When I was little the backyard was one of my favorite places to be. There were so many reasons for this. In the middle of the yard we had the biggest pecan tree I’ve ever seen that dropped nuts all the time. I’d go out to play by the rowboat we had on the left side of the yard, often. One of my favorite things to do was to turn the boat over and see what was underneath. My dad kept it upside down and usually we just sat on it and played cards or talked but I LOVED to look and see what was underneath! Lots of juicy worms would curl up and writhe free from the dirt along with some slugs and skinks. I loved that!
We also had a brick wall that lined the back of our yard. It divided the property between ours and our neighbors’ yards. There was a step about 2 feet from the ground on the wall and I used to step up onto it and look over the fence. I’d stay there for 30 minutes at a time sometimes, just waiting for someone to come out of the house so I could say “hello.” By today’s standards I suppose this resembles stalking, but what did I know as a kid? I just wanted to see something happen.
My dad built us a treehouse. It really was up a tree! It wasn’t in the pecan tree. It was in a tree closer to the fence. Somewhere I’ve got some pictures of it. My sister and I loved it because is there really anything better (as a kid) than sitting up in a tree just watching everything below? That’s something else we’d do for hours at a time. More spying involved, I guess, as no one could see us from across the street (we could see into the front yard and across the street because it was so high–great way to spy on people doing weird things on their lawn). Right next to the tree house we had a swing set with a see saw. When we got a little older, Dad put an above-ground pool in the backyard. I got stung by a bee for the first time (and only time now that I think of it) in that pool. Our yard was huge!
When we got tired of climbing over the fences and playing secret agent in the treehouse after a swim in the pool I would gather up some pecans into a paper bag and sit on the boat and eat the ones I could break into. If I got frustrated enough I’d go get the nutcracker from Iona in the kitchen and be able to break every single one. Then I’d throw the shells under the house (didn’t know I was practicing composting by doing this at the time) and go find the next big adventure. The one thing I never was able to do was climb that pecan tree. There was nothing to grab onto toward the bottom of the trunk. That tree was quite a presence in our yard. Very authoritative, protective. The growth from the branches was very dense so when it would rain, standing under the pecan tree would protect you from the wet unless it was a hurricane or thunderstorm. I used to hug the tree all the time. I can remember the way the bark smelled and the way it felt against my face. It was a familiar smell, like the smell you recognize from someone you know and love. My pecan tree was like that. I felt protected and loved by it. I spent so much time sitting on the trunk roots looking for lizards and bugs that the bark was smooth. I sat in the same spot all the time. The root became smooth as I rubbed away the outer scales of the bark. I’d dig holes looking for old bones and arrowheads and anything that I could create a story about. That tree was my friend. My backyard was my fantasyland.
Then Iona would call from the back door and tell me that dinner was ready. My face was filthy as was the rest of me.
“Diane, what have you gotten into?! You can’t come to the table like that!” Iona would say. “Now we got to clean that face and those hands! You come with me!”
She’d take me by the hand and march me into the bathroom just inside and I’d smell her hands and they always smelled like potatoes to me. Just like clean potatoes. I loved Iona’s hands.
“What’s for dinner, Iona?”
“White beans and hot dogs,” she’d answer.
“White beans and hot dogs! Yippee!!