While chatting in the lunchroom today, some of my colleagues and I got to talking about childrens’ toys and memories of things we played with when we were small. I shared with them how my 2-year-old niece loves to imagine that she’s cooking and will play for hours with her plastic food. My colleague commented that her 3-year-old loves nothing more than stirring an empty pot with a wooden spoon, envisioning whatever concoction is on the “menu” that day. As we sat there sharing and discussing, it got me thinking about my own childhood, especially all the imaginative play I used to do and before I knew it, I was flooded with such wonderful, heart-warming memories, I just had to share.
When I was a kid, my parents owned a home that was close to 100-years-old. Just off the living room at the front of the house, there was a very small, old porch that never got used. The porch was probably only 3 ft. by 4ft. but as a child it felt like my very own palace since my parents had taken the time and effort to transform it into a little “house” for me. Inside, I remember a tiny, wooden table with a homemade tablecloth, that my Mom had sewn, draped over it. There was a small cupboard ( made by my Dad?) stocked full of white plastic dishes with tiny pink roses decorating the edges. Due to the house’s age, the windows were old – cracked white paint on the ledges with an endless supply of houseflies always meeting their fate there on hot, summer days. My Mom had also sewn some tiny curtains and hung them on the windows, making the place feel like a real home. I can picture my little doll’s high chair sitting next to the table and the steep wooden steps that led outside, with a screen door that slammed shut as I raced out of my playhouse into the wonders of our enormous backyard.
Outside my tiny palace, our yard was safely protected by a tall hedge that my parents meticulously trimmed each summer. I can vividly remember the smell of the leaves on that hedge and how easy it was to find wee ladybugs crawling amongst them. We’d carefully pluck the insect from the leaf and turn our hands gently as it crawled around our fingers. In one corner of our yard, stood a massive ever green tree (so huge, it must have been well over 100-years old itself!) The trees’ sharp needles smelled of pine and reached to the ground creating a tent-like space underneath it to play in the shade. Further along, was our swing set – the one I’d spend hours on, pumping my legs to go as high as I could, and shamelessly singing at the top of my lungs. Next to me, my brother dug for hours in his sandbox (again, built my Dad) that came with it’s very own lid to protect it when it rained. Past the sandbox, was my parents’ garden. It was huge and when we were kids it bloomed with all kinds of vegetables – green and yellow beans, peas, carrots, potatoes, even pumpkins, and along the back our very own set of brambling raspberry bushes. Oh, how those raspberries smelled during picking season! Next to the garden, was my “Dad’s” little shed, neatly painted brown and white, stocked full of his tools and other supplies, and always smelling like gasoline and old things. Then there was our patio deck. It wrapped around our house which made it huge enough for me to imagine it was my very own stage. I’d take my little boom-box out to the deck and spend hours dancing and singing, imagining my very own audience in lawn chairs spread across the grass cheering me on. Even now when I think about it, I can smell burgers on the BBQ and hear Madonna and the New Kids on the Block blasting from those tiny speakers.
As if our wonderful yard wasn’t fun enough, I was fortunate enough to grow up in a house situated at one end of a dead-end street. This meant that all the neighborhood kids could safely play out there, with very little worry of any traffic. In the summer, we rode our bikes, up and down, up and down, up and down that street, sometimes venturing a few blocks away to the park to play on the tire swing or to take a turn down the slide, so hot that the metal would burn the skin on your thighs. Other times, we’d spend hours collecting sticks, old 2x4s, and whatever else we could get our hands on, to build our own forts in the ravine at the end of the street. In the spring, when the ditches were full of water and the air smelled like mud, we’d tromp along in our rubber boots imagining some kind adventure only a child can imagine. In winter, we’d invite all of our friends and play such rowdy games of “road hockey” that even some of the adults on the street would come out to play. It wouldn’t be until well past dark and we were completely exhausted that our mothers would finally call us in.
Thinking back to this time as a care-free, imaginative child, I feel so very lucky that I had the childhood I had. These playful and heartwarming memories only lead to remembering more joyous times in my youth – my beautiful, lavender bedroom stocked full of toys and books, my tap-dancing space in the basement, laying on the couch on days home sick from school, watching cartoons and eating chicken noodle soup made by Grandma. I am so very blessed for each and every one of these memories, and now it brings such happiness to my heart when I watch my own nieces spend hours playing games they’ve made up, and going on adventures only a child can imagine.