My Mostly Happy Life: Autobiography of a Climbing Tree CHAPTER 13

Updated 2 years ago By Shelly Reuben
My Mostly Happy Life: Autobiography of a Climbing Tree CHAPTER 13

Chapter 13

Sam Swerling fell in love with a woman named Ghita.

Ghita had glossy black hair, mesmerizing green eyes, high cheekbones, and beautiful skin. She had grown up in poverty with twelve brothers and sisters, and she possessed a deep-seated yearning for a secure life with no surprises.

Long after she met Sam, she still wondered why, of all the men who had pursued her, she chose to marry the one whose mind climbed into unstable aircraft on wilderness runways to fly up and off into an ionosphere of impractical dreams.

Or so she thought.

He was a man without a timeclock.

He was a man without unemployment insurance, workman’s compensation benefits, and a corporate pension plan.

He was an inventor whose income depended solely upon the success or failure of his latest invention.

He was a pilot without a parachute. A high-flyer without a safety net. A visionary whose feet were planted firmly in the flimsy frozen crystals of clouds.

Yet, the winged aircraft of his imagination had never crash-landed.


And he always landed safely on a tarmac of success.


Despite Ghita’s enduring anxiety about the future, Samuel Swerling gave his wife and their five children everything that they could desire. Art, music, and ballet lesson. Lifetime memberships in science, art, and natural history museums. Seasonal tickets to symphonies and the ballet.

An adoring heart.

And an endless supply of love.

The most important thing that Samuel Swerling gave to his family, though, was his presence. Being self-employed, he worked out of his apartment, and he made his own hours. Like his nephew Franklin, he believed that happy people are more efficient than mindless drones.

So, Samuel spent a lot of time with his children.

He made their breakfasts.

He packed their school lunches.

When they were small, he sang them songs he’d made up himself with funny lyrics and no melodies; he taught them silly dance steps that were so illogical, they would trip over their own

feet, throw up their hands in frustration, and then laugh until they cried. And he rode everywhere with one or another child balanced on the handlebars of his bicycle, breaking a half-dozen laws each time and lucky not to be arrested for child endangerment.

Always and to their great delight, Sam created indelible memories that they would cherish, emulate, and eventually pass on to children of their own.

Long before Sam met his future wife, he was deeply involved in creating the little paradise of greenery that became the Samuel Swerling Park. It was under a canopy of cherry trees in his park that he and Ghita were married in 1955; and twenty-five years later, in that selfsame lush and lovely spot, Sam’s daughter Donna landscaped what was to become the Children’s Garden.

Speaking of Donna, I promised to tell you about the rest of Samuel Swerling’s progeny, and now would be a good time to do it. Please do not feel that you have to remember any details, as my purpose is merely to introduce a sufficient number of relatives so that later, when I describe how the family responded when we climbing trees were under siege, you will have a frame of reference for their response.

Here we go.

Sam and Ghita’s oldest child, Honor, is a poet. She married a mechanical engineer – the kind that builds bridges – and they have five children.

Their second child, Cornelia, is a realtor; her husband Jefferson was killed in the Vietnam War. Cornelia has twin boys.

Sam’s third oldest, Tennyson, is a documentary film producer. He and his wife have three sons.

You already met Sam’s youngest daughter, Donna, the sculptress. Donna’s husband Powell is also a Vietnam veteran. After the war, he became a commercial airline pilot. He and

Donna have three children: Esther (her grandfather’s favorite), Carmichael, and Noah. You will meet Esther’s two brothers later.

Sam’s youngest, Desmond, is a newspaperman. Like his father, Des married late in life, and wasting no time, promptly produced four children.

Meanwhile, Sam’s older brother Jack started his own branch of the family tree. He and

Eve (Jack met her in law school) married much earlier than Sam and Ghita, and had three sons.

First came Franklin, whom you encountered earlier with Genevieve in our park; they have two boys.

Jack’s middle son is David. He and his wife produced three beautiful girls.

And Crane, Jack’s youngest, emulated his father and Franklin by also having only boys.

The reason why I have gone into such detail about the Swerling family offspring is to give you an idea of their quantity, proximity, and affinity. Even though Sam, Ghita and their children lived in the city, and Jack, Eve and their sons lived in the suburbs, all of the cousins grew up knowing each other intimately, loving each other steadfastly (despite inevitable childhood squabbles), and playing with each other every summer in the Samuel Swerling Park.

They climbed our trees. They read books in our branches. They brought their sweethearts here to woo and sometimes to wed. They threw picnics here, birthday parties, and the occasional wedding. When they visited the city, they would sleep in Sam’s and Ghita’s apartment, and if there weren’t enough beds, they brought sleeping bags and slept on the floor.

I’m talking about three generations.

Two brothers and their wives.

Eight offspring of those two brothers, and their spouses.

Twenty-three grandchildren.

Unless I’ve missed a few, there were forty-three in all, and often all in our park at the same time.

This tally does not include the grandchildren’s spouses or the great grandchildren, many of whom maintain the Swerling tradition of joyful ingenuity; self-guided professionalism; irrepressible individuality; intense loyalty; and enduring love.

There is safety in numbers.

There is power in numbers.

There is noise in numbers.

Numbers can make one hell of a ruckus.

And when the right people are making the right ruckus at the right time, good things can happen.



Copyright © 2017, Shelly Reuben Originally published in The Evening Sun, Norwich, NY - Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her work, visit

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