Saturday, May 26, 2012

Book Challenge: Day 4

A book that reminds me of home? That is really, really hard. The small town I come from is fairly conservative, and a combination of town kids and wilderness kids. But no one every cared about that. My friends came from all walks of life even then. We'd either set a bunch of wooden pallets on fire (which boys would inevitably try to walk on- oh, high school), or get coffee at the mall, depending on who I chose to spend my weekend with.

BUT. I do remember a book from my childhood (amazon says 1998) about a girl who was so shy that she retreated into the walls of her family home and lived there, reading and sewing, distancing herself from the outside world.

The premise was always VERY appealing to me, and I remember thinking of ways to slip behind the walls of the century home I grew up in as a child, finding a squishy armchair and a lamp to make a little hidey-hole for me to sit and read and write in peace.

Instead I had a little brother and a VERY hands-on mom, so we crafted, and baked things that tasted SO good, and got glitter on everything sometimes if we weren't careful, and climbed trees outside, and built snowmen, and played dress-up, and caught fireflies, and dug holes in the backyard where Dad said we could, and made friends with the neighbors, and forgot to close the gate in the backyard if we were in a hurry, and played the "don't touch the floor because it's lava" game in the living room, and used our imaginations that way. Until bedtime, when I could read some more.

I had a magical childhood.

My first friends were my neighbors. I was incredibly fortunate to grow up sandwiched between two houses who had girls exactly my age, and a boy across the backyard and down the street a ways as well. The two girls who were my "backyard neighbors" were older, but were part of that circle. And the girls and boy my age had siblings, too. Older and younger. So there were boys and girls for me to look up to, built in best friends, and younger children to mentor (torment).

Most magical of all (to tell it now, anyway- then it was second nature and unremarkable), was the tiny creek that ran through my backyard right at the property line. We had a gate that latched, and separated my yard from my backyard neighbors' yard. Jewel weed grew back there, which we would rub on mosquito bites (although the jury is still our if it worked), along with mint leaves (spearmint?) that my mother showed me how to steep to make tea. But instead of crossing the creek, if you turned left after going through the gate, and walked along the bank of the creek for three or four houses, you came to a bridge. 

This is not even Terabithia nonsense (no harm meant, it was a great YA book. Bu this bridge was very real, and existed long before I knew of such places as Terabithia and Narnia). The bridge crossed the creek, and led to a neighbor's house. The boy was my age, with a younger sister and an older brother (who would later become a football star every girl in my grade idolized in high school), and if we weren't playing in my yard on a summer day, we were playing in theirs.

Baseball ("Mom!" my younger brother would announce upon coming home, "They let me be all-time catcher!"), football, all kinds of tag and hide and go seek. The yard was huge, with a red barn-like shed (red with white trim in a small X across the door) to hide behind and long-needled pine trees in the side yard to breathe in deeply when you wanted to think, and chives growing in the garden next to the flowers (once my neighbor's mother showed me you could eat them, my breath was never fresh again). In my own backyard, we'd play tagging bases (which I couldn't explain to you now if you wanted me to), more baseball, simple catch, and versions of Red Light, Green Light (something to do with a Mr. Fox, a game called Easter Eggs which seemed to have no object but to make my brother lose, other number-and-color-based games) in the front yard with the rough stone porch steps as "home base."

Often times, truly great writers have troubled childhoods: broken homes; adversity at school or in the community; illicit love affairs; sexual or emotional abuse as a small child. My childhood was magical, untouched by trouble beyond the fact that one of my neighbor friends wasn't allowed out to play, or the time someone's grandmother made us drink the ENTIRE glasses of chocolate milk that we had mixed ourselves, greedy with the sneaky freedom to use as much Nesquik (or maybe Ovaltine?) as we wished with no parents present (believe me... it was gross. Well beyond the saturation point of extra-chocolately chocolate milk).

My first friends occupy a very treasured and until now, secret, place in my heart. We truly had halcyon days of love and laughter, which I think is so rare, and a kind of magic. We recently had a meet-up to watch one of the older boy's bands perform locally. He is an immensely talented guitar player (which I do not say very often given my college experience), and the band is SO CLOSE to really making it big. It's another reason I have a lot of hometown pride (and boy, do I have a lot of reasons). But one thing I noticed, as we watched him perform, one of my first big brothers, was that we all acted reverently toward one another. It was immensely touching. 

My very first best friend, who grew up next door, whose mother made us matching outfits, who my mother used to babysit, whose brother was killing it onstage with his guitar and his band, moved to New Mexico after college. I hadn't seen her in probably six years. We saw each other across the room. We waved hello. We met halfway and hugged. Then, as I stepped back, I paused, to drink in everything about her physical appearance and spirit. It sounds so silly, but for a prolonged moment, we just stared at each other with silly grins on our faces. She was like my sister from the time we were toddlers, and something from that upbringing keeps the stuff we are made of similar enough that I believe we are always connected. It was much the same with the rest of the "kids from the block." 

I believe writers can come from all backgrounds, and that happy childhoods can make for good stories.