Fourscore and about 100 years ago, this was my home:
Somehow i remember it being a lot smaller.
And less beige. (Did it always have a second story?) In my memories, the sun is shining every day, Ma is hanging up the washing in the backyard to dry while Pa is off working hard to bring home the bacon. Meanwhile, me and my two younger brothers are busy running around rolling tires down the road with a stick or throwing rocks at cans, and begging for 50 cents to run the mile to the little country store to buy a candy bar.
What actually was usually going on, (i realize in a therapeutic breakthrough) was that while Pa was off working hard and bacon-earning, Ma was up to her ears with the mountains of housework three mischievous urchins and one very busy man created and so us kiddos were booted outside with the dire warning of not coming home until dark. With an entire day in the country at our disposal, we promptly got busy triangulating on which two were going to torture the other one which always resulted in massive amounts of screaming and crying and threatening to tell the afore-mentioned frazzled Ma. (Yes, my young parent friends! Having three WILL result in two ganging up on one, permanently scarring the third’s childhood and instigating a lifetime of therapy!! Just don’t do it! Give one away! Or have another! Believe me! You’ll thank me later.)
When we weren’t busy trying to kill each other, we would often run off into the nearby woods. In fact, that was an explicit command at times. (“You kids!! Go play in the woods! Don’t come back until the sun goes down!”) The Woods, was our extremely imaginative name for the forest that ran along the back side of our property, past all the neighbors, and then blossomed out on to a large hill nearby (“just a regular ol’ hill” to those of you who galavant in the snowy Northwest, “gigantic mountain” to my Kansas friends). These woods were ‘older’ growth, deep, dark and dank. And i loved them.
Now we did all kinds of other scary, life-threatening things like drinking straight from the hose and wrestling in the back seat of cars not equipped with seat belts while Pa swerved the car in and out of the lane trying to reach behind him for the whopping stick (“Don’t make me stop this car and beat your butts!!”). He periodically would slam on the breaks to send us careening into the backs of the front seats and dump us on the floor, temporarily stopping our screaming while we caught our breaths and climbed back on to the ample back seat. If we were lucky, we would take the pickup and get to ride in the back where we would fight over which two ‘lucky’ kids got to sit up on the two wheel wells and the poor unfortunate loser had to sit all the way up against the cab where it was ‘boring’ (but actually far, far, safer). Bumps were the best part!
But heading out for a day in the woods was by far, my very very favorite thing to do. My brothers would get bored easily and branch off to find more destructive things to do, and i would take off down the path alone or with one or more of our dogs. i knew those woods like the back of my hand. During the school week, i often took the “shortcut” to our three-room schoolhouse by hiking the very steep trail that started near our yard and ended at the back of the school property. i rarely arrived in the manner in which i left the house – that trail was always wet, slick and muddy and often, my school attire consisted of a mud slick up my backside – but it was worth the quiet time i had hiking in my beloved woods. On the weekends, i would spend all day up on that hill, finding new trails, seeing new wildlife and making new imaginary friends.
Because, of course, i had imaginary friends.
Did you doubt?
i had fairy friends, and leprechaun friends and gnome friends. My dogs became wolves and a found stick became a wand. i was looking for unicorns and planting magic gardens of ferns. i hiked to the top of the hill and sat in the sun and made up magic spells or silly poems about my dogs. i talked to the crows and thought they laughed back at me. i whispered to the wind and imagined that if i jumped into it, i could fly. i spent most of those days alone but felt surrounded by friends. Out walking in the woods, i felt like i was home, and that feeling carried through to the rest of my life. i am never more happy than when hiking a quiet, damp forest trail, covered in pine needles and canopied by tall, impossibly quiet trees. i still dream i can fly and i am absolutely certain that the crows still laugh at me. (After all, i do give them a lot to laugh about.)
So, i took a trip back to my childhood home and my beloved woods. The home and the hill were still there, though the hill had been logged at some point in the last 35 years and my precious forest of giants was now a forest of short, young trees all vying for the sun. It was bittersweet. But changes come and go and although the trees i danced with are now gone, someday those teenage trees will be tall, towering adults and will shelter and shadow some future geeky kid with imaginary magical friends. Maybe the crows will laugh at, or with, her too.
And as i took my last picture and walked back to my car, i heard a voice call out –
“Mind telling me what you are doing taking all those pictures??!!!!!”
i looked up and saw a lady in a housecoat and curlers, leaning out of an upstairs window of the house across the street, while her dutiful husband was walking in his slippers, hesitantly down his driveway to see what in the h-e-double-hockey-sticks i was doing.
“Ummm….i grew up here. i guess i was just being sentimental!” i call back.
“Harrumpfff!” she huffed and stood with her hands folded, eyes daring me to continue my cockamamy story. Her husband stopped, unsure what to do.
And that’s when i knew i was definitely in the midst of down-home country-folk who didn’t trust a word some red-haired girl with plaid pants and an iPhone said (obviously from the city!) and that i had just heard what in other words could only be interpreted as…
“Get off my porch!!”
Ahhh…..we can always go home.
But we may not be able to take pictures.