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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Those Special Places

Children take mental snap shots of special places they encounter that refresh in their memories for lifetimes. I know I did. I bet you did, too.

Here’s one:  A pungent cedar border, with small openings just large enough for kids, comes to mind on days when I feel like I need a vacation. The border bush was about five feet tall along a long sidewalk in front of an elderly neighbor’s house. She lived alone, taught piano to the neighborhood kids, and gave out pink peppermint lozenge candies to those she favored. We crawled inside her bush to a small opening in the center where the soft hairy branches curved obligingly just for us in twin benches. The dirt floor was speckled with sunlight from above and it was always a few degrees cooler inside this living fort. We would sit there for several minutes, the summer sweet sweat drying on our skin, and feel the grace of nature and listen to the birds. Our minds flooded with fairy tales of children in the woods, prickling the back of our necks.

Standing before a wall of towering sunflowers in my aunt’s backyard, their dark flat heads bobbing in the breeze, sheltering us, periodically raining down seeds. I look back at the yellow petals like locks of hair, flicking gently at me. I want to be taller to touch the downy dark faces and look deep into their centers. But I am so small, I have to be content to look. To my left is a hilly expanse of woods bordered by a tall wire fence. It is scary and dark. I imagine dark beings shuffling through the trees and underbrush. The hill rises to the sky. I try not to look.

An old weathered garage where the stench of oil and rust ladens the air and slows my step. The narrow cement path is almost hidden. But the sweet raspberries are my reward, as they grow profusely near this abandoned old alleyway.

My bike’s tires sink in the sand that covers the alley from my house to my grandmother’s. I can see each house and their backsides, the smaller doors, the windows closed to the outside, the yawning garages open with lawnmowers, trikes and garden tools waiting for their owners. I count each house on my way to my grandmother’s, aware that I am taking a long, long time. But I am too young to feel the need to hurry.

I know that dogs do this. I know that Singer has her special places in our backyard where she visits again and again. I wonder if these places visit in her dreams, like a special elixir to flood her awareness and to bring a moment from the past back into her present. I think she has memories of Canada and northern Minnesota, where different smells come alive once again.

She takes her route seriously. She visits the spot by the gate where she sniffs under the deck. An animal no doubt lives there. Then she hurries over to the corner and looks past several yards to see if the dogs are out, the ones who get out from their owners and run by our fence, taunting her, until their owners yell at them to come home. She loves this. Her next stop is near a small arbor vitae we planted last spring. She loves to do her business there, which is nice because I know where it is. Is she planting her scent?  Finally, she looks longingly through the fence for her old friend, Polly, and sometimes she is rewarded. Polly comes out of her doggy door and runs up to greet her, and they play by running along the fence, back and forth, back and forth. Polly always stops first.

Singer is creating memories that will sustain her while she waits for us to come home. I hope they are igniting right now in her mind. 

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