I was about 7 years old, living with my family in one of the homes where I was happiest in the U.S. The color of the house was a rich butter yellow and it had several apple trees across the side yard and a tall and stately birch tree in the far back part of the yard.
This house had the perfect yard for children to grow up in, with a swing-set and sandbox that my father made, three apple trees, the birch, and three huge sycamores out back. Many hours were passed in the sandbox, pouring, patting, burying things, and digging them out. My Dad had made this beautiful sandbox out of 2 x 4’s, painted them green, popped triangular red seats across the corners, and filled it with the softest whitest, most glorious sand.
My sister and I would adjust the swings on the swing-set so the seats were hooked about four inches from the top bar, and we’d climb up and wiggle our legs through to sit on them. Feeling on top of the world, we'd sing our lungs out for all to hear. I still remember some of those songs. We’d also perform plays with the swing-set as our stage, swathed in sheets for theatre curtains, with a row of grown-ups arranged in folding chairs across the back lawn as our audience. They had to pay a nickel each to see one of our shows.
One time I was doing a showy twirl around the sidebar of the swing-set but miscalculated and tumbled to the ground, knocking the breath right out of myself. Ugh, it felt an eternity 'til my body recovered, and I think my neck bones still wear the scars of that fall. Another time I lost the amethyst and pure gold ring that I’d been given for my birthday, which led to days and days of looking for it—but it was never to be found. I miss it still.
When my sister and brother and I played out front, I got to ride my cool red tricycle up and down the driveway, and we’d play king of the hill with the neighbor children using a nice sized boulder for the “hill” that sat in the yard next to the driveway. The king would stand imperiously on the rock and the peasants would knock him or her off, taking over the position of power. Jolly times.
My sister and I played dress-ups, prancing around in the yard all decked out in some of my mother’s beautiful old party dresses. My favorite was a red chiffon creation that flowed with the slightest wind, while my sister preferred the sequined strapless cream and pink floral gown or the glorious soft purple chiffon that poofed around her like cotton candy.
At this house, my very favorite times were spent alone under a big beautiful birch that grew at the far back of the yard, next to a wooden fence that went all the way around. It was an open fence, so I’m not real sure what it was good for, other than hanging onto when practicing my flirting skills with the boy that lived up the street in back, or singing a song, or spreading dress-up clothing upon for choosing.
The leaves of this birch tree by the back fence were small and a delicate shade of lime green, and they’d flutter in the summer breezes, singing their song to my soul as I spread out soft quilts and hauled all manner of entertainment from the house, including books, my mother’s biggest spaghetti pot, the bottle of dish soap from next to her kitchen sink, and a huge collection of Barbie dolls and their associated paraphernalia, stored in a bunch of old-fashioned hatboxes.
I‘d turn on the hose and fill up the spaghetti pot with water—the pot was almost as tall as the dolls, then squirt a ton of dish soap into it and swish it around to make bubbles. Some of the bubbles would float up into the air, reflecting the iridescence of dappled sunshine and I’d catch them on wet fingers and wave them around 'til they popped. Of course the dolls had to be dressed properly in their swimsuits; dressing them was half the fun.
I’d spend hours bouncing these dolls across the quilt over to the spaghetti pot and give them each a big jump into the water, then twirl the Barbies back and forth so their hair flung streams of water everywhere.
Sometimes they’d plunge headfirst into the spaghetti pot, coming up for air and plunging down again like dolphins, and sometimes I’d hold them way high up over the pot then let go so they plunked down with a great splash.
After I tired of dunking Barbies I’d set them out in a line on the quilt to dry in the sun and sit with my back to the thick trunk of the birch, scooching around so its gnarls didn’t bite into me while I read a storybook. I could feel its roots under me, stretching out across the grass, making humps under the soft quilt. I’d read for a while, eventually melting down into a prone position, book laid out in front of me, soft quilt under me, the pure white of the birch bark winking in the sun, tagged with dark black lines that gave it shape and character, almost as if its eyes were watching over me.
I often drifted off to sleep, entranced by the flutter of a thousand tiny green leaves against the robin’s egg blue sky, feeling the warmth of spring sunshine dappling through the delicate branches, and these were the best kinds of naps.
Sometimes when I woke I’d find ladybugs joining my little party. They made me feel lucky.
One time, in the early evening when I’d returned to the house with my dolls, I decided I needed to dry Barbie’s hair and held her head very close to the light bulb of a goose neck lamp in my room. Good thing that in those days they didn’t have smoke detectors, else I’m sure they’d have gone off and warned the whole household that I was putting us in dire jeopardy.
Barbie's hair began to smoke, the smoke curling up past the lightbulb and infiltrating the air in the room, and I soon discovered that I’d made a nice bald spot on the back of her head—note to self: don’t hold Barbie so close to the light, for she will burn and you will get in big trouble….
I thought I was doing a good thing, but young as I was, I learned for the first time how trouble can start when you least expect it and you think you’re doing a good thing…. I managed to put her smoking hair out and hide her til I could fix her. That was back in the days when we had three heads for one Barbie and we could change them out. I secretly buried the one I’d burned in the bottom of the kitchen trash can, and popped on the one with the painted on plastic hair, which was probably better for spaghetti pot swimming under my beautiful birch tree anyway, even though it didn't fling the water quite as well.
Ah, those were the days....
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