Age of Innocence (warning: long nostalgic post)
A couple of days ago, I wrote a scene that took place in a tree. In the story (a secondary plot in ROMANCING THE WEST) a little girl regularly climbs trees to escape reality. She hangs out in the branches talking to an imaginary friend. At one point, my secondary heroine, a grown woman, sheds her fears to climb a tree in order to have a conversation with the young girl. I felt that woman’s exhilaration at navigating the heights and branches. Suddenly, I was catapulted back to my own youth.
I was a textbook tomboy.
Though I’ve lived in New Jersey for almost twenty years. I was born and raised in Indiana. Farm country. We moved around a bit, but always lived in small rural towns. One house sticks out in my oh-so-horrid memory. A house in Converse, Indiana. A one-horse town. A two-story house. Fenced in kennels. (My mom raised German Shepards) Chicken Coops. Fenced in pasture for our horses. And a barn (complete with hay loft). A large yard edged by trees, rhubarb plants and raspberry bushes. At least I remember the yard as large. I was quite small. Six to eight years old. There was one particularly massive tree in that yard. A maple tree I think. It sat close to the road. I spent a lot of time in that tree. Climbing in the branches. Hanging from and sitting in the branches. By myself. With siblings. I sang to myself. Talked to myself. And to imaginary friends. I remember being utterly happy, looking at the world from the treetops and thinking… anything is possible.
I have several vivid memories from that brief period of my childhood. Most whimsical. Some funny. Some sad.
I remember painting the barn with my grandpa and him showing me ‘proper’ brush technique. Cleaning the stalls with a pitchfork and whining about how heavy the straw and horse manure were. I remember sitting in the feed trough of the stalls along with a litter of kittens that were born there and talking to the horses. Conquering my fear of heights and jumping out of the second story hayloft into piles of straw. Someone got hurt. Me or my little brother. Or maybe it was a neighbor kid. Can’t remember. But we got in trouble because we weren’t supposed to jump from the loft. That I remember.
Walking barefoot in the yard and accidentally jamming a pitchfork prong through the side of my foot. That I remember. Yep. That was me. Ouch. BIG ouch.
I remember picking raspberries and eating them right off the bush. And the rhubarb… I liked it raw, but my brother liked it in pie. Grandma would make rhubarb pie especially for him. (I don’t think I’ve seen Rhubarb Pie on a menu ever)
I remember using cardboard boxes to make trains. A train to wherever. Using sheets to build tents so I could camp out in my room. Playing Cowboys and Indians, hide and seek, and freeze tag. Lots of outdoor activities. One winter, my mom allowed my brother and sister, and I to go sledding by ourselves. She rang the ‘dinner bell’ to signal time was up, but I was having too much fun so we stayed longer and my little sis almost suffered frostbite. Oops.
I remember watching that movie Hush Sweet Charlotte and having nightmares for several nights. One stormy night I saw a headless ghost in my window, I swear! I remember sleeping on the floor of my parent’s bedroom for consecutive nights and them finally kicking me out.
Sneaking down past bedtime, sitting on the stairs and peering through the banister to watch whatever ELVIS movie my mom was watching. *g*
I remember my little sister jamming a plastic turtle, something we’d won at a county fair, UP her nose. NO, I don’t know why. And that plastic turtle head breaking OFF in her nose, and my mom taking her to the emergency room where they pulled the turtle head OUT of her nose with long tweezers. Heh-heh.
And that tree. Spending countless hours climbing and hanging out in that tree. Dreaming. Believing. Imagining.
We moved to Florida soon after. It was like moving to another world. I was forced to grow up very fast. And I never really fit in. I remember staring up at the palm trees and cursing their lack of branches. I remember yearning for that farm house, that maple tree, and the age of innocence. Writing that scene the other night brought it all back. That time. Those feelings.
When do you remember being at your most carefree and hopeful? Where were you?