This morning I walked down a dawn-lit sidewalk on the street where I’ve lived. This is both past and present tense in the strangest and most marvellous of ways.
As I walked by each house that has colored my childhood, I realized that not much has changed except for the occupants of some. When I still lived here as a child, I had memorized every window, every shingle, every front door and the cement path that led up to it. I memorized every tree, every fence that (sometimes successfully, often times not) held in a friendly barking dog, every bump in the cement where I’d tripped and skinned my knee or bumped over with my rollerblades. And the big tree that stood like a faerie castle where most of us always ran to hide during manhunt, because if you could get in through the bottom level, the other branches above created a sort of natural fortress. If you were brave enough, you would climb to the highest limb and feel like the king or queen of the block.
I have vivid memories of the older kids camp-out on the patch of grass between my house and the house next door. It involved a massive tent and a co-ed sleepover and stories that became engrained in our memory as blocklore; someone licking a firefly and saying it tasted like peanut butter and the swirling tales of who had kissed who, something that I couldn’t fathom at the innocent and precious age of five. But I remembered it well, mostly because I was both mystified and disgusted by the idea of the prettiest girl on the block wanting to kiss my terrible brother.
I walked by the patch of grass where there had once been a massive tree trunk that seemed carved as a seat, for any runaway kid on the block. I remember trekking 100 feet from my front door to this very spot, feeling as if I had crossed the Sierra desert on what was a very hot August midday. The sun was at its peak and I had packed my backpack with all the essentials: a juicebox, my favorite doll, a packet of Smartees, and a chapstick. And with that, I was out the door. Why? Could have been anything. Mom wanted to brush out my tangled mess of hair (a big LB no-no) or I wasn’t allowed to have a playdate with my best friends or I was in trouble for not eating all of my lunch that day. These were cardinal sins against my five year old existence. Commit them and Hasta la vista, mis padres!
When my name was yelled out the door for dinner, I decided my parents had learned their lesson. Tough love, man. It’s the name of the game. But I always ended up back home.
Home. Home was the tiniest house on the block. In all of my years of passing it by, I’d never seen it. It was only on this early morning as I walked by in quiet but constant acknowledgement of the house I had spent an important handful of years in that I looked to it, then to the house directly next door: big. The one across the street: huge. All around me, these houses seemed to rise up like they never had before. Big, big, bigger. I laughed because I realized I had never noticed it before. See, we had the big backyard. We had the most grass footage, and the long, strangely-shaped driveway that led back to a garage we never used and a patio we lived on, where we hosted block-wide barbecues and where the summer babies blew out their birthday candles. We had so much backyard, my dad had built a bunny run where we, a family inexperienced in the bunny world, ended up with a wayward brood of fuzzy creatures when our two “female” pets ended up mating. There in the yard, we even had a long clothesline that my mom used. The sheets would blow in the cool breeze of the day, and we’d play among the dancing sheets until we were told to stop, for fear of dirtying them up again. Because we were always covered in some tree sap, or maybe dirt, but definitely grass stains. We had a wall of morning glories that greeted us each new day with their purple faces, so beautiful I had as difficult a time as ever not picking them off the vine to mash into my “perfumes” (a recipe as simple as squashed up flowers and a dash of water from the hose).
Moving away from that house, we moved into a much bigger house. My brothers no longer had to share a room, there were one and a half bathrooms, a kitchen and a dining room, a basement and an attic. But there was nothing sadder than leaving our tiny house on our block. Because it had become our block, us kids, from different families and different backgrounds, who met in the street with the common goal of finding a way to have fun until dinnertime. When you’re young, you don’t notice if you’ve got the smallest house on the block, if you’re poor, or even if you’re rich. You just go on playing and living and laughing and crying. And if you’re lucky, you’re surrounded by others who don’t notice it, either.
I silently acknowledge the little white house whenever I pass by, seeing light through the windows and the latest occupants going about living within. I give a little smile in thanks, for giving me and my brothers the chance to have a carefree childhood, surrounded by other carefree kids causing trouble, breaking bones, having impromptu Frank Zappa dance parties; for irrational fears of the Mad Jogger, first kisses, and the “car, car, C-A-R” chant because without it, we would have all gotten hit by at least one car during a game of Spud.
To Jefferson Avenue, with love.