“C’mon Jamie, the cowboys are coming!”
My two scraggly legs clambered quickly up the five squares of wood. I wiggled like a caterpillar along the rugged body of the dogwood tree, as Joey called to me from the top.
“Hurry up or they‘ll steal you!”
My little heart fluttered in a flurry like a butterfly wing underneath my rainbow sundress. The worn straps of my summer sandals squeezed against the tops of my feet as I scuttled up the plywood steps.
“I’m almost there, I just don’t want to get splinters like last time,” I clawed at the top step and hoisted myself up to the lowest limb of the tree.
“You’re just in time! The cowboys would have kidnapped you,” my big brother’s brown eyes gaped open in worry, like the hollow of a tree. He straightened the yellow feather behind his ear and looked down below protectively.
“We should have let the cowboys get her, we don’t need any girls up here. Girls are sissy Indians!”
Matt sneered with a scowl from the treetop.
I furrowed the wool of my brow and shook my fist, “it’s my tree fort too, you know!”
I propped my caboose upon a sturdy slab of wood, to overlook the emerald city of my childhood.
At summertime it was lush and alive and green, begging to be manipulated and played upon.
I spent most of my childhood there. I believed it to be the most perfect place.
A Woodland Wonderland.
A luscious patch of trees shrouded the left side of the yard. Sometimes I’d pretend it was a jungle, or a great American Forest in which I was an Indian chief or warrior. Other times it was a fort used to hide from the neighborhood boys. Or just my brothers. With my Fisher Price kitchen set and bits of snack I’d sneack from the pantry, I made myself sugary feasts.
With squares of strawberry pop tart, gummy fruit snacks, and remnants of peanut butter Ritz Bitz left over from our school lunches, I nibbled my sustenance of sweets beneath the trees. On Saturdays, Mom would give me the stale bags of cereal from the past week to sprinkle along the dirt of my forest for the bugs and the birds to eat. What a feeling of enchantment to see a velvety crow swoop down to peck at my Fruity Pebbles, peppered at my feet.
I could sit and spy on the world outside and daydream in the whimsical color of my own, and nobody cared to bother me.
‘Whooshes’ in the Wheel Barrel
The red wheel barrel was our favorite thing to play with. A squeaky, rusty old concoction with chipping paint on the sides. It was to us, what a sleigh is for a kid in the snow.
My chocolate tresses would glisten gold from the Florida sun and dangle dollishly from my splashy bright scrunchie as my brothers and I shuttled each other around our green Utopia.
“Whoosh,” I’d yell as the boys pushed me through the mounds of leaves and stray grasses, “Whoosh,” through the fence opening into the back alley, “Whoosh,” around the edges of our swimming pool we pretended to be a squalling sea.
The only “whoosh” I hated, came when Matt pushed me dangerously fast, until I yelled for mommy. Then he would dump me into the compost pile with the rotting vegetables.
The “Red Dungeon.”
Mom said it was just a “storm shelter,” but I never believed her.
It was on the side of our red brick house. It’s rickety, red doors led to the underground of the house.
Matt would open it and threaten to throw me down there with the snakes and wolf spiders, “scorpions too,” he’d say. My step dad had to crawl down there when he needed to fix something under the house. This seemed infinitely brave. It was the best spot for hide and seek, if any kid was brave enough. I’d imagined up stories in my head of what lived in the swallows of darkness underneath and frightened the neighborhood girls with the stories of cobwebs, dragons and anacondas, that I imagined lurked beneath the shrilly doors.
The old green shed, covered in shingles painted a sea foam green circa 1952 sat solemnly in the murky, dark corner of the yard. The wood was rotted from rain and so crusted with age you could peel the shingles off its side. The wobbly wooden door opened to my step dad’s storage space for gardening tools, an ancient push mower, leaky red gasoline cans, cracked flowering pots, and clippers for the bushes. My mom liked to clip the bushes, something about “stress,” and “therapeutic gardening,” words I was too small to understand.
The back room of the shed was all mine. A simple dirt floor, large enough to store a riding lawn mower, at most. I spent many endless afternoons burrowed away in there. I’d pinned up posters of cats and dogs and stuck bright smiley face and Lisa Frank stickers all over the browning walls. It was where I made friends with the lizards and played pretend with my magic stick. I’d weathered many summer lightning storms and chilly winter mornings in that hideaway, telling stories into the light of my camping lantern and scribbling pictures in my doodle pad.
After breakfast, when the morning dew had dried, mom would bring a basket of wet laundry out into the yard. While the boys played catch or hammered away in the tree house, I watched her clip folds of blue jeans and colorful cotton and linen along the clothes line with wooden pins. Once the backyard breezes had blew upon the garments with it’s airy breaths, I’d run over and play amidst the pinks and yellows and blues.
Along the kaleidoscope of cloth, I’d sweep dreamily in the swaying blue of summer.
A circus tent where I danced and spread my arms like a bird, touching the trims of tee shirts and dress pants, as if they were the most delicate curtains, cloaking me like a secret from the world. I’d giggle and hum, as I lost myself in the maze of fresh laundry, that smelled of Tide and of mommy.
“The cowboys can’t get us up here, Joey, they aren’t brave like us,” I told my brother with a sparkle of pride.
“Yeah, we’ll be okay, but we gotta be on the lookout, ready for battle!” he replied valiantly, prepping his sling shot with a pebble.
“If the cowboys fight us, we’ll sacrifice Jamie to them, we don’t need a sissy girl on our side!” Matt jeered, as he straddled the arm of the tree above.
“I’m not a sissy, I can fight just like boys do, I’m a strong Indian!” I said sassily.
Then came the melodious chime we heard from the back porch every day growing up.
“Kids, time for dinner”!
Right as the sun began to slither down to sleep, mom called us in for dinner.
“Coming, mom!” we’d reply sloppily, as we scurried down the trunk of our tree.
I’d hurry inside, my brown ponytail bouncing with my stride, and scrapes of grass and earth soiled on my sundress.
I left my sandals outside and went in for supper, not knowing there would come a day when I would wake up, and my backyard as I saw it then, at eight years old, would be behind me forever.
An era of magic and innocence, of pretend and imagination. An era of wonder and whim, spent in the green of the grass, and the timber of a tree fort, in a big backyard with my brothers, under the Florida sun.