Friday, July 16, 2010

#fridayflash~In My Mind's Eye


In My Mind’s Eye


The rising sun bathes my living room in an orange glow. I sip my mug of hot chocolate; tendrils of steam curl through the air and dampen my nose with condensation. As I close my eyes and inhale the drink’s rich aroma, I’m transported to my childhood home at the other side of the country. I part the sheer curtains, looking beyond the grimy glass and vinyl-sided houses lining my street to the stucco homes in the neighbourhood of my youth.

We didn’t have a lawn when we first moved to the suburbs. The front yard consisted of raked and seeded dirt, a small Pampas grass and a cherry blossom tree. Across the street from my childhood home grew a field of tall, golden grass that bent and swayed with the wind’s breath. Children frequently filled the space and launched their kites into the sky. The colourful shapes often gained such altitude we feared they would drift into the paths of planes approaching the nearby airport.

At the eastern edge of the field, where it bordered the school grounds, grew a tall maple. One spring morning I climbed high into the branches of the ancient tree whose waxy, green leaves were beginning to unfurl. Using a pearl-handled pocket knife I carefully carved my initials, and those of a girl I secretly liked, into the bark of a branch thicker than my father’s arm. Later that week the girl caught me admiring her from afar.

“Why don’t you take a picture? It lasts longer,” she teased from across the school yard. My embarrassment prompted me to avoid her for the rest of the sixth grade—and all of grade seven.

The field was eventually subdivided into properties and large stacks of dirt were scattered around the area like giant Hershey’s Kisses. The neighbourhood boys frequently set up brown and green plastic soldiers on the mounds and bombarded them with lumps of dirt until the enemy was vanquished. As such war games progress with boys, the group eventually split into two camps and tossed our ammunition—dirt bombs—at each other.

“Take that, you Commies!” I shouted, lobbing a grenade.

“Get ‘em, guys. Let’s nail ‘em with these bombs,” shouted one of my other Allies.

The war games were a major source of amusement that summer until young Teddy took a direct hit to the forehead with a lump of dirt concealing a jagged rock. He stood stunned for a moment and eventually put his grimy fingers to the wound. A lazy stream of blood meandered to the corner of his eye. When he saw the red on his fingers he began to shriek and ran home to his mother. A ceasefire was declared.

As the summer progressed our mild climate blessed us with regular sunshine and minimum rain, typical for that region of the country. The shirtless boys played outside constantly; their pale skin eventually darkened to shades of chestnut brown.

The neighbourhood continued to evolve. Holes were dug, foundations poured and skeletons of new houses were soon erected. Large concrete sewer pipes lay stacked across our street awaiting their burial in the soil. One afternoon our front door bell rang, rousing my father from his afternoon nap. He answered the door. Nobody was there. He had just gotten comfortable in his chair when the doorbell rang again. Another walk to the door to find nobody. He sat down. Upon the third ring dad dashed to the door, again finding the entrance empty. He sprinted down the stairs and across the road. It took only a few moments to find a long-haired teenager hiding inside one of the pipes. He dragged the youth out by the scruff of his neck.

“If you ring oor bloody bell again I’ll kick your arse!” he shouted, pointing a nicotine-stained finger at the boy’s nose. “And if you tell your old man and he doesnae like it, tell him to come aboot and I’ll kick his arse an’ all!”

The youth, his eyes wide and his face ashen, nodded and fled through the construction zone. Truth be told, the kid probably didn’t understand my dad’s threats because of his thick, Scottish accent. In today’s world, the boy would tell his father who, in turn, would call the cops and have dad charged with assault and uttering threats.

Time crept past and the field was finally gone. Eventually the Pampas grass grew to such a size that small children could hide within its depths, ever mindful of the long, slender leaves that could slice their exposed skin. The cherry tree grew full and brightened the front yard for a couple of weeks each year with its fragrance and pink flowers. Somehow, though, its network of branches became an annual haven for wasps.

I release the curtain, losing my view of the street. The old neighbourhood is both many miles and many years away. I sip my hot chocolate but discover it has gone cold and wonder to myself: Where do all of the kids play these days?

36 comments:

Michael Solender said...

Kids will make their playgrounds anywhere..nice piece Alan

Jen Brubacher said...

Such lovely vignettes of the passage of a childhood. And I adore that it's seen in unknown minutes through a window while his hot chocolate cools. It makes it seem very real.

Laurita said...

I loved this. You never know what will whisk you away to your childhood. Loved the description of the dirt fight, and dad's threats to the annoying kid.

