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?


Mary Stella said…
My grandmother used to bake rhubarb pie!

Great memories, B. Knowing you as an adult, it's tough for me to envision you as a farm girl, but your descriptions gave me the images.
Jennifer Elbaum said…

Love the pic of the tree!
I love these kinds of essays and memories!

My grandparents lived in Clovis, New Mexico so we summered there. My best and most creative moments took place in the alleys behind the houses where my sister and I would rummage for scraps of carpet, fabric, boxes (usually coffin boxes from the mortuary *gg*) and horned toads and snakes. What treasures! *snort*

You could walk the length of the town in the alleys, from the Coca Cola bottling plant on the north end, to the pink stucco Santa Fe train station on the south, go to the drive-in for a vanilla-cream-Dr. Pepper, and then hang out in the air conditioned Office Supply store. Ahhh small pleasures!

I could go on and on. It was a wonderful place for young girls to spend lazy summer days. Both my sister and I yearn for it!
Beth Ciotta said…
Hi Mary! Hi Jen! Gee, and here I thought rhubarb was just an Indiana thing. :)

Ann, I just love what you wrote here. You'll have to do a more in depth version at your blog soon. What lovely memories! I've never heard of vanilla-cream Dr. Pepper, but it sounds yummy. In my small hometown they had (and still do) a drug store with a soda fountain. You can order a chocolate or cherry coke. I always got the chocolate. They poured coca-cola over crushed ice, added Hersheys chocolate syrup, and stirred. YUM! Thanks for sharing your childhood memories. Loved it!
Scott Oden said…
We lived, and still live, out in the middle of nowhere. Rural Alabama at its finest. As kids, we'd pile on our bikes and ride two miles down the dusty back road to a little general store. We'd spend our allowance on soda, candy, gum, anything that wouldn't melt and could be easily transported via Schwinn to the creek. I'm not a big fisherman, so why my brothers fished, I'd look for caves, fossils, interesting sticks -- once, I swore I discovered the remains of a prehistoric civilization (turns out it was an old foundation and scrap from years of illicit dumping).

We'd get home exhausted, swim in the pond, and finish off the day with hotdogs scorched over an open fire . . .
ElsieHogarth said…
The childhood memories I love is spending summer vacations, in Haiti, with my grandparents.

My grandmother had chickens and ducks in her yard and I enjoyed feeding them. The smell of molasses and ginger always reminds me, of her, because she use to bake those cookies.

With My grandfather, since they had a beach house, I learned to swim, to water ski, to ride a donkey and then a horse. He was very English. Lavendar is a scent that I associate him with because he used English Lavendar soap. That's my favorite soap.
Beth Ciotta said…
Scott and Elsie, I adore those stories. So far four of us have listed childhood memories, and though they are all different, they all possess that carefree spirit and innocence I was talking about.

Anyone else care to share??
Gabriele C. said…
For me, it was our holidays at the Baltic Sea coast. There must be selkies in my family tree somewhere, for I was in the water all the time, even with three red balls for storm warning out. Once the lifeguard went after me because they though I was going to drown in the heavy sea. Not I. Though I admit if the current had carried me out, I'd have landed on the other side of the sea, somewhere in Danemark, lol. It was at that time when I though I'd swim across the Channel one time, or something equally spectacular. I don't know when and why I gave up that sort of dreams.
laurie514 said…
Beth and Mary Stella,
I stalked both of you at Eloisa James blog.Free advertising for both of you .Under What should an author do to advertise their book?
It's under Elsie one of the first people that wrote in.
Love you guys love all the RT pictures !
#1 fan and stalker
Beth Ciotta said…
I can't imagine swimming in the Baltic Sea, Gabrielle. It' a fairy tale image for me as it's so far from my area. I love that you had a dream of swimming the channel. It's not important that we acheive every dream, just that we HAVE them. :)
Beth Ciotta said…
Hello stalker #1. :0) Thanks for the heads up. I zipped over and read. And thank you for the BUZZzzz. :0) Hugs!
Gabriele C. said…
The Baltic Sea is unique. It is not tidal and has a very low salt concentration. The northern part between Sweden and Finland, and around Perterburg in Russia freezes so solid in winter you can drive trucks on it (and in cold winters like the last, the Bodden between Stralsund and the islands of RĂ¼gen and Hiddensee freezes, too), there are places miles off the coast where the ground suddenly is only knee-deep, some currents are trickier than the Atlantic, the main colour on a sunny day is green rather than blue, some beaches have the most beautiful dunes ever, you can find amber if you know where to look ... I could go on. ;)

One of the reasons I got this pirate plotbunny is to write a book where the Baltic Sea features prominently.

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