Sitting in the back seat, I used to experienced the bumps and potholes of the gravel path that cut through the property. Often, after we made the turn from the asphalt to the gravel, I would look out the window and watch three kids playing football in front of a one story white home. As I leaned across the seat to peer out the driver side window, I would see another house with a dog and a old man in a rocker asleep on the front porch. After rumbling down the drive, I would wait for my dad to let me out of the backseat before I would run inside the house.
All four of us would run towards the woods behind the old man’s house. Here, we found a place to imagine. The trees created a patchy sunlight on the floor of the jungle. A raging river divided the forest in two quite uneven pieces. “Our side” had everything we needed: sticks, sheet metal, vines, mud, and plenty of room. Now the division is no longer a river, but instead a creek. The water that was once a perilous lateral jump for a child is just an unsteady, extended step for an adult. Now we stay near the wood’s edge where we can’t even hear the splashing of the creek. We now chose to stay at the wood’s perimeter, away from the bugs and poison oak, but near the house perched fifteen feet up in an oak. The oak wasn’t just a tree, it was our hub. It was the same place that we imagined the secret four story hide-out would reside, but then it was just a dream. The same place that we built a hide out with limbs and sheet metal, but then it was only a makeshift hideout. Now, it is same the place that we imagined, with lumber and screws, but now we are too old. Used to, we would get in the go cart, strap on our helmets, and head for the far side of the property.
Riding through the field, the wind would rush across my face as I drove sixty miles per hour towards a different tree. The tree wasn’t special. It had no flowers. It wasn’t tall. It was just an average tree. Only a barbed wire fence separated us from the its base and the cows in the neighboring field. What made the tree special wasn’t its looks, or its smell, if the tree did have a magnificent smell it was over powered by that of the manure in the neighboring field. What made it special was the pecans that fell from its branches. As we sat in the shade of the tree smashing the shells with the nearby cinder blocks, we would look out into the vacant field. Years ago the field was seen as a place where the future could practice America’s pastime. Later, the the field went unused, so it grew back into a field, but you can still tell a difference in the infield and outfield grass. Now the field has returned to use. A place for the youth to try out the worn out pick-up and sharpen their skills before they enter the open road. Now we walk to the truck, put the keys in the ignition, and burn out towards the house.
With mud on the tires and ruts left in the grass, the beat-up truck retires next to my car. I switch to the driver’s seat of the neighboring vehicle and reverse it until I feel the drop off. I’m back on the gravel road. I look out onto the compound. There’s now another house. The old man still sleeps in a rocker on the front porch, but the dog is long gone. Three new dogs are out wandering the ten acres, so I am watchful. I also watch for five kids. The youngest runs through the field after the ten-year-old in the go cart. Both middle schoolers ride in the rusty truck, practicing their soon to be useful skills. The oldest follows me to the real road, to use a real pick up truck. I am watchful for all of the children. As I watch them move around, I remember the youngster I used to be, running everywhere. I remember the kid I used to be driving the go cart like a race car. I remember the tween I used to be trying out the rust-bucket pick up. I look in the mirror and see who I am now. I am changed.