Playing in the Backyard

I used to play on my pine green porch, outside the door of 4126 Warner Street.  The green paint was so dark that the floor got hot, hot in the sun. My brothers and I would “ooch, ouch” hop across it in our bare feet like you do at the beach. The dark paint would melt my crayons if we left them out, and we would pull them free, flattened and longer in their paper tube cases.

I loved those boxes of crayons. The big boxes had tiers, like an opera house, three on the left and three on the right. I didn’t care if my crayons went over to a new seat, as long as they went in straight so that they could all fit in at the end of the day. I didn’t care if they lost their pointy tips, I just peeled and peeled the paper away. I used the sharp edges for fine lines and I turned my crayons sideways to cover larger swaths in a pale layer of their color. Then upright again for the outlines and the details. 

I loved that goldenrod color, gold mixed with brown. I loved that turquoise so dark the crayon looked almost black, but then when used it colored that beautiful peacock-tail blue green.  I loved the black crayon, too. I had no use for the white, or the lavender- they remained with their nice new points while the favorite colors became rounded and broken.

We had a sandbox in the flat part of the backyard, a square of wooden framing with the usual four corner seats. Our sandbox had no bottom but the ground was floored with red bricks under it. Sand filtered between the bricks but eventually filled the cracks and the box would stay filled. Only not for long- it always seemed to be very low, almost empty, I remember scraping the bricks to get what I needed. Probably my brothers and I threw sand out constantly. We certainly did when we scooped out the little oval cat poops that we occasionally found there. 

I remember the glorious sight of a new bag of clean, fine, white sand from the hardware store being poured down, down, down in a whoosh of white delight, topping off our old gray pitiful sand.

The back left corner of my backyard had a steep hill going into the wilderness. Wilderness in my child’s imagination only, because I do remember at one moment taking a fresh look at my hill and realizing it was just a dirt-trodden slope in the corner. But to me it was a mountain- you had to have a quick running start to make it. There were spindly junk trees up there you could grab their skinny branches to help you. I tested my strength by trying to go up more and more slowly, not grabbing onto anything.

There was a piece of metal sticking up out of the dirt at the top, in the corner between the two old chain link fences. Probably an odd remnant of abandoned fencing, it held a hint of danger. And when I ended up with school shoes I hated- saddle shoes but not white and black but red and plaid- I used to grind the sole of my school shoe around and around on that metal. My idea was that if I could wear a hole in them, those shoes would be out of my life. 

There was a tall pine tree at the very deep back of the yard (farther and taller in my child’s eye, of course.) I was an intrepid climber. No one watching, I would go up the pine’s close-together branches. It was itchy, rough and sticky, but I didn’t stop. I could go high, high, and stop and look around, and see far, far, far from my special perch. I didn’t want or need anyone with me up there. I would stay awhile, wondering if anyone missed me.

I remember the yellow forsythia bushes in my back yard, stems arching over, lined with flowers sometimes even in the snow. I remember a big bush with rough hairy stiff leaves but pretty white clusters of tiny trumpet shaped flowers. In my mind I called it the wedding bush. I remember using the raised roots of the big willow tree as roads for my troll doll neighborhoods. And I remember  using the switchy branches of the willow as they fell in the Fall, as jump ropes. The slim branches would break and break every time I missed a jump, getting shorter and shorter and making the challenge greater and greater. Finally I would throw it away and start fresh with a new branch.

I had a little wooden play cabin in my backyard too, with rough stools my grandfather made me. Once I found a huge moth of brown and red, spread out inside my cabin. It camouflaged well on the corner between wall and roof, but I saw it. I saw it’s soft markings and fuzzy antennae. It stayed very still. I checked on it a few times, I didn’t know if it was ok. One time when I came back it was gone.

My back yard had weedy honeysuckle climbing  rusty chain-link fencing, for me to pluck the little flowers and sip a bit of sweetness.  My backyard had clover to knot the stems and string together blossoms. Clover also harbored the bees, drinking their sweet nectar. When I walked on them they had no choice but to sting my bare feet. But I was a brave one. I would stop, take the stinger out, and keep going. I was tough. I was independent. In my backyard I was explorer, I was creator, I was finding my courage, I was building myself.

6 thoughts on “Playing in the Backyard

  1. You must have been smiling when writing this. You remember so many details. I pictured how you were trying to get rid of your shoes and climbed the pine tree and peeled your crayons. I thought what I might write about my childhood backyard, perhaps about a flowerbed under the living room window, a lilac bush and wood shed.

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  2. Despite living a world away I found many common elements in your backyard memoir piece Fran. Our backyard backed onto a forested area so your recollections stirred memories for me. Only yesterday I read this quote from Joan Didion-‘We are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be.’ You have delved in the magic box of memory and found treasure. Thank you for sharing with us and issuing a reminder…

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  3. Oh, my goodness, Fran. This is so beautiful. I have been basking in your memories and the memories of my own backyard, going back and forth and comparing the two. So many similarities. I want to use your backyard memory post as a mentor for my own memories. Some of my favorite images from yours are jump roping with the willow switches, running up the “mountain” and trying not to grab hold of the small trees, the glorious new sand in the sandbox, and climbing the pine tree so independently. This is a rich telling of a child “building” herself. Thanks for the inspiration.

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    1. Thanks for your response, Denise!
      You know, the prompt I was using referred to “play.” I amost didn’t use it to write because I don’t feel that I am very playful, and I feel that I can’t remember much play. But writing this made me see that play is simply what we do to grow. It felt serious to me because it was 🙂

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