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01 December 2011 @ 03:59 pm
The Real LJ Idol: "A Kingdom Of Forest Or Field"  
A Kingdom Of Forest Or Field
Real LJ Idol | week six | 829 words
Food memory.


During the years we lived on the farm outside Salem, the world taught me secrets that a city child might never have known.

This was back before my mother called "Quits" on my Dad's gentleman-farmer dream. She and my father both worked full-time, and it turned out that managing seventy-two acres and five children was more than even her considerable energy could withstand.

The farm had decorative landscaping near the house, multiple meadows for grazing animals, and a huge fruit and vegetable garden to the north (with an orchard and a small forest of oak trees beyond that). At the time, it seemed utterly immense.

A fourth of the orchard was apple trees, some fifteen or twenty of them. Many were Gravensteins (still my favorite), and both the pre-ripe and truly ripe apples were delicious. In time, I learned that thinning yellow skin was a sign of the ultimate in Gravenstein goodness. This was also true for pears, but hardly worth pursuing: our pear trees attracted hive after hive of yellow jackets, so I rarely visited their corner of the orchard.

I used to climb into the apple trees from the adjacent fence. This was back in the days when parenting happened more from a distance. My mother didn't worry, having done much the same thing in her own childhood. If she'd known how much time I spent trying to get into the open platform in the big oak tree next to the barn (using the barn's fence to get to the top of the dog kennel and beyond), things would have been different. I could never negotiate the transition from the dog kennel roof to the barn roof, but I spent a lot of time thinking about it. Getting into that treehouse was a longstanding childhood goal. In the end, it became the dream that got away…

In those days, you could have solitude as a child, sometimes even beyond the shadow of your own house. There were buttercups to visit in the far corner of the front yard lawn, and an umbrella-shaped tree beyond the backyard patio that could even hold off a fair amount of rain. The side yard by the driveway was shady and overgrown, with bushes to hide behind and waiting clusters of sweet-smelling violets. My father, whose idea of an orderly garden had more in common with mathematics than aesthetics, must have hated the burgeoning wildness of that area, but it was my favorite part of the entire yard.

I used to have picnics in the enormous meadow over the back fence. I'd take a sack lunch, usually a peanut-butter-and-honey sandwich and a closed Tupperware cup of milk flavored with Strawberry Quik. Climbing over or through some part of the back fence, I'd wander through the tall grass until I found what seemed like a perfect picnicking spot. I'd trample a nice flat area and then sit down, immediately lost in the cozy seclusion of plants tall enough to block out the horizon. Grasshoppers and butterflies would pass through, and the warm sun brought forth the smell of wildflowers and hay.

Down along the driveway, near the barn, there was a large walnut tree I often visited. I was always ready to eat walnuts before they were ready to be eaten, and somehow thought that persistence would separate them from their stubborn, thick, green casings. I learned that the casings would come off as soon as they began to dry up, even if it was only a few days later. Those fleshy coverings were often a powdery green by then, and any walnuts harvested from them tended to be moist and a little bit squeaky. Their flavor was richer and truer than walnuts I've had since. We live in nervous times now, where foods are selected from rigid windows of ripeness, and the walnuts of my childhood are outside the approved timetable of what people sell.

When I was six, we moved to Salem, to a regular house on a neighborhood street. There were no climbable trees for a child of my size there, and no walnuts or meadows or even secret stashes of violets for me to discover. It was a different world.

We had no swing set anymore, and most of our adventures happened indoors: sliding on our bottoms down the carpeted stairs (when my parents weren't around), or roller skating in the basement on rainy days.

We were all a little bit older, and everything seemed a little bit smaller. This is a truth all children uncover; it was simply more obvious with new circumstances surrounding it.

But if my childhood kingdom had become smaller, it was far from barren. There was an apple tree in the new backyard, only one, but it was huge and bountiful. Just the smell and taste of its fruit could bring back the feeling of those early wonders from my original home.

In that way, none of those treasures was ever truly lost.

(Deleted comment)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 2nd, 2011 05:35 am (UTC)
Thank you very much! I'm glad that came through so clearly-- I was hoping it would.

The house in Salem was not our last move, unfortunately, though it was the one that most made sense (I really feel for my mom, who must have been drowning in all that responsibility). I missed many of the adventures from our time at the farm, but in raising my own children I've seen that some of that "lost Eden" feeling is inherent in passing from those before-school years into what comes after.

