Childhood Neighborhood

Lancaster Drive. Ahh, such memories. I remember moving in to our new house, sitting on carpet remnants as mom and dad finished supervising renovations so that we could move out of our rental on Devonshire. (Fingers!)

There was an elementary school just down the road where we went to play on the playground, gliding down the hot silver slide in the summertime, watching the cracks in the mud as we crossed the dried puddles back to the shortcut through the woods. We went to the flagpole at the school once a week to pick up the girls in our Scout Troop so we could go back to the house for our Tuesday meeting.

Tadpoles grew in the gutter puddles after heavy rains and I’m pretty sure I collected a few to see how they would grow. I don’t remember them growing.

An ice cream truck blared it’s music down our road and the idiot driving stopped to ask if I wanted any treats, while I covered my ears hoping he would go away and pass me as fast as possible.

I ran away down to the creek once, because I was so angry as only a nine year old can get, but made sure I packed peanut butter cheese crackers and my favorite doll since I was going to be away forever.

Shortly after we moved in, a family bought the house five houses down and diagonally across from us, and we found our friends in the Fishers. There was a girl for my sister to play with, and a boy just my age for me to run around with. Owen was my first crush, and I never quite got over my love of gangly tall boys. (My husband became one after we were married for a year… extra treats.) They had a pool, so we got to swim during the summer. Owen defended us against the boy next door, Randy, who stole our dolls and wouldn’t give them back.

Dad and Granddaddy built a deck up on the ridge behind our house and strung it with happy lights so we could play outside and see across our whole subdivision. They got it done just in time to celebrate Norris and Janet’s sixtieth birthday, when we had all their friends over to wish them well.

I got my first own room in that house, looking out my window at the tree in our front yard, its trunk divided into three main parts as it stood and guarded the hill. I also got my first camera, where I took artistic photos of the macadam driveway and that tree.

I don’t much remember many other folks who lived around us, either in good ways or bad, though our left door neighbor was friendly even though she had two angry German Shepherds. I was deathly afraid of dogs, and so we didn’t go up to her house very often. We even stayed away from her fence. She also was the host of our first experience with a house fire; she tried to run pillows in her dryer, and they caught flame. Her house was ok afterwards, but we could see the flame from the far end of our hallway.  I remember my sister telling me she wanted to stay as far from the flame as possible, so we huddled there until mom came to find us and take us outside, just in case.

It is the house I learned independence in. I hit the beginning stages of puberty there. It is the only house I’ve lived in that my family owned. It is the only house I miss.

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Spinning

I faintly recall our house in Reidsville, and I know that the house in Greensboro had blue shag carpet in my bedroom, and that my sister and I “redecorated” the bed, her doll, and a few books while we were still there. I remember learning how hot things got cold and cold things got hot when they were left at room temperature… I couldn’t understand why my pear didn’t stay cold. But my first true memory is of a very particular merry-go-round.

The Merry-Go-Round is my favorite playground element. I like the swing, it is a very close second, but the merry-go-round? You spin faster and faster and faster and give yourself over to the force pulling you against the bar, never quite sure if you might spin off or stay until the next push. It has been years since I’ve been on one, but some of the same feeling comes when I go Contra Dancing, the same spin and release of control to someone else.

As a child, I always wanted to do the merry-go-round first. After church one morning, we went to go visit one of the mission communities in Columbus, Georgia where my father would eventually serve, Open Door. And I saw it. In the back there was a playground and I saw my prize: the merry-go-round.

Like a smart child who has learned the ways of the world, I knew that the quickest way to get from one point to another was in a straight line. Even if there was grass that was kinda tall, and there was an obvious path out of the way, I went straight to where I wanted to go.

I didn’t make it.

Stinging started.

I looked down, and my legs, in their lovely white tights (that I hated, by the way), were crawling with stinging things.

My seven year old self freaked out.

I thought that I had been attacked by a swarm of bees. I did not like bees. I did not want to be covered with them. But I was covered with stinging horribleness.

I don’t know how my mother got me to calm down enough to realize that I was not, in fact, being stung by a swarm of bees, instead I had run straight into a briar patch of sand spurs.

After I calmed down enough to sit, my mother and the children around me began to pick the stingers off of my tights at least enough to get me to take the tights off. There were too many stingers to get them all off a seven year old’s squirming legs.

I distinctly remember the kindness of the children around me and I distinctly remember that they were all black.

My first true memory, with a beginning, middle, and end is of children like me and yet with a different skin color than me.

I did end up getting to play on that merry-go-round, with those children.

I don’t know if I ever learned their names.

I don’t remember if I ever played with them again, though I don’t think so.

I’d love to say that I was always as kind to other children as they were to me, but I know that is not true.

I know that I learned that caring for someone is not based on their skin color.

I know that sometimes the path might not be the most direct route, but that the people who are part of the community know the dangers that formed the safest way to journey together.

And I know that playing together and working together is better than trying to push a merry-go-round all by yourself. If you take turns as the rider and the spinner, everyone has more fun.

Nauticus

The Nauticus.

It doesn’t exist anymore. You can still go to that stretch of beach in Sunnyside just down the road from Panama City, Florida, but it was sold and razed for a couple of condos when I was in college.

It really does make it a place where only memories exist, then. And I don’t know how many memories there are. My parents began going to that stretch of beach when they were on their honeymoon, and then we began going to the Nauticus, and we just kept returning to this small little space of 14 different 1-2 bedroom units on two levels surrounding a pool and on the shoreline.

It was the perfect place to bring children. I don’t think I will be able to find a spot like this as I raise my children to love the beach. I have vague memories of the early nineties version, but then a hurricane hit and they remodeled to the beach style tile and sturdy furniture and vibrant colors that makes you think of the beach. The units all faced the pool, but you could still lay in your bed and listen to the waves at night.

Once I got old enough to always bring a book with me on vacation, I remember joining my mother in the Adirondack chairs underneath the covered deck at the seawall, feet perched on the railing, enjoying the sea breeze and a new story.

We’d always have New Orleans chicken and cantaloupe. And Cheesy fries. Every trip included going to the place that sold shrimp fresh off the boat by the pound, where they would steam it for you while you waited. The smell of Old Bay permeated the entire car on the way back to our temporary home.

We’d always make a pilgrimage to Alvin’s Island, where they sold cheap tourist trinkets and swimsuits and flotsam and jetsam, the one with the alligators you could pet and the volcano you could walk through.

We went with our cousins at first, where Julie, Will, Beth, Morgan after a little while, and I would get to figure out how to be people together. Will and I always wanted the same cereal. I always thought it was unfair that Julie never had to put as much sunscreen on as I did, nor did she ever have to wear a scratchy t-shirt on the last day in the pool, something I always had to do because I was burned.

Later, we more often went with the our family friends: my best friend Amy, her brother Albert, and Ms. Barbara. I remember the last year before college we got a henna do-it-yourself kit, and I did the designs on my arms and legs and read that people in India put the henna on their nails… I had to paint my toenails for 8 months until the burnt sienna orange grew out.

I remember children plastic barrettes in my hair when they had a brief fad period.

I remember putt-putt games and riding the strip.

I remember a family of boys all in red shorts who tried their best to impress us…

I remember breaking a glass in the shower when I was trying to rinse my hair out.

I remember taking long walks all by myself in the morning, listening to the waves and the sandpipers chase the receding water.

I remember iced coffee, mike’s hard lemonade, chocolate cake with coffee ice cream coated in caramel frosting, boiled peanuts, and tuna cones.

And I remember chance glimpses of dolphins, my favorite animals in all creation, where each encounter seemed a gift that should never be squandered.