I'm saddened that my kids don't have the same freedom I had growing up. Small fenced yards don't hold the same excitement as fields and woods and beaches.

Now I want hot chocolate.

Cathy Olliffe said...

Tears in my eyes, Alan, tears in my eyes.
So gorgeous in its innocent simplicity.
Loved the funny twist at the end of this bit, pure boyism:
"My embarrassment prompted me to avoid her for the rest of the sixth grade—and all of grade seven."
And dad's threat, laughed out loud at this: “If you ring oor bloody bell again I’ll kick your arse!” he shouted, pointing a nicotine-stained finger at the boy’s nose. “And if you tell your old man and he doesnae like it, tell him to come aboot and I’ll kick his arse an’ all!”
If I was that boy I'd be changing my drawers.
And I'm thinking of you in this piece of course, so very far away from your childhood in Scotland. At least I'm a short drive from my neighbourhood. To be half a world away is melancholy indeed.
Guid cheerio the nou!

Eric J. Krause said...

Very nice story. Kids will be kids. A great look at the past, in a time before video games became the playgrounds of choice.

Karen from Mentor said...

Oh this was lovely and sweeping and wistful and romantic.
*sigh*

Nicely done, Alan.


...but I'm still pissed that you carved a tree.

daniellelapaglia said...

Nice job, Alan. I enjoyed the visit to his childhood.

ThomG said...

This was my neighborhood as a kid. What a wonderful trip down memory lane - and I wonder the same thing. Where do kids play these days? Or do they?

John Wiswell said...

Mostly, kids play on X-Box Live and Facebook. For good or bad, for viewing it while sipping coffee or not.

Alan W. Davidson said...

Michael- I recall being little and easily amused with an empty cardboard box.

Jen- Thanks very much. BTW, that's actually set in Victoria.

Laurita- Very true about the kids not having the same freedoms these days that we once had.

Cathy- Glad that you like the dour Scottish father (Yep, that's my dad...)

Eric- Yes, sir. I think we lost something important when video games came out.

Karen- Thanks for the kind words (*hastily adds that he ran home and informed his parents about the tree carving. They in turn had a tree surgeon dispatched to stem the copious bleeding from the wound*)

Danielle- Thanks, I'm glad that you liked it!

Thom- Yeah, there's probably millions of tales out there about the misadventures of boys.

John- I believe that you are correct, sir. Most are resigned to the fact that being 'connected' 24/7 is the way of the future.

Linda said...

Simple, lovely, perfect. You evoked so much emotion in me with your words. Indeed, where do the children all play these days? Peace...

Rachel Blackbirdsong said...

This was a lovely glimpse into the past. There is a lovely wistfulness to this writing that made me want to go back in time to see them for myself. Wonderfully written Alan.

Bukowski's Basement said...

Great homespun feel, Alan... You weaved a bittersweet tale, bud.

And yes, HOT CHOCOLATE!!

Gracie said...

This is a beautiful story, and exactly the way we remember things, years in just a few moments. Your lovely writing pulled me in and I didn't want it to end. Love it.

J. M. Strother said...

Wonderfully written, Alan. These are my memories, it's like you sucked them directly out of my head. I think these are universal experiences of all men of a certain age. Dirt mound wars, platic army men, hiding in the pampas grass -- amazingly dead on. I don't think it's necessarily true of the young today. I've often asked myself, where do the children play? It's all organized and sheltered now. Thanks for the memories. :)
~jon

Donald Conrad said...

Oh yeah, dirt mound wars...hollerin' "Get them commies". That bit about avoiding the girl after her comment is 'spot on'. Kids today won't have those same memories of tag, war, hide 'n seek, red light/ green light. All that has been replaced with safer games found on Playstation, Xbox, and DS lite. It's a brave new world.

Lou Freshwater said...

Amazing how we can become so lost in our memories, and you conveyed that so well by the hot chocolate going cold. This was such a pleasure to read, so vivid and real.

Alan W. Davidson said...

Linda- Thanks very much for your kind words.

Rachel- That's nice of you to say! Only the good bits were written, though. I think there's a lot we'd all prefer to avoid.

Anthony- THank you sir! I'll pour you a steaming mug of hot chocolate.

Gracie- I'm glad you like it. It's tough to fit a childhood into 850 words!

Jon- Thanks for your kind words, sir. The organized and sheltered existance of todays kids is a good point. It makes one wonder what their kids will be doing.

