We drive on past Gary's barn, and go just up to the fork in the driveway that cuts off to another other neighbor’s land, and almost before I'm ready for it….there it is. Our little 4 acres of paradise.
My first thought is, Wow, it used to seem so much bigger! Is the yard really only this big? It seemed gigantic when I had to mow it every week.
My eyes are seeing what’s around me, but really, I'm seeing so much more…..I’m actually having trouble comprehending what is right in front of me, as my mind spins through scenes of the past like flashes from a movie. I'm remembering how it USED to look, what it SHOULD look like. In my mind's eye, it's all so clear, like memories that I could just step right into, all these years later.
Running across the gravel with bare feet, even in snow.
Planting flowers in Mom’s flower beds. That perfect slight chill in the evening air of a Spring day; the feel of cool, rich dirt in my hands; the smell of petunias; the buzz of a hummingbird zooming past.
Playing badminton in the back yard. We had a little set with a net and rackets and birdies. The boys and I were obsessed with it one summer, playing every chance we got.
Playing volleyball in the back yard….several summers we just left the net up and played in the evenings, just our family. Now THAT is a good way to improve your volleyball skills, having to cover the whole court with 1 or 2 teammates! Sometimes Ben took Tim and me on all by himself.
4th of July parties. We had a 4th of July party almost every year. The whole church was invited for an all-day festivity of potluck food, cold watermelon, singing hymns, and back-to-back volleyball games even past dark (my dad had tall lights he turned on so that the fun could continue into the night!). And always the inevitable water fights, when someone (often my dad or another adult) would scoop up ditch water with a pitcher, cup, whatever, and pour it onto the unsuspecting head of someone sitting and chatting, and then the wet and wild mayhem ensued.
In the days preceeding these parties, we scoured the house until it shone, inside and out. We mowed everything and used the weed eater around each tree. Mom and I spent hours working in her big flower beds.... weeding, deadheading perenials, planting petunias in patches of red, white, and blue to look patriotic. Everything was perfect.
I remember feeling so proud of our property on those party days, as friends and family climbed out of their cars (the cars lining the driveway all the way down it), and looked around with appreciation, taking deep breaths of the fresh air and commenting on how it was "so peaceful" and "looked like a park".
My thoughts slowly come back to the present. Now it looks like just....a yard. A white house with a brown roof, and a yard of unmown, patchy grass. The magic of those days is all but gone, but no....not quite. It still lingers in the edges of my consciousness.
I had forgotten how much I remember.
We move slowly to the front yard. I walk to the electric fence and stop, gazing around me. Scott ducks under the fence, which the new owner installed to graze horses, and turns to me, waiting. I follow him slowly, like I’m in a dream. It really does feel surreal. It hadn’t even occurred to me to go under that fence, and explore further.
My mind is so full. I have never felt so many memories and emotions being triggered simultaneously, almost mercilessly; my brain is helpless before the onslaught.
I bend to go under the fence and then I notice the black hard-plastic irrigation hoses.
Instantly I’m transported to a thousand summer days--20, 25, 30 years ago--and I realize that I’m experiencing those days again with all of my senses.
The sound of those sprinklers echoes from the past through my mind again. That sound is synonymous with summer to me, I can hear it SO clearly.
I see the sprays of water shooting over the yard.
I feel the cool breeze of early mornings when I would get up to mow right after breakfast, to be done with my 3 hour task before the heat of the day.
I can feel the hot plastic of the black hoses in my hand, remembering getting off the lawn mower, and stopping to pick them up and moving them to another section of the yard as I mowed. They were almost too hot to touch.
I smell the scent of cut field grass. So sweet and fresh.
I feel the cold blast of water as my brothers and I run through the sprinklers, turning them on each other, occasionally getting my finger pinched in the moving mechanisms.
The smell of water wafts over me.
I feel the warmth of the concrete slab where Lisa and I (and later Holly and I) would lie down when we were too cold from playing in the sprinklers; it was the perfect way to warm up again.
And I taste popsicles….the kind that come in the long plastic sleeves. I loved the red ones.
Summer days in Colorado. They seemed like they would last forever.
All these sensations flit through my mind in a split second, and I stand, transfixed, staring down at an old black hose, lost in thought.
Scott….. probably thought I was acting a bit strange. Ha! But he left me to my silent ponderings, only asking if that was the pond to the south.
With some effort, I pull myself out of my reverie, and look up. The next thing I see is the willow tree, and my mouth drops open in surprise.
Now, if you don’t know, ‘the willow tree’ should actually be written as ‘The Willow’. That’s how we talk about it. THE Willow. The stuff of legend. Our pride and joy. The backdrop to every adventure had on this piece of land. It is the only willow on the property, planted by my parents about 30 years ago, right next to the irrigation ditch. It was there for as long as my memory serves me. And even when we lived there, it had grown to be huge….undoubtedly the most significant and noticeable feature of the entire yard.
So, while the yard itself and the house look smaller to me now, The Willow has far surpassed my imaginings. It is not only still alive, but the trunk is feet thicker, it is SO tall I can't even guess its height. The branches are lush and loaded with bright green little sliver-shaped leaves that I used to play with.
I'm not sure I've ever seen a more beautiful weeping willow....but it's possible that I might be just a tad partial to this one.
I had been afraid it would be dead or dying, or just not really as large as my childhood mind recalled, but with its pink, fibrous roots running the length of the property down the irrigation ditch, The Willow is even more glorious than I remember!
The verse from Psalm 1 comes to mind. "And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. "
This tree is certainly prospering, haha!
I pause at the edge of the shade cast by The Willow, looking, but frustrated now that what my eyes tell me I'm seeing isn't matching the images in my brain.
"There used to be so many more oak trees. We called it The Grove, and there were so many more....." I say, halting as I swallow a lump that just formed in my throat. Goodness, get a grip on yourself! I think. They were just trees. But I wasn't expecting them to be gone. Don't oak trees live a long time? They were supposed to still be here. I look at the remaining stumps in sadness, and remember the daffodils that would come up between the oaks in the early spring. I remember the pathway Chelsea, our dog, would run on—her own little path—following the vehicle when we left the house, and when we returned.
I played by myself a lot when I was a child. My parents were so busy with their work....Dad worked 7 days a week, and in the afternoons when they were done with their schoolwork, my brothers even worked in the shop with him there on the property, building beautiful custom cabinets. Mom woke up early every morning to cook a hot breakfast for us, get us started on school, then turned her attention to selling entry doors over the phone before she stopped to cook lunch, and later prepare snack and supper in between the endless household tasks required to keep a family of 5 prospering.
So, I played by myself, kept company by my big white tomcat, Cuddles, and my very active imagination. I used to walk on that pathway through the native oaks that were so tightly spaced we couldn't mow through them, and it felt like a magical forest. I read many, many books. I have always been a voracious reader, losing myself completely in the pages of novels, and in that magical forest, I was a princess in a crown made of willow leaves; I was a fairy with dandelions in my hair, making little fairy houses out of sticks and leaves, and cups for the fairies out of acorn tops; I was Anne of Green Gables in a graceful (completely imagined) long white dress, dramatically spouting off long, eloquent words and falling in love with the perfect Gilbert Blythe; I was Laura Ingalls in the Big Woods, and the oaks transformed into maples as I pretended I was draining sap from them to make syrup.
I had so many wonderful little adventures.
Where there used to be a grove of oak trees.
Thank you for reading. More memories to come.
***This is the 3rd installment in a series of blogs about my return to my childhood hometown. You can read the 1st post here: Going Home, and the 2nd post here: A Memorable Breakfast Before Going Home.