my mom had let me borrow with a merry heart, by Janet Gillespie, and i just finished it the other night. it’s basically the author’s compilation of childhood memories, more of a retelling than an actual story; it’s amazing the richness with which she remembers and describes these moments.
she uses unconventional ways of portraying thoughts and images, but ones that i fully understand and at times identified with. certain smells are associated with a time in her life – such as the smell of kerosene or certain types of foliage evoking images of summer – and it’s true that scent is one of the strongest links to memory. in one instance she describes her home in massachusetts as having a “fruitcake atmosphere,” and you can picture a dark, rich, dense ambiance.
i believe she grew up in the early 1900s, and it seems to me life then was so much simpler. it was interesting all the diversions kids would create to entertain themselves, and the ensuing family jokes and traditions that ensued as a result. it made me wonder what i would say if i were to write such a novel, and i honestly don’t think mine would be as rich in detail.
my family has its share of inside jokes, things that really no one else could understand. most of these revolve around quotes and movie lines, rather than actual events. we did have lots of fun growing up, and since the internet wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now, and we didn’t watch as much television, we relied on our imaginations and sense of creativity to govern our playtime.
even though i’m one of five children – or perhaps because of that very reason – i became quite adept at playing by myself. i would go to my grandparents’ house next door, and play with real and paper dolls, play dress up with a pretty outfit my grandmother had put away somewhere, and with other sundry items. there was a particulary mossy area in their back yard, and i used to pretend that it was a luxurious bed, either for myself or my dolls, i can’t remember.
my twin brother and i were often each other’s playmates, and i’m not sure if i cooerced him into playing with me or if he actually enjoyed it. we would play house, and horsey, and other silly games, and we really got into it. once, i said to him, “dan, let’s pretend it’s a sad, sad day, and we’re really sad.” he was like, “okay.” soon, we were both crying… and we couldn’t stop! my mother was in the basement, and we went to the top of the stairs – both in tears – and said, “we can’t stop crying!” my mom: “what’s wrong?” us: “we don’t know!” hehe.
there was the time we dressed up my older brother, ben, as a girl. my sister, laura, was like, “let’s dress him up and pretend he’s a friend from school – maybe mom won’t notice!” so we put him in a dress and makeup, and when mom came home, we introduced him as “benjamina.” she likes to tell the story of when they “married” dan and me – but i don’t remember this at all; in my opinion she made it up to evoke some laughs.
quite the entrepreneurs even at an early age, we would each gather an assortment of stuffed animals, bring them to the basement, where we would set up our own little “shop.” then we would survey our siblings’ shops, see if there was anything we wanted to trade or buy (for a dime or something). one time i set up shop at the top of the basement stairs (there was a lot going on in the basement in those days, so it was the perfect intersection) – i named my endeavor “sweet treats.” i purchased bags of candy, emptied them into little bowls, and sold the candy separately. i would sit there, manning my candy table… probably eating my wares more than selling! then there was the time we put up “yard sale” signs, but when people came all they would fine were some sad looking stuffed animals displayed on a pool lounge chair; there was one lady who bought an item – out of pity, i’m sure. to think of the stories she must tell of that day!
i can’t say our adventures became any more mature as we got older, but they definitely evolved. the girls and boys each had their own bunk bed, and we would hang towels strategically from various points, thus partitioning the bed into separate “rooms.” i remember one evening, i feel asleep in the boys’ bedroom in one of these “rooms,” and when i woke up in the middle of the night, i was utterly disoriented. everywhere i felt, there was another “wall,” and i couldn’t find my way out! it was like a maze.
of a similar nature, we used to put all the living room furniture together in the middle of the room (we had a big living room). the big couch would be tipped on its side, and the matching loveseat would be turned upside down and pushed against it, with the two side chairs positioned in some adjoining fashion, thus creating a thoroughly enjoyable hideout. i don’t know how my parents put up with the constant upheaval; they would come home to all the furniture in disarray! i suppose we simply gave them an opportunity to teach us about cleaning up after ourselves.
i guess we were infatuated with the idea of some kind of fort or another. we had a big backyard at our second home – mostly woods, but nonetheless – and we were always foraging for the perfect space. we toyed with the idea of building and furnishing a tree house, one we could comfortably live in, but that dream never came to fruition. there was the delightful spot near the cabana, where all this climbing greenery (bittersweet?) formed this lush wall. the boys, probably using an extremely sharp and dangerous machete, hollowed out the insides so there was this room inside the walls of these vines. we used to spend hours out there, playing and pretending who knows what. ben attempted to nail stairs onto the sides of a nearby tree, and thus ensued one more tale in his list of near-death experiences as a child. hehe (others include when he was hit in the head with a brick, when he fell off the counter at mcdonald’s, when he fell from the top of his bunk bed and hit his head on a metal grate… need i continue?).
all of us kids created and starred in our own version of “star search.” we even posted a sign-up form on our bedroom doors – like people would come off the streets and join our productions or something! we had various neighbors who lived in our cabana at the time, and the kids who lived there would perform with us. we did a version of “boardwalk,” with poster board cut outs and everything. we even did a version of “the prodigal son” – i was the barmaid, and our albino rabbits were the pigs! there were solos, dance numbers, you name it.
as aforementioned, we used to spend a lot of time in the basement. we often played street hockey down there as a family – we used to get bottled water from the town, so all the boxes were put around the area in an oval, in the form of a makeshift “rink.” one time, as we were exploring the depths of the nether regions, we came across a hole in the wall… and behind that was a dirt room! what a find! we thought there must be buried treasure in there for sure. to think of it now, it must have been gross in there… but we crawled through the opening and whiled away the afternoon imagining whatever our little minds conjured up.
there were many afternoon spent playing marbles on the oriental rug in the entryway; we each had our own collection, and it seemed we particularly covetted the shiny ones (as opposed to the cat’s eye). there was also… well, i don’t know that it had a name… but someone would sit on a pillowcase or blanket, and the other would drag him or her through the house. what fun! the kitchen had a somewhat lengthy hallway, and as that was connected to the entryway with a wood floor, we found it made for a smooth ride with stockinged feet.
one of the grand aspects of that house was the stucco arches in the hallway connecting the main part of the house with the bedrooms, and this hallways looked out onto the living room. it was great fun to jump through the arches and onto the living room floor. and of course when we played “keep away” (with ben’s green beanbag alligator), we made great use of those arches. it seems there must have been at least one occasion when one of us pinned on a cape, and insisted on leaping triumphantly from the ledge. as we got older and didn’t have as much time for play, those arches made for great photo ops.
well… i was worried i wouldn’t be able to think of any interesting childhood diversions, but i would say there were quite a few (i haven’t even mentioned all our homeschooling and cross-country adventures!). and i’m sure there are some i’ve forgotten (or blocked out, i’m not sure). it’s almost bittersweet, those memories. i wouldn’t want to be a child again, but sometimes i think it might be nice to go back and do things over (with the knowledge i have now); spend my time differently, start a few meaningful family traditions, make some different choices. but the memories i have are mine, and i cherish them.