Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Map Of Memories

I've been thinking a lot lately
about my childhood.
Maybe because I'm getting older-
maybe because I hope my
grand kids get a real taste of fun
and adventure in their lives.

How many young kids today actually
play outside?
Most kids now days can tell you
every new DVD release,
the top selling CD's,
what's showing at the movies,
all about movie stars and politicians and
the secret lives of their teachers.

I never knew any of that stuff.
And never cared to.

Because I knew my neighborhood.
That's what was important.

I knew my stomping grounds
like the back of my hand.
I had a small but comfortable area
that was my playground-
my getaway-
my island of discovery.

There were no really bad guys back then.
No perverts and sickos and people
out to harm you in some way.
At least our neighborhood never experienced
that sad part of society.
At least we had a chance
to live our childhood with no fear.

My sister and I
had a mental map of our world.

We knew where every gooseberry bush,
apple tree, blackberry hedge,
and mulberry tree stood.
We knew where to find wild violets,
dried milkweed,
sassafras leaves and turtles.

We spent many afternoons
down at the creek.
I'd say it was a half mile from the house-
down the dusty tarred road-
across a thick field -
it's muddy water
and shallow banks
twisting through the trees.

I never thought of it till now,
but we never once went beyond that creek.
Apparently that was our boundary-
the edge of our world.
Some other kids probably
had reign
of what lay past the water.

At the creek we learned to
find clams-
following zigzagged trails
in the mud and sand
to a small dip in the moist soil.
There we would dig with our hands
or old spoons
or rusty coffee cans.
What we found were silver-black
shells that spit dirty water
and sprouted a slimy foot-
(if left alone long enough).

This was our gold.

These poor creatures were carted home
and exhibited to our mom
who never once discouraged us
from handling them
or showing them off.

I regret there were times
that we forgot about our clams-
leaving them in the bottom
of a dry bucket in the summer sun-
only to find them days later
like burnt potato chips.

We hunted rocks
and bugs
and things that grew on trees.
We were intrigued by hedge apples,
sumac clusters,
ugly snakes,
and all the stars in the sky.

We loved mimosa and lilacs
and the yellow roses that grew near the well.
We explored the neighbors coal bin,
stole his plump, juicy raspberries,
and made clubhouses
that were the envy
of our friends.

We rode giant inner tubes
in Stich's pond
without ever knowing how to swim.
We rode bikes with flat tires,
built snowmen with bread bags
tied on our shoes,
avoided the broken sidewalk,
camped out under a blanket
thrown over the clothes line,
and lived the most wonderful,
beautiful, fulfilling days
of our lives.

I still have that map in my mind.
And on days like today, I travel back there.
The air is still sweet
but the clams hide deeper.