Thanks for reading and commenting!
nodressrehersalnodressrehersal on December 2nd, 2011 04:22 am (UTC)
This reads like true memories - very nicely written. Love it, with its "Wonder Years" reflective tone to the narrator's voice at the end.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 2nd, 2011 05:38 am (UTC)
I'm afraid these actually are memories! Many of the prompts seem to be leading me toward non-fiction, which is not what I expected to happen.

I had a first attempt at this prompt (also non-fiction) that I scrapped at 11pm last night to start on this instead. I wonder if fiction might have been easier? Turning this around during the work-week was fairly hard.

Thank you for your many kind and thoughtful comments during these rounds. They have been very encouraging!
(no subject) - nodressrehersal on December 2nd, 2011 12:18 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - halfshellvenus on December 3rd, 2011 12:56 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - noodledays on December 2nd, 2011 09:09 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - halfshellvenus on December 3rd, 2011 12:57 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - noodledays on December 3rd, 2011 12:59 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - halfshellvenus on December 3rd, 2011 01:00 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - noodledays on December 3rd, 2011 01:02 am (UTC) (Expand)
Jemima Paulerjem0000000 on December 2nd, 2011 05:32 am (UTC)
Beautiful! I love the narrative voice and the imagery. :)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 3rd, 2011 01:00 am (UTC)
Thank you very much!
(no subject) - jem0000000 on December 3rd, 2011 06:49 pm (UTC) (Expand)
lawchickylawchicky on December 2nd, 2011 01:38 pm (UTC)
There's nothing like fresh fruit/veggies. We have some berry bushes now, and I've been growing a peach tree which I'm still waiting to make edible peaches.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 3rd, 2011 01:03 am (UTC)
"True" ripeness (vs. picked-green-and-shelf-ripened) makes a huge difference in how things taste. Good luck with the peaches! I learned the hard way that peaches/plums have to be "culled" (i.e., remove 1/3 of the fruit from the trees) or the branches get too heavy. The peach trees that came with our current house had a variety that could not be knocked off with a broom handle-- you had to pry them off individually. Needless to say, our annual windstorms here eventually doomed them. :(
the middle of the road's fine with no cars aroundnoodledays on December 2nd, 2011 09:07 pm (UTC)
I really like the sweet, powerful reminiscences here.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 3rd, 2011 01:08 am (UTC)
Thank you! I have so many fond memories of this time. I was lucky to be allowed to explore alone, so much more than kids today are.

It's surprising how wonderful a picnic just 200-300 yards away from your house can be, but when you're little, it's all so mysterious and magical. :D
basric: gingerbread gifbasric on December 3rd, 2011 08:15 am (UTC)
A lovely memory, Well done.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: Xmas Penguinhalfshellvenus on December 3rd, 2011 10:24 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much!
devon99 on December 3rd, 2011 01:46 pm (UTC)
Very evocative piece.

Your second commentor was right, it does have a 'Wonder Years' narrative feel to it. I've always loved your writing, your descriptions are always so lovely and detailed. You have a very poetic turn of phrase which I especially enjoy in non-fiction like this. If you do more non-fiction, I'd love to see you let go a little more from an emotional pov, this feels slightly restrained to me? But then again, maybe that's because of the distance between then and now.

But as always, beautifully done.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 3rd, 2011 10:25 pm (UTC)
You know, I never watched "The Wonder Years," so I don't really know what that means!

I never expected to be writing non-fiction entries, but so many of them seem to turn in this direction. This one came from channeling a bunch of memories from over 40 years ago, so it IS pretty far removed from the "now." Interesting comment, though, and I'll keep that in mind!

Thanks for reading. :)
(no subject) - devon99 on December 3rd, 2011 10:39 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Danmuchtooarrogant on December 3rd, 2011 08:46 pm (UTC)
Ah, to be a kid again...

"In those days, you could have solitude as a child, sometimes even beyond the shadow of your own house."

You evoke such vivid pictures with your writing. Reading about your childhood home, I remembered being a child myself, sitting in the middle of our small corn field, because it was wonderfully shadey and impossible to be seen by adults.

Thank you for sharing this!

The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 3rd, 2011 10:29 pm (UTC)
I remembered being a child myself, sitting in the middle of our small corn field, because it was wonderfully shadey and impossible to be seen by adults.
Oh, that sounds wonderful to me too! It's like a secret fortress of your own, one that you can get to within minutes.

