Was I Ever Like That?
Highlands TodayBirthdays always make me think about my childhood and what it was like to be a kid. Kids are so resilient, so filled with hope and wonder.
Published: August 29, 2008
Published: August 29, 2008
When I was 10 years old my family moved from a duplex in a big, dirty city to a country house in a tiny, farming community. For me it was more than a move. It was a whole new life.
We rented our country house from a man who was going away to seminary, leaving his elderly mother in an ancient farmhouse across the road from ours.
Mrs. Helms* was senile and crippled with arthritis. But, before you begin to castigate her ungrateful son for deserting her, let me explain that she had raised nine children on that farm and all but one still lived nearby.
Our new home was a typical three-bedroom bungalow but it was not ordinary. The house was perched at the top of a hill. One end had a huge picture window overlooking a hillside dotted with crab apple trees. In spring they bloomed bright pink and fragrant. Now, in August, they were loaded with fruit. In every season, the view from that window was breathtaking.
At the bottom of the hill, a stream called Great Salt Creek meandered through a grassy pasture, it's waters filled with crayfish and minnows - a magnet for barefooted city kids.
A vein of salt deep underground made both the creek and our well water too salty to drink. Consequently, for all the years we lived there, we carried our drinking water from a dairy farm five miles away. The farmer's wife was one of the nine Helms siblings.
Our new house was also unique because of the way it was decorated. Outside it was white with blue shutters - tasteful and ordinary. But inside, it was a riot of color. The living room was Pepto-Bismol pink. The kitchen had chartreuse green walls with two-toned cabinets - pink and maroon. My parents' bedroom was bright turquoise, mine deep purple.
Our first evening there was unbearably sticky hot. We still had boxes everywhere, but the kitchen was unpacked enough to cook, which made the house even hotter. We gathered around the table to eat, with all the doors and windows standing open, in hopes of catching a breeze.
Halfway through dinner, I looked up and was startled to see someone on the front porch peering in. It was a portly woman with a shawl draped around her shoulders. A scarf covered her head and was tied under her chin. Her hands were cupped around her eyes and pressed against the screen door. She muttered over and over, "Out, you get out."
Daddy looked at her and smiled. "It's Mrs. Helms. She doesn't remember that we rented the house." Daddy went to the door and explained to her, again, why we were there. Eventually, she settled down and wandered back to her own house. That was the first of many strange encounters.
That night I lay in bed with all the windows open and thought about our former home in the city. There, instead of a creek, a railroad ran behind our house. There, twice each night, a freight train barreled past, yet I slept soundly.
Here, the "din" of chirping crickets and croaking bullfrogs was enough to keep me wide awake. Or was it anticipation? What adventures lay ahead?
In one day everything had changed. In one day I had been reborn into a whole new world. How could I possibly even wait till morning to explore it?
The person I am today was shaped by what happened then. That's why, every so often, it's good to be reminded what it's like to be a child, and that, once upon a time, I was one.
* Not her real name.