Those summer nights of hide and seek where we were willing quarry,
our efforts to make curfew were too often dilatory.
Our neighborhood adventures stretched out under the stars—
those shadowed venturings abroad, hiding behind cars,
in barrow pits or hedges, darting through the dark,
avoiding passing car lights and the dog’s insistent bark.
Bigger kids the kingpins of this nightly sequestering,
lying still as death with our fears of capture festering.
That titillating strain of remaining undetected,
somehow in our memories has made us more connected.
How we so consistently lay spread out on the ground
cowering, but secretly hoping to be found
by that special someone who, in our pre-teen flush
even then, in passing, could bring about our blush.
All this search and parrying that we called summer games
very soon would fill our lives called by other names.
My best friend taught me about limbo and saints,
Showed me their stacks of National Geographic.
You had to be invited into membership, she said,
not everyone could join. I rated them against
my mother’s Ladies’ Home Journals
and felt deficient, somehow.
No wine in our Methodist kitchen cupboards.
No tuna and salmon tins
stacked up awaiting Friday.
All those cans on my friend’s mother’s shelves in limbo
all Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday,
that long summer when we were still twelve.
Wanting something we didn’t yet know the name of.
Restless stirrings the little boys our age
did not know how to respond to.
All of them inches shorter than us
except for one—a tall country boy
new to town school,
the most innocent of all.
How we waited to be chosen—
the fact that we’d already chosen in our minds
having little consequence.
How we watched. How we kept secrets,
even from each other.
I knew what to call it, at least,
if not much else,
that summer I turned thirteen,
The dVerse poets prompt is “Limbo.”
But Jimmy Cliff says it best!!!!
And “Limbo” of a different sort was two years in our future:
Click to enlarge photos.
Sitting up past midnight, we search our mind for facts,
parting long grasses of the past for long-forgotten pacts
of secrets kept from parents and long-forgotten games:
“New Orleans” and “Send ‘Em” *. We comb our minds for names.
Of talents left to childhood, like flips off monkey bars.
Adventures dreamed on rooftops and the back seats of cars.
Favorite childhood dresses and jokes pulled on our folks.
Afternoons in Mack’s Cafe, sipping on our Cokes.
Hot beef sandwiches at Fern’s and running up the stairs
to avoid Mom’s fly swatter aimed at our derrieres.
Childhood dramas staged in trees or in our backyard lawn.
Teenage slumber parties that stretched out into dawn.
We journey through old albums, searching photos for
any tiny detail that will open up a door.
Each time I come to visit, we remember a bit more
on these safaris of the mind that we both adore.
*These are the names of childhood games. Did anyone else play them?
For the Word of the Day challenge: Exploring
I was reading my friend Mary McNinch’s charming blog about her play date with her granddaughter and my comment got so long I decided to turn it into a post. Here it is:
My housekeeper and friend Yolanda’s seven-year-old daughter Yoli was here one day and I dragged out all my old 9 inch dolls—precursors to Barbie. Jan, Jeff and Cissette. (Although I couldn’t find Jeff. Evidently they had a separation.) Yoli proceeded to dress them all wrong, putting Jan’s dress on Cissette (without belt and backwards at that) and dressed Jan in such a dowdy dress that it amazed me I’d ever chosen it in the first place. After she left, they stayed in place, waiting for her return, but school started and she hasn’t been back since.
That is how, past midnight a few nights later, I found myself seated in front of my sewing table in my guest room, where I’d set Yoli up with the dolls and my Jill and Jan closet and the basket of clothes she’d neglected to put away. After choosing the “right” clothes for each and dressing her, I replaced the detached doors of the closet, hung all the other clothes neatly in the closet, and posed the girls for best effect. By then it was about 1:30 a.m. and I closed down the play date with myself and went to bed. The next day, they had chosen to assume the same position I left them in. They’ve been there for a few weeks, but I have a party tomorrow night and decided it was time for them to go back into seclusion in my art studio. Makes me kind of sad, though. Luckily, I had a photo shoot before assigning the gals back to the past. I neglected to do a photo shoot of Yoli’s choices of costume, but just as well, I don’t think her heart was really into “retro.”
Click on first photo to see larger views of photos and to see captions.
Tell us about your first bicycle or car? My first bike, the one pictured above, was inherited from my sister, complete with training wheels. By the time this photo was taken, the training wheels were far in the past and I had about outgrown it. Christmas brought a brand new Hiawatha girl’s bike— beige with rust detailing. My most lengthy adventure on that Hiawatha involved a ride to the North Dam with my friends with a picnic lunch in our bike baskets. I also remember riding it on the two-lane highway to White River, pulling off onto the gravel shoulder whenever we heard a car coming up behind us. It was a different world!
What fictional world or place would you like to visit? I would love to visit a different friendly planet if I could get there quickly and return to earth quickly as soon as I wished to.
If you could have someone follow you around all the time, like a personal assistant, what would you have them do? Organize all my files, then compile stories and poems into books and attend to all of the publication details. Heaven. When they were finished with that task, they could organize all my photos and convert all my slides to computer images. I have the machine to do so, but not the time.
