There used to be a Nickelodeon show called Pinwheel. It was similar to Sesame Street in the early 1980s. It was educational, and nurtured the creative side of every child who watched it. One of my favorite segments was about a little boy named Simon. “Well you know my name is Simon…and the things I draw come true..oh pictures take me, take me over, climb the ladder with you….” He would walk along a wooden fence to a plain, straight ladder. Simon would climb over. On the other side was a magical land of chalk drawings where anything was possible.
It was simple. It was poignant. It was fuel for my already overactive imagination. We had an old, slatted, wooden fence, too. It ran the length of our backyard. That was the fence I climbed over (more often went through the missing slats) that led to my magical world.
On the other side of our fence ran a forgotten alley. It was where giant, metal monsters were kept. Everyone fed these wide-mouthed beasts as much as they could. Their thick, warm breath would ooze past their gaping mouths. Flies and bees, and other creepy crawlers would freely enter and exit the darkness of its hard, slimy lips. I only had to feed it every 6th day. That was according to our pinwheel chore roster that Dad maintained. We all had to take the trash out; regardless of gender, size or age. “Everyone carries their weight on a team”, he would repeat…… my whole life.
I am a winter baby. My birthday is in November, so I had to wait an extra year to go to Kindergarten. This left me with a lot of time to explore that alley. My mother worked from home. She was the maid, the cook, the music and art teacher, the nurse, the seamstress, she was our master gardener, and so much more! While I tried to help, I was more underfoot (and annoying) to her than anything. And so, I became a traveller. As a 5 or 6 year old, just going 6 houses down from yours felt like you have gone to the edge of the world.
Before strategically sneaking past those alley monsters, I would climb into our massive Sycamore tree to scout my next adventure. The top of our tree was taller than our rooftop! It’s trunk was wider than my best friend and I could reach around with our fingers still touching. I would climb as high as I could go; even up into the waving branches that bent under my weight. There I could see all of eternity.
I would linger just long enough to look at the miles and miles of wonderous splendor. As soon as I saw that the coast was clear from dragons and 10 foot tall, man eating rats, I would swing from the top to lowest hanging branches like an agile jungle monkey. I would hang for a few moments by my fingertips; feet swaying. The jump was twice my height. As soon as my feet hit that hard, red dirt; I ran. I ran to that fence. I climbed over it, or wiggled through it, until I was free. Free in that old, rocky, glass strewn alley. I would suck in a chestful of courage and dusty air; ready to find my magical world just like Simon!
It seemed as if everyone had something interesting in their backyard. I was strongly drawn to the ones with pets. Each new yard was encompassed by a variety of makeshift walls, horizontal slats, or vertical fences. Some had no boundary at all. As a naive child, neither did I.
Over the fence, I discovered all God’s creatures.