Real LJ Idol | week six | 829 words
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.