What did you appreciate or what made you smile this past week? Please see the video below:
This post made years ago at the very beginning of my blog answers today’s prompt of “conjure” perfectly, so here it is again after a small edit:
My dialogue takes place between my 7 year old self and my 70 year old self who, ironically, is writing this in Mexico.
of Grandma’s barn
whole lost worlds there.
Our own attic—a door held down
by a gravity never challenged.
I wanted to see
the hanging gardens of Babylon,
Mexico and Africa—
all these places from books,
their pieces jumbled together
like puzzle pieces
in the deep recesses of my closet,
but ready for assembly
when I would
make my future memories
I crouch with myself at seven—
sharing imagined dangers
in deep closets,
trying to conjure the world.
So many small town stories
while I dreamed of living
in those fairy tale places
of Bible stories
that stood on a shelf
the Bobbsey Twins
Some of us spend our lives
trying to be like books,
then spend our old age
trying to remember childhood,
The prompt word today is conjure.
Their creaks were my alarm that kids were on the elementary school playground across the street and if my biggest sister was downstairs or away from home or even sleeping as soundly as she always did after coming home late the night before, I’d sneak into her room to look out onto the playground from above and see who was there. I knew the difference in the sound between the merry-go-round and each set of swings—the little swings next to the little slide, or one of the three big sets directly across from the block my house was on. Higher, with longer and more flexible chains, these swings could be made to loop de loop—pass up so high that you actually went over the top of the frame the swings were suspended from and wound the chain once around the pipe.
Some of the boys could repeat this three or four times until the swing got so high that none of the little kids could get up to it. Then the janitors would have to get their tallest ladder and go up to push the seat over and over the cross pole with one of their big push brooms to straighten it out again and bring the seat down closer to earth.
There were rules forbidding loop de looping, but the boys would come after school when all the teachers had gone home and even our janitors, Mr. and Mrs. Polachek, who lived kitty-corner across from the south end of the playground, were at home in their backroom away from the sounds of kids they had to deal with every day.
The creak I was listening for was the creak of the merry-go-round. Teepee shaped, it had a wooden runner all the way around it a foot up from the ground. There was a handrail about thirty inches above it, so you could stand on the wooden runner, facing the center pole, hold onto the hand rail and enjoy the ride as the big kids ran around in circles around the merry-go-round, pulling it with them to go faster and faster, then stood on four sides of it, grabbing the handrail pipe and pushing it off to make it go faster still. One by one, more onlookers would enroll in the joint effort to get it going fast enough. Then they’d jump on and everyone would pump up and down, sticking their bottoms out into space as they bent their knees to keep up the momentum.
There were other ways to use the Merry-go-round. The bigger girls like Marie Holstedt who lived on the street that faced the opposite side of the playground from the one my house faced, would sit on the foot board with her boyfriend Robert. Their feet side by side on the ground, they would sway to and fro in a kind of two-step movement—two to the right, then one to the left––their knees touching with their swing to the right, their hips touching when they swung to the left. When they did this, the sound of the merry-go-round reminded me of the strange rhythmic creaking I’d hear sometimes late at night in my house.
It was probably the TV antenna on the roof, my mother had said. Or maybe the furnace trying to pump out heat, she had speculated when I pointed out that it had been a windless night.
Life was simple and I believed her. Only now do I make sense of it and of my father’s late night short trips down the hall to the bathroom—the washcloth always draped over the tub faucet the next morning.
It was an innocent age where it was entirely possible to be eleven years old and to never have had the least idea that anything like sex existed in the world. Yet a good deal of what eventually led up to it went on in the playground across from my house. Older girls would sit in the swings, swaying back and forth without ever taking their feet from the ground. Or, take fast running steps forward and backward without really letting go and allowing the lift off. To their side or in front of them would be their crush of the day or the week or the hour. If he was not the boy of choice, sometimes the girls would switch swings. If the boy switched again, too, and the other boy let him, then it was a sign language of sorts that indicated which boy favored which girl, and if the girls went home, a clear message that things had not matched up correctly to their satisfaction.
But at other times—usually during games of ditch ‘em played in the twilight and darkness of summer—courtships could progress toward hunkering down in the ditches around the playground, close up to some culvert where the ditches were their deepest, the girl in front, the boy with his arms around her waist, holding her back from running to try to get to home base when one of the littler kids who was “it” ran past without seeing them. In these junior high years just past childhood, the objects of the games started to shift until finally in high school, the rituals of the old games were left behind entirely and ditch ‘em became merely a starting place––as did the swinging back and forth, the pumping, the dance.
Today, with merry-go-rounds a thing of the past, they are still an appropriate metaphor for what life pushes us toward from our birth. It begins with our rocking in the arms of our mothers, the rocking chairs of our grandmothers, the wild swings through the air locked hand-to-hand with our fathers. It is what slippery slides and swings and merry-go-rounds and dancing move us towards. Everything going around and around and in doing so really going back and forth from generation to generation. Passing the world on and fading away. Now and then doing a loop de loop just because we can.
This is a rewrite of a piece from three years ago. The prompt today is enroll.