Memories of deer, a lake, and a park

I suspect that every one of you who reads this has a similar memory from childhood; zooming, ZOOMING down Any Street USA on your bike, feeling the air tickle your skin, the hair flying up off the back of your neck, and then braking, and the brakes either squeezing the tire too tight, or not at all, or hitting a pebble, and the pebble and the tire connecting at such an angle and in such a way that the only thing there is to happen next is the BIG FALL…the over-the-handlebars fall, the bleeding elbows and bleeding knees fall, the chain coming off fall, the crying your eyes out limping home or trying to pedal home fall, the standing in the tub crying while your mom gently tries to get the dirt and flecks of gravel and asphalt out of your elbows and knees fall…Mine was on a street called Temple Avenue in a neighborhood where I lived as a child called Deer Lake Park.  I remember what I had on the day of THE FALL…it was a white halter top with “rope” through the neckline that tied behind my neck and it had an embroidered sailboat on the front of it and I wore it with dark blue and white gingham shorts and it was a “belly shirt” of sorts, which made me feel much more cool and hip than my bookish little girl self was.

After work last night I had to drive to this neighborhood of my childhood to move a piece of furniture for a friend.  While I currently only live about six miles from said neighborhood I have only driven through it a handful of times in all of my adult life, and when I pulled up to the house where I was to retrieve this antique armoire I looked to my right and realized in a moment of such clarity and memory where I was; I was at the base of the hill where I took the BIG FALL.  In a split second I felt like I had traveled through 42 years…in my mind’s eye I saw my sun-kissed brown hair, my summer tan skin, my rope necked halter top, and that blue bike my dad had brought home from work, trash picked and lubed up, and THE HILL that tremendous hill where I was ZOOMING, going much too fast, oh no! too too fast-must brake…when it happened, the BIG FALL.  Until that moment that summer day I always had a bike where to brake you just pushed the pedals back, like you were about to pedal backwards, but this bike, this exciting just picked from the trash totally different bike than my own had a hand brake, which I squeezed, hard, as I left the top of the hill because I felt I was going way too fast and would not be able to turn left onto the street below…and that brake squeezed that front tire like nothing I ever had felt in my entire life and that front tire stopped.  STOPPED just like that…but I alas did not…That tire stopped and I flew…flew from that banana seat right over the handlebars and down that giant hill…in my mind I slid on belly, elbows, and knees ALL the way down that hill…I remember my toes were split open, it’s likely I was in bare feet as I so often was, my knees were skinned all the way down to my bones, or so it felt, as were my elbows and I seem to remember both my belly and my chin were bleeding too…but what I also remember was that I thought it too far to try to walk home, and I did not want to leave the bike so I have a memory of getting back on said bike and reluctantly pedaling home, sobbing, shakily trying to balance my way back to my house…

BUT last night sitting in my ridiculously big truck on the side of the road, looking out the passenger window at that HILL, it looked so small…so not at all steep, so not at all big, in fact, nothing looked as big as I remembered it…it suddenly seemed so small; the hill, the neighborhood, the houses…

On my way home out of the neighborhood, I drove by my old street, my old house…I looked at the grass out front where I learned to do a cartwheel.  I looked up at “my” bedroom window, wallpaper white with little purple flowers, a lavender quilted bedspread under which I often read well past my bedtime, where I first read The Secret Garden and The Outsiders… the giant field that was behind my old house was still a field, but it was not giant at all…in my memory it was an expanse of grass and open space that went on for a mile…our dad cut a path through the woods in our backyard to it where we drove our little tractor, played tag and Simon Says, laughed & giggled under the hot sun and twirled and spun when we wore spinny skirts or dresses…in reality it was grass that went on for about 200 feet!  I stopped at the field, SO MANY memories of that field and I just sat in my truck feeling so strange, looking at that giant field of playtime memories that now looked so small…

I’ve often thought about that house over the years of my life.   Mostly I think about my dad, working full-time with a wife and two little girls and going after work every single night to work on that house that he built for us…that my parents were able to afford to live with us in the first house that they bought when they were married, while building the house we were going to move to less than five years later, and that they were not even 30!!!!  There are 30 year-olds now who still live with their parents!!!  My parents were not even 30 and were able to afford to live in their home, with two little kids, and able to buy a piece of land, and then build a house on the land at the SAME TIME!!!  Sitting in my truck, it all seemed unfathomable.

While I felt happy to deliver the furniture to my friend I felt a bit sad driving home, what had been so big in my mind was so small now in real life.  I wondered, could it really be that I had not driven by that Temple Avenue hill in four decades??  I wondered, did I ever remember seeing any deer in our yard as a child there??  The lake is still there but the park was always on the other side of the lake anyway, it wasn’t like we could walk there!  Sitting in Deer Lake Park for those minutes was like unlocking a time capsule that’d been buried for 40 years.

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