I have some of the most amazing memories of my dad's backyard. When I think about it now, I wonder if it was actually as great as I remember it, or if I'm just recalling it from an imaginative child-like state of mind. I haven't been in his backyard for more than twenty years now. I'm not even sure if his widow still owns the property - but I think I'd rather not see it as it is now. My memories of it are profound and beautiful, and I'd like them to stay that way.
As I sit and write this, I am well aware of the fact that I used that backyard as a sanctuary; a safe place from what went on inside the house. Maybe that makes my memories of that space even more special. I also think that things were different when I was a child. I spent a lot of time outside, regardless of where I was. There was no internet or high tech video games to keep me inside. There was exploring and bike riding, roller skating on uneven pavement and playing. Just playing. I had some incredible adventures in that backyard.
There are so many things I remember about that magical space - and yes, it was magical in so many ways.
There was a huge apple tree that shot up into the blueness of the sky, its branches stretching out to canopy a large part of the thick, green grass below. The apples the tree bore were never very large. They were hard and round as golf balls, but I remember picking the ones I could reach, or catching them as my dad shook the taller boughs. I'd fill my arms with them and sit in the shade of that tree trying to chase away the sharp, sour flavor of the bright, green fruit with a salt shaker. Did they taste particularly good? Not really. They made me pucker my mouth and they tightened the back of my jaw, but it didn't matter. I still eagerly anticipated them each and every year.
I don't know just how big in acreage the yard was. I do know that it seemed pretty big to me as a kid. There was a collection of trees, all with thin trunks and long, skinny branches that made up a straight-lined border between my dad's property and the one next to it. His neighbors, the Miller's, were an elderly couple. They were incredibly friendly, and encouraged me to wander through those trees. They had a cement donkey sitting in their front yard. It stood less than two feet high, and was, even then, a pretty small statue, but it didn't stop me from sitting on it, wild adventures playing through my young, blonde head.
I would visit the Millers' backyard when I'd hear them outside. Mrs. Miller, (I always addressed her as "Mrs. Miller", and I can't recall now what her first name was if I ever knew it to begin with) was blind. I remember sitting outside with her and chattering like a little bird. (Some thing's never change.) She would ask me all kinds of questions, and I would eagerly answer them. We would sometimes end up in their kitchen, which was at the back of their house, and she would feed me cookies or cake while we sat at her table.
On the other side of my dad's property was an old, black wire fence. I used to sit on it and bounce. I was never told not to, and I was small back then, so I doubt I did much damage to it. The yard on the other side of that fence was pretty amazing, too. It belonged to a family both my mom and dad had known since they were young. They're last name was Willie. There were paths with white wooden archways built over them, and lots and lots of rose bushes in that yard. I would walk the short distance down Bradburn Boulevard to the black gate in front of her Mrs. Willie's yard. I would wander through her gardens and smell all of the colorful flowers I found there. She was elderly as well, but we were always welcome to visit. I remember being inside her house many times, but it was in her garden I felt most comfortable.
At the far end of my dad's yard, past the lawn and the towering apple tree, was a grape vine. It was unruly and unkempt, growing along an aging trellis, the leaves huge and twisting every which way. My dad was Greek. I remember going to a Greek festival once with him and my grandmother. We ate dolmades, or stuffed grape leaves at the festival. Granny always talked about making some of her own every time she was out in the yard, but if she did make them, I don't recall it. I do remember picking some of the grapes and eating them. Every edible thing that came out of that yard was sour - the apples, the grapes, and the cherries that grew on the half dozen trees that stood inside the grapevine arch - but I ate them anyway. Probably just because I could.
There was a ditch that ran along Bradburn Boulevard, right in front of my dad's house. During the summer. the city allowed the homeowners to temporarily dam the ditch and use the water to irrigate their lawns. It only happened once or twice a summer, but I remember those days fondly. My dad would nearly flood the back yard and I would put my swimming suit on and use the wide expanse of wet, soggy grass as a humongous Slip 'n Slide. The water was always icy cold, and I had mud and bits of grass stuck to my arms and legs, but it was so much fun.
I also remember playing in the sheets that my mom, and then later, my step-mom, hung on the laundry lines that ran down part of the length of that yard. I would play with the clothes pins that were dropped in the grass, and play hide and seek with the cats that called my dad's place home. When I got tall enough, I would jump and grab the thick, metal T at the top of the pole, and I would swing from the bar.
I have often said that one day I would write a book about this yard. As I wrote this post, I realize that I already have - or at least this yard inspired one quite a bit like it. It is the yard I wrote about in The Color of Thunder, although that one was in a much different state, and in a much different climate. The way the Linsey children in that book felt about their yard is much the same way I felt about my father's.
This backyard was like a fairyland; a wonderful memory, and a place I am so grateful I was able to call my own for a great number of years.