Owen playing at Park Two. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Zimmerman
Owen playing at Park Two. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Zimmerman

What’s this park named?” Owen asked as he clambered up wooden steps.

My wife and I glanced at each other and shrugged. We didn’t know what to call the triangle of land bordered by West Seventh, Lexington, and Albion. Perhaps it was called Riverside Park, after the nearby learning center, but we didn’t know for sure, and we didn’t want to mislead our son. So I just said, “I don’t know, buddy.”

“This is Park Two,” he announced, as if he’d already decided on the name.

Furrowing our brows, my wife and I looked at each other again. Asking the obvious, I called out, “Where’s Park One?”

“Up the hill,” he said, hopping off the slide. By “up the hill,” he undoubtedly meant Highland Park, a larger park with a larger playground. It had a picnic shelter, grills, and larger, higher slides. We had ventured there a month earlier, but the hike up the hill was more than we had counted on, especially with ice and snow still on the sidewalk, so we hadn’t returned. Nevertheless, either the larger play area or the fact that we went there first made an impression on Owen, and he felt that was the park to rightly label Park One.

“But shouldn’t the park across the street from Park One be called Park Two?” I asked, referring to the small slide near the park benches on the other side of the road.

“No,” he answered confidently, “that’s Park Zero.” And that was the end of the discussion. From then on, we alone were the only three people in all of Saint Paul to know where Park Zero, Park One, and Park Two were located.

Living in the Chateau Montreal Apartments, we valued Park Two as the closest green space to our home. As soon as it was warm enough every spring—and often before that—we journeyed past the gas station and the traffic and spent an hour or so at the playground. Park Two was the site where Owen first zipped down a slide by himself, where he first figured out how to pump a swing, and where he first learned the pure joy of blowing the seeds from a dandelion and letting the wind disperse them across a ball field. We took pride in our park. Owen and my wife spent an hour pulling weeds from the sand one afternoon, and I frequently wiped off graffiti. We picked up sticks and garbage, and I was always ready to straighten out a swing that had been twisted around the bars. Owen nearly came to tears one evening when we saw that the bridge connecting the two slides was vandalized; the rope holding up the south side was torn and the slats angled to the ground, rendering the bridge unusable. After an absence of five days, we were positively elated to find it repaired by some unseen hero.

We recently moved again. A couple weeks after settling into our new place, I walked with Owen and his little sister to a nearby park. This time, I knew its name. “This is Palace Park,” I told him as I helped his sister climb onto the wooden stairs. He didn’t respond, so I asked, “What are you gonna call this park?”

“Park Four,” he said.

His mother and I have not yet determined the whereabouts of Park Three. If you find it, please let us know.

Posted in: Memories, Places
Tagged: Highland Park