Summer's sweetest memories can be priceless without being pricey. The Summer Tour discovered this simple truth last week during a visit to a pair of pocket parks gracing the heart of uptown Oxford.
At high noon in the Butler County town, both parks - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park to the west and Memorial Park to the east - swarmed with visitors. Everyone was enjoying making free summertime memories.
No one bought a ticket. Nobody waited in line. Or got upset. They just took in summer for all of its glory in this 10,200-square-foot carefree zone.
Two Miami University seniors, Kristin Inglefield and her roommate, Tori Griffee, put studying on hold to catch some rays of sunshine on a grassy knoll by the park's memorial cannon.
They graduate in August. Then, it's off to the real world.
So, they were enjoying the remaining time "in this bubble," as Kristin described college life and life in Oxford, "where we don't have anything to worry about except classes."
On Memorial Park's lawn, two women in long wrap-around skirts tossed a Frisbee. The lawn covers the spot where the city's water tower once stood.
The tower, an Oxford landmark since the 1920s, came down in 1998 to make way for the twin parks. Much fuss was raised at the time over the tower's demise. On this day, no one mourned the tower and its skin of rust and peeling paint.
Naja Parker, age 6, romps through the fountain at the Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial Park on High Street in Oxford.
(Dick Swaim photo)
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The Frisbee women tossed their heads back and laughed as the plastic disk wobbled through the warm noontime air. Families, friends and co-workers found shade at nearby tables and ate lunch spiced with smiles.
A puppy named Zion frolicked with Leah Janssen, a Miami junior, and Kate Robertson, assistant director of customer service at the university's recreation center.
"These parks bring the community together," Janssen said.
"Everyone - grown-ups, students, little kids - comes here to kick back and relax."
Zion strained at her leash. She wanted to plant her paws in the interactive fountain where giggles mingled with gurgling water.
Sounds coming from the fountain called out to passers-by. Walk this way. Get wet. Cool off. Forget your troubles. Be happy.
Jets of water gently shot up at staggered intervals from an array of round grates in the fountain's base. Two 6-year-olds, Hannah Rush and Naja Parker, were having what grown-ups would call the time of their lives.
These little girls didn't know that just yet. Someday, when they're older, they will. For now, they were simply having fun under the watchful eyes of Hannah's mom, Suzanne Rush, and grandmother, Donna Schwartz.
Sometimes, the 6-year-olds sat on the round grates and waited for a wet column of cool water to gush around them. Other times, they let the jets bubble water into their faces.
Most of the time, they ran through the fountain getting drenched and squealing with delight.
"That's summer right over there," said Martin Cobb. He nodded toward Hannah and Naja.
Cobb and three fellow executives from the Oxford-based national headquarters of Beta Theta Phi paused between bites of lunch. They looked enviously at the fountain. The water tempted them. Ditch those ties. Kick off the shoes. Come on in.
"That water's awfully inviting," said Ethan Braden. "But when you're grown up, you don't have much time to play in a fountain."
"Who says?"' asked Steve Becker. "We might jump in there after we eat."
As the fraternity men laughed at the thought, Hannah and Naja toweled off. Schwartz had to go back to work in Miami's admissions office.
"They met me for lunch," she said. "It makes life worthwhile."
Suzanne Rush went over their noontime routine:
"We eat lunch, get ice cream and play in the fountain. These are the things the kids remember forever."
Both women believe that children don't cherish memories of the fortune their parents spend on big summer vacations. Little things make summer special.
Rush recalled summers long ago where "we'd go down to Cincinnati and stop at Fountain Square and splash in the water."
Schwartz remembered a summertime treat: Sealtest sundae cups. They came with a wooden spoon, perfect for prying the frozen dark chocolate fudge at the bottom of the cup.
"Mmmmmmmmmm," she sighed. "They were so good."
She was talking about the sundaes. But she was also savoring sweet memories of summer.
Five facts about Oxford
Origin of name: One year after Miami University was established in 1809, the adjoining village was named Oxford, in honor of another center of learning: Oxford, England.
Size: 5.7 square miles.
Uptown parks: Covering Oxford's public square and opened in 2000, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park, on the west, and Memorial Park, on the east, each measure approximately 5,100 square feet.
Cannon: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park includes a Civil War-era cannon. This artillery piece has sat on Oxford's public square since 1885.
Cliff Radel's Summer Tour
What defines summer in your neighborhood? Kids setting up a lemonade stand? Reds fans sitting on a porch and listening to Marty and Joe on the radio? A street party?
Every Monday, a neighborhood's slice of summer will be spotlighted in Metro.
Send suggestions to: Cliff Radel's Summer Tour, The Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, OH 45202; fax (513) 768-8340; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Cliff Radel, a Cincinnati native, writes about the people, places and traditions defining his hometown.
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