you were the last one on and had to stand. The seats were painted green most of the time, but once in a while if there was leftover barn paint it would get a coat of red. The metal was eventually painted green, as well.

The swing became the focus of their games, a place to read, do homework or listen to transistor radios, a place to cool off and to dream, letting thoughts soar. “We had big imaginations,” Joan laughed. “We’d never been anywhere but Moulton, but we imagined we were on different continents, sailing across seas or fighting wars.”

Much like Peter Pan, those children grew up and their fascination with the swing gave way to the business of life. But a new generation soon took their place, and where there had been nine out of the original eleven kids who claimed the Nanaw swing as their castle, now there were 24. They weren’t there all at once with the exception of major holidays but the majority of them always came home to the old house in Landersville every Sunday for dinner. Filled with the smells of frying chicken and biscuits baking in the oven, and sulfur water, they were shooed outside where they played all day long on the Nanaw swing, which might have either a fresh coat of paint, or be faded and chipped from one year to the next. Now it sat in the center of the yard, where parents passed the time sitting in rockers and on two wide porch swings facing each other, could oversee the group on the Nanaw swing, making sure that they didn’t fall out or maybe get shoved.

Kids hung off all sides of the Nanaw swing, laughing and singing to the top of their lungs, the older ones holding the toddlers in their laps and making believe they were pioneers on their way West in a covered wagon or on a pirate ship bound for Neverland. Some days it was a school bus, or in the sixties, a rocket ship bound for the moon. Many times it was a ship at sea, or a submarine under the ocean waves where huge fish threatened to destroy it, but they never did. Occasionally when only the older grandchildren were there it was a place to share secrets, to giggle about boys or to read movie magazines and dream of Elvis or Tab Hunter. And once again, life moved on and yet another generation took over the swing. This time there were 42, and they were scattered far and wide, but when they were there, their favorite place to be was in the Nanaw swing, its history and its endless adventures once again capturing their imaginations and taking them far away, to infinity and beyond.

Time marched on and first William, then Edna passed from this life into another, leaving a multitude of grieving children and grand, great, and great-great grandchildren behind. The house was divided up and precious keepsakes were given new homes. The Nanaw swing was one of the last things to be decided on. Now only 10 of them were present, Mary Helen having passed away in 1961.

They stood quietly in the yard where so many of them had lived and contemplated the swing where countless hours had been spent by each one of them and their children, and children’s children.  They divided the last things into 11 piles, trying to be fair and put something desirable into each one.

Finally, they each drew a number that corresponded with a stack of memories. The Nanaw swing went to Joan, along with a quilt hand stitched by their Aunt Arrie Jackson in 1892. “It is called a ‘Crazy Quilt,’” said Joan. “It is embroidered with the names of her mother, her grandmother, great grandmother and even our great-great grandmother,” Joan explained. “They all had a hand in piecing it together.”  

Six months later, in the summer of 1995, the old swing made its way from Landersville to Moulton, where it was placed under the sheltering branches of several oak and maple trees. Joan’s grandchildren call her Nanaw, so it was truly an appropriate home for the family swing that had seen so many Young’s come and go over the years.

Then, in 2018 a popup thunderstorm that spawned a microburst or a small tornado did what generations of use never could…it sat there as trees were tossed around the yard, their branches crashing on the metal frame that Mr. Buddy Latham worked so hard to make strong enough to hold up for so many years.

When Joan returned from a friend’s storm shelter she couldn’t even see the swing but the next day a group of men from Pleasant Grove Baptist Church showed up with chain saws and axes, to clear a way for her to get into her driveway, and later a demolition crew spent several days removing debris that had fallen on the area of the yard where the swing sat. Slowly the swing began to take shape through the debris.

It was mangled beyond recognition. The family was crushed at its loss. Suddenly every one of Joan’s children as well as the cousins and aunts and uncles were devastated that this swing which was such a part of each child’s most cherished memories was reduced to a twisted mass of metal and a few broken wooden slats. It seemed surreal to see it so decimated, its magical properties of time travel and suspenseful pretending should surely have rendered it invincible. But there it was, a thing destined for the scrap heap, until one evening a friend visiting Joan asked about it and upon learning of its history, went out into the back yard and looked a little closer.

Something of its magic must have reached out to him, whispered softly into his ear. He was so moved the night that Joan, eyes moist with emotion, showed them the wreckage, and told of its long family history, how much it meant to her and how heartbroken she was when the tree fell on it. Duane and Alice Evans decided that there was something they could do to help.

“The very next morning I told Brad Campbell of Integrity Design the story,” said Duane. “He too was moved, and sent his son Nick out in the company truck to pick it up.” Nick looked at the crumpled mess, and had serious doubts but he couldn’t break this sweet lady’s heart,” Duane continued. “We loaded it up with a lot of silent eye rolling and headed off.”

“Everyone pitched in. Nick, and Jarred Neeley got busy straightening the metal, and welding the century old iron. It took a lot of skill and patience. Tom Parker, my brother-in-law, cut new board slats. When it started to look like a swing again, Brad made the decision to load it back on the truck and carry it to Decatur to have the rust sand blasted away. We weren’t going to paint bad metal. Once it was back in the shop, the metal and wood slats got a fresh coat of paint. The old swing was finally bolted together.”

 They stood back and smiled at a job well done. The Nanaw swing looked brand new. “It was beautiful,” Duane said with a sense of satisfaction. “The restoration was simply people caring, wanting to do something good while the whole country was locked down under the cloud of a pandemic. All other work had stopped, but here was something they could do to make a difference. My sweet wife, Alice, arranged for Joan, her sister Jane, and their neighbors to be in the yard as the Nanaw swing arrived on the flatbed truck.”

For Brad Campbell, owner of Integrity Design, it was a matter of giving back to the community that has been so good to them. “We don’t do everything just for money,” he said. “We have been blessed and we were honored to have been a part of restoring the Young family treasure,” he said humbly. “It made us happy to see how touched she was when we pulled in with it and set it up.”

The look on her face was worth a thousand words.

Coincidentally, James Latham, Joan’s neighbor, who was the grandson of the man that originally built the swing so many years ago, was there as well to see his grandfather’s creation restored. The truck pulled to a stop amid cheers. Brad’s crew was joined by the men as they lifted the swing and set in place precisely where it had been before. Then the big moment came.

“Everyone grew quiet as Joan, with trembling hands stepped forward and took her place on the swing,” recalled Duane. “Tears were quickly replaced by cheers. Like joyous children, everyone took their turn on the Nanaw swing.”

And now it sits, waiting for the next visit from grandchildren, cousins and friends who have experienced its charm and its ability to capture the imagination and soar to places where boys and girls never grow old, where they can be farmers like William, plowing fertile fields, or fly and become fairies or captains at sea. And for a moment or two, old women can clap their hands and once again be strong and young and forget their grown-up cares and responsibilities.

The legend of the Nanaw swing continues….

(1) comment

hawkeye1126

I’ve never been more proud to be part of something than my Young Family. This swing is only one memory amongst millions that I truly treasure.

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