Donald- Those were definately different times. Our mothers could kick us out of the house in early in the morning and perhaps we wouldn't be seen or heard of again until the 'hollering' came for supper!

Lou- Thanks, Lou. That's sweet of you to say.

antisocialbutterflie said...

The memories were beautifully crafted. I recently visited home and wondered were all the grass had gone. You captured this perfectly.

L'Aussie said...

I love nostalgic writing and you've taken me into that childhood world of Scotland. The Scotland I've visited was freezing and foggy so I'm pleased to know there is summer too and once a freedom in childhood which has disappeared from most places. Where are kids now? Not running wild outdoors,usually, but hunched over their computers etc...sadly..:)

Natalie L. Sin said...

I ask myself the same question.

Have you seen playgrounds these days? Pussy factories : P In my day, you fell on sand, scrapped your skin, and got up again. Slides were made of metal, and jungle gyms were tall enough to be fun.

katey said...

That was really lovely, Alan-- this kind of writing is always some of my favorite, the sort that reflects a thought process I hadn't paid much attention to, but realize afterward that I should. Great stuff, thanks for sharing. I do lover your Friday stories-- but I guess I tell you that every weekend :D

Pamila Payne said...

Lovely reminiscence. Dreamy, with details that made it come alive.

Cate Gardner said...

Beautiful, and yes... Where do they? They built houses over one of the places I used to play and the old school behind our old house was knocked down and turned into an office building. :(

AidanF said...

I love the smooth way time passes and the children's play changes in the woods. I liked the choice of cease-fire that ends their mock war after the casualty.

K.C. Shaw said...

Oh, I'm glad I dropped by and read this! Very evocative! (It's also left me with a pleasant melancholy that cries out for hot chocolate.)

Mari said...

How poetic. Love the fluidity of the passing seasons and the MC's shyness. Great piece!

Alan W. Davidson said...

Coyote- Thanks very much for that.

Denise- Ahh, keep in mind that I was born in Scotland but raised in Canada since I was a wee laddie! Very true comments about the kids these days.

Yeah, playground have changed. The tallest item in the park behind our house was a large wooden platform with observation tower. Teenagers burned it down in the middle of the night two years ago.

Katey- You're a sweetie, thanks for the kind words! (and I never tire of hearing that stuff-such a guy...)

Pamila- Very nice of you to say that. THanks!

Cate- THanks! Doesn't the world have enough office buildings already? (says the guy who works for a steel company contributing to urban blight daily).

Aidan- THanks for your observations and kind words.

KC- Thanks, and one can drink hot chocolate any time of year!

Mari- That's really kind of you to say that. Thanks for the observations as well.

Laura Eno said...

Lovely... The neighborhoods are far different today than the one I grew up in. Thanks for taking me back to those memories.

Tomara Armstrong said...

You transported me. Your description is so rich... I didn't want to come back to the cocoa.

Great post,
~2

Mark Kerstetter said...

Alan, this was a real pleasure to read. We did the same kinds of things as kids - there was even a cherry tree in our yard. And construction sites with freshly dug trenches for pipes - what a playground! Today such sites are reasonably fenced in. I ask myself that question quite a lot. I can't help but think kids are missing out on a lot by being glued to X-boxes and hand-held gadgets in air-conditioned rooms.

Alan W. Davidson said...

Laura- Your welcome. I'm sure the childhood neighbourhood experiences from the '60s and '70s were universal.

Tomara- Thanks for those kind words! Extra hot chocolate for you!

Mark- Thanks for that, sir. Yeah, there's a lot of 'overprotection' going on. We're guilty of that with our son. There were barely any safety standards in place back then (regarding construction sites, and perhaps tree climbing). It's amazing we all made it safely to adulthood!

Laura Eno said...

'60s and '70s...thank you for sliding me a decade to the good. :D

kathryn said...

Fabulous piece, Alan! Loved the part about the mounds of dirt looking like Hershey's kisses!

Oh, kids will play. An unexplored, wooded area behind our new place was irresistible to da boys when we first arrived...the pull to explore was undeniable.

Unfortunately, nowadays...especially the older ones play video games and on the computer. With temps in the 90's (& humidity to match), I don't know that I blame them.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Wow, such wistful nostalgia, and so much description...very beautiful piece. I like it!

undiscoveredauthor said...

Very melancholy and nostalgic. There was a real sense of time in this piece... a real sense of longing for something that's lost and can never be regained. That's what growing older feels like...