Summer meant visits to Ringgold Park . . . that was the place that was home to The Rocket slide. It loomed tall, reaching into the hot, muggy summer sky. It was a tower made of hot metal, and stairs that led up to the top of the steepest slide every 5 year old in Brownsville could imagine. It sat, imposing among the iron elephant and zebra swings, past the huge mound metal turtles and lady bugs, and Dumbo and Donald Ducks that sat on iron coils, and those swings that could propel you higher than any other swings at Garfield Park or Lincoln Park. Ringgold Park was also the only park in town with these weird hilly ups and downs that you could run up and down on (or skateboard up and down on or ride your bike up and down on), and that you could also fall down off of and catch a mean raspberry on your knee or elbow if you weren’t careful and paying attention.
Ringgold Park was THE park to go to during those summers so long ago. The park included the Pavilion where I danced as a Charro for Tiny Tot Daycare. I still remember the black charro suit I donned with my velvet charro hat and “patillas y bigote” that were drawn on to my face with my Mom’s black eyeliner pencil, dampened with the tip of her tongue.
Ringgold Park was the place for smitten lovers and juicy raspas on Sunday afternoons. It was the forbidden place to go to if you attended Cummings Intermediate School.
Ringgold Park was home to Sams Pool and the Blue Dolphins Swim Team, and the best place to be during those sweltering summer months . . . Sams Pool was the pool where you slid in on the cold wet concrete floors, placed your clothes in a basket with a lock and kept track of your basket number with a huge numbered safety pin you attached to your bathing suit, and if you were brave enough, Sams Pool was where you could dive off the highest diving board in town.
Ringgold Park was where many happy childhood memories were created before our town was given the Gladys Porter Zoo in 1971.
Back to the place I avoided as a kid afraid of heights . . . The Rocket slide. You had to be pretty brave and as brave to climb up to the top of the Rocket as you were to dive off the Sams Pool Diving Board into the deep end of the pool. You had to be THAT brave to climb up the treacherous and rusty, squeaky steps and then walk over the unsteady tandem, catwalk bridge with the bars that made it look like a cage and then slide down the steep, often times scorching hot, slide. Come to think of it, every ride in that asphalt park turned into a scorching skillet during the summer months because every ride was made out of iron or sheet metal. Que kid friendly park ni que nada . . . it was outdoors and it had water fountains, so it was a kid friendly park by any definition in the 1970s. That park and that slide brought out the kid in everyone as much as it tested the true kid grit in every one of us who played in it and ran through it with complete and utter raw kid abandon.
Not a single last day of school or 1st day of summer has come and gone without thoughts and memories of Ringgold Park and the Rocket Slide for as long as I can remember. Every dip in any pool takes me back to Sams Pool and the towering palm trees that surrounded it. Every playground slide takes me to a place of nervous anticipation and echoes of children’s laughter.