I was grounded, homebound and pissed with a broken vehicle on a day that promised summer was near. I dumped a basket of clothes onto the kitchen table and began to fold them while looking out at the pond from the patio doors.
A bespectacled little girl whizzed up and down the sidewalk on her pink cruiser, her auburn hair trailing in the wind behind her. She was grinning ear to ear, even though there was no one else around. After several passes, she pulled her bike up to the palmetto trees, snapped her kickstand down, and plopped on the bench near the pond. I watched this child for a good half hour as I folded clothes and did nominal tasks, swinging her feet from the bench and gazing thoughtfully at the pond, the sky, the ducks. The look on her face brought back childhood memories of when I was sure—no, I was positive—that I knew a secret that grown-ups didn't know. They didn’t seem to get it, the magic in the sky, the pond, the wind, the trees.
When I looked back out, she was gone. I summoned the urge to do a bit of spring cleaning and glimpsed her again when I passed the doors with the vacuum cleaner. She ran down the embankment to the pond. Her urgency had me bolting to see her alarm. Ahhh, this time she had returned with her magic wand, a Zebco 33 fishing rod! After examining the water, she ran back up the bank to her bike, grabbed a small flat box, and headed to the bench, where she put something on her hook.
Her casting skills were novice. The rod tip slapped the water, the line tangled, she untangled, and then, finally, the line sailed out with a successful whistle. Afraid the sync of her successful cast would be forgotten, she repeated the same procedure again and again. Confident that casting was a skill under her belt, she headed back to the park bench to eat her sandwich. When done, she squatted on the ground and held a small piece of bread out to the white ducks quacking at her feet. One duck snatched it quickly and startled her so badly that she fell back on her butt and laughed, and so did I. I moved quickly away from the door so that she couldn’t see where the laugher came from. But, I think she was spooked. She got on her bike and left again. I imagined her telling her stories at the dinner table later that night.
I climbed into the patio chair, stretched my lily-white legs out to rest on the fence, and closed my eyes to the sun. I recalled some of my childhood summer days. Depending on where I was spending my summer, the soles of my feet could be wet-grass green, sugar-kissed sand, or Davis Shore’s plough-mud brown.
Days were spent coaxing turtles out of their boxes, finding worms to tie on a string to fish, or playing doodle bug in tiny, sandy volcanoes. Lunch could be wild plums, figs, or crab apples, followed by dessert—sucking the nectar from wild honeysuckle. All of this was washed down with a squirt of water from the outside faucet.
At any given moment, I was usually covered with either ant bites, wasp stings, mosquito welts, or poison ivy. But it was still a better world OUTSIDE. It didn’t matter where I was staying or who I was with—I usually slid into a seat for dinner after three calls to come in. Adult dinner conversation bored me. I would feign concern (or not) at what grown-ups considered an eventful day. I could always think of something way more exciting that happened outside that day. For instance, “Sistah picked up a snake today.” Sometimes that wasn’t enough, and I had to elaborate, “She thought it was a rope on the shed’s dirt floor,” or, “Miss Eddy folds her underwear in half before she hangs them on the line.” Or, “Gabe rode a 40 foot pine to the ground.”
My cheeks warmed, and I almost drifted off to sleep. I snapped out of the daydreaming when the sun clicked over the roof’s edge. The little girl came back once more that evening, pushing a baby doll in an umbrella carrier. Mouthing something to the baby doll, she kicked off a pair of teal flip-flops and ventured off towards the pond. She stretched her arms out wide for balance and navigated to the pond’s steep bouldered edge. She knelt and touched the water, swirling it with her hand and pool-gazing before she headed back up to peer under the rocks. I laughed out loud when she turned one over and jumped back at some unanticipated discovery.
She went back to the baby-doll carrier, swung it around, and headed home as the sun was waning. I wanted to go outside to thank her—thank her for bringing my little-girl self back to me that day, if only for a moment, and to tell her that I am one of her tribe, to guard this gift, keep it in a safe place, that she will draw on it for years to come. I know I can’t approach her, though. Outwardly, I look like one of them, those grown-ups that don’t get her magic world. Oh, but I do.
The next day on an evening walk, I chased butterflies, laid my back to the ground on the park swing beneath the ancient oaks until my stomach tickled and my head swam, and then walked a mile in a dress and flip-flops.