Childhood

The word of the day — childhood.

The word instantly brings memories to mind of sandboxes and swings, cookies and Kool Aid, catching fire flies and riding bicycles.  Childhood ought to be about being carefree, feeling safe and happy.  I think many of us remember it that way, even if there were painful times.

When I remember my own childhood the best times come to mind first. Like ice cream sundaes at the drug store with my grandmother.  We got dressed up to go, she with her hair put up in combs wearing a dark dress, maybe navy blue, and pumps, me in starched cotton with white cotton socks in Mary Jane shoes.  We walked the two blocks past neighbors sitting on their front porch, stopping to say hello and the ladies telling my grandmother how sweet I looked.  At the drugstore Gracie and Ethel worked behind the counter and always greeted my grandmother with “Why hello Opal. And here’s your sweet little grandchild!  Butterscotch sundaes today?”  We always had butterscotch sundaes and even when I was in high school Gracie and Ethel always called me “Opal’s little grandchild”.  That’s my good memory of my grandmother.

Opal died young when I was about to be four years old.  Her death was more confusing for my young self than sad.  I remember her bed being placed at the window in the front room of the house so she could see the trees in the yard and people often walked up to the window to wish her well.  I remember going to the funeral home to see her laid out in the casket and being curious about why only the top of her was visible.  I remember a somber man lifting the lower part so I could see that she had on proper shoes.  I am sure that my parents were heart broken, but none of that is real in my memory.

My family lived in several different places when I was small before settling into my grandfather’s house a few years after my grandmother’s death when he became ill and needed to be taken care of.  So, we left the little white house on one side of the river and moved to the other side into the same house we were living in when Opal died and there we stayed until I finished high school.  I had really liked the little white house and grandpa’s house felt like home.

The places we were in before that were not so great.  There was an apartment near Chicago where the train ran along the edge of the back yard for a few months.  It was cold and dreary. There was a trailer (excuse me, mobile home) in a park where no grass grew for a while and an apartment in a housing project for a period of time that my parents were separated.  For part of that time I stayed with my paternal grandparents on their farm and that is one of those good memories from a not so good time that I cherish.

So, childhood, much like the rest of life, has it’s ups and downs.  I find that talking about the downs upsets people.  It’s as if they consider it whining to mention the negatives, especially if you mostly had it pretty good, which I did.  I had rather dwell on the fun I had, the people I loved who loved me back, the things I learned and adventures I had.  I can’t forget the injustice of bullies at school and that one really awful teacher but I survived those with little lasting effect. I prefer to remember classmates who became friends and teachers who were also examples.

I can’t write about childhood in any personal way without the best part of all — siblings and cousins.  When I was three my brother was born and I was given my first big responsibility — watch the baby.  This involved sitting by a play pen and reporting any activity to my mom.  She would pause in her work and ask from the door “Are you watching the baby?”.  “Yes.  He still isn’t doing anything.” He amazed me.  Still does. My cousin, Danny, stayed at our house a lot.  His mom, my aunt Marie, had a house full of kids and not much else, so her children visited us often to be looked after until she could manage for them to come home.  Danny, two years my senior, was my protector and favorite companion.  I was allowed to roller skate all the way around the block if Danny came with me, and he always did.  We played in the creek for hours and picked black berries and pretended to be The Lone Ranger and Annie Oakley.  When I was eight my sister was born.  She was a tag-a-long, following us older kids everywhere.  We didn’t mind because she would do anything we told her to and she didn’t tell on us when she could have, maybe even should have.

My last sister lived only four days.  All our hearts broke then.  My brother, sister and I had all been so excited about the new baby and had such plans for her.  She was utterly beautiful.  I was eleven then and childhood began to end, as everything does.

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Childhood

Sky

I have been tinkering with words lately.  Not writing as I am want to do but just turning the words over in my mind and rolling them across my tongue to get the feel of them. While reading a novel or even the newspaper I pick out a word to play with, to study, to analyze.  It’s one way to occupy my mind that requires little from me and keeps me amused briefly. Then I got onto the reader part of my wordpress blog to check the works of others and discovered that a word-of-the-day is provided to get one started to write.  Just what I needed. So, sky.

I was watching the sky while out for a walk just yesterday and thinking how it is constantly changing.  The sky I watched at noon will never be exactly like that ever again.  The clear vibrant blue of a summer day will be clear and blue on many other summer days, but it will not have exactly the same fade from shades of aqua to turquoise beginning so pale it’s almost white on one horizon and blending, bleeding into a royal hue on the opposite.  Those puffy cotton-ball clouds playing against the robins egg blue of late spring mornings will have the shape of 8:28 a.m. on May 27 only that one time for that one moment.  The dark green-gray clouds announcing the approach of a thunderstorm will hold the shape we see only for as long it takes the wind to march them into something else.

Flying from mid-America to New England a couple of months ago I saw the sky from up  in it.  Those puff ball clouds that we make imaginary shapes out of from below look very much like snow when looking down at them rather than up.  Then I could not ignore the fact that there are bumps in the sky.  So deceiving that serene smooth looking blue and white space way above our heads.  Had I not ever flown in a plane I would not have considered how changing and formidable air is.  Wind as I had experienced it on the ground seemed to present itself differently up in the sky.  Stronger and unpredictable for all that it is invisible.  No leaves to stir or flags to straighten out from the wind up here.  It is felt, not seen.

The night sky holds separate wonders from the day.  On cold clear winter nights when the wind has gone to sleep with everyone else and sleep doesn’t like me I wrap up in coat and gloves and walk under the bare trees looking up at stars that seem to be tiny pin holes in black satin letting only the wee small bit of light sneak through from the other side.  I especially like the black night sky when there is snow and light seems to glow from under your feet into the night and then die before it reaches the divide between earth and sky.  Winter’s naked trees form patterns of lace across the face of the moon and clouds, if there are any, seem to have captured the glowing light escaping from the snow below but can only hold it for a moment before the night becomes all shades of gray and black.  I could sit and watch this sky for hours, but the cold chases me back into the house, leaving the sky to deepen into purple before allowing just a touch of light to melt into the east changing the purple to lavender before streaks of pale yellow announce dawn. A dawn similar to many others, but not ever exactly the same as any other.  Each moment of the sky is unique, never to be again.

Sky