I vaguely think my Dad might have threatened to "clean up" that one part of the yard with the shady, overgrown bushes and the large patches of violets, and I'm so glad he never got around to it. I spent hours wandering in there, and if we'd stayed there longer I would have gotten to the point of bringing books out there to read. It was just a perfect spot!
(no subject) - muchtooarrogant on December 4th, 2011 08:48 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - halfshellvenus on December 5th, 2011 09:59 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Myrnamyrna_bird on December 3rd, 2011 09:07 pm (UTC)
I loved this. We had a favorite apple tree when I was a kid too.
I loved the part about parenting from a distance and kids having solitude. Oh for the good old days!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 3rd, 2011 10:32 pm (UTC)
I loved the orchard at the farm, and it was surprising what a difference it made to at least have that one tree at the new place. Frustrating not to be able to climb it (or the other big tree in the backyard, whose crotch was just about 1 foot too high), but smelling those apples was almost as good.

And I so loved having those solo adventures as a child, and the thought that nothing could harm you as long as you weren't jumping off roofs or running into traffic.
Laura, aka "Ro Arwen": Juicy Appleroina_arwen on December 4th, 2011 03:45 am (UTC)
Aww, I liked this. We lived in the same suburban house until I was 19, so I never really changed surroundings except to go to sleepaway camp in the summers and then college. But I can relate to the freedom that kids used to have - today's kids don't really get that for the most part, and it seems sort of sad to me.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 5th, 2011 08:50 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I wish I could say that was our one and only move, but we moved again several more times before I went to college. This first one was the one I truly understood, looking back. My mother was just overwhelmed!

I think part of that freedom to explore was the place as well as the time. There was a lot of open space, far from traffic (the single largest predator of my day). And sadly, the more we know that we should be afraid of (pedophiles, diseases, what happens when you don't use safety belts), the more afraid we are.

In that sense, sometimes ignorance really IS bliss!
Yelizavetamajesticzaichik on December 4th, 2011 07:13 am (UTC)
That was too bad that you couldn't stay on the farm. It sounds like you had fun memories in your second home, though.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 5th, 2011 09:40 pm (UTC)
I'm surprised we were there that long, given what my Dad was asking of my mother (though they both worked, he expected her to do the cooking and most of the childrearing).

But I have great memories of the farm (my older sibs making hayloft mazes, which once led to a cat and her litter of kittens!), and the new place too (hippity-hop races in the basement, and "keep off the ground" circuits around the rec room). Most of all, I'm glad my parents weren't overly interested in our fun, or at least stayed away long enough for us to jump all over the furniture without them knowing it. ;)
(Deleted comment)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 5th, 2011 09:41 pm (UTC)
I missed climbing (and losing myself in) that orchard after we moved, but that apple tree brought back a lot of nice memories and helped bridge the change. It was a real surprise to have actual neighbors after the movie, though my Dad immediately decided that we shouldn't play with the kids there because he didn't know whether they could be trusted. *eyeroll* Didn't stop us, thank goodness...
(Deleted comment)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 5th, 2011 09:43 pm (UTC)
For a child, it really was! For a grownup, who is saddled with weeding and pruning and such... more of a nightmare. Our current house is 1/3 of an acre, and the yard work here overwhelms me!

But what a great place to wander and play, and so peaceful. :)
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - halfshellvenus on December 6th, 2011 07:56 am (UTC) (Expand)
whipchickwhipchick on December 5th, 2011 12:00 am (UTC)
Such a sweet piece - you capture the nostalgia so well!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 5th, 2011 09:43 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! :)
A Karmic Sandbox: Mona Lisa Impressionkarmasoup on December 5th, 2011 07:06 am (UTC)
Very sweet memories. These actually take me back to my childhood, too, which wasn't really all that similar, specifically, but, the feel of this is. Thanks for sharing.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 5th, 2011 09:46 pm (UTC)
What a wonderful comment!

In many ways, it seems to me like reading about other people's childhoods (in the entries over these past weeks) reminds me of my own, too. They're not at all similar, but the feeling of being immersed in that world (so different from all the things you think about and feel as an adult) still has a "sameness" to it that calls across those different experiences. Those worry-free years before school are an Eden of their own, much of the time!