Updated: Nov 2, 2021
My parents still live in the house they bought when first married back in the early 1960’s. It is a semi-attached duplex with red siding in a middle-class section of Staten Island. Most of their original neighbors still live there as well, though a few have moved on, figuratively and literally. Our yards were connected by small wooden gates in the fences. They have been repainted, repaired and rehung more times than I can count. The children on the block would run between them in an endless chase, screaming, “Tag, you’re it!” We would play outside until the streetlights turned on signaling everyone home for bed. As a child, I took for granted that this was how everyone lived, knowing the names of all the people on their block.
My father built a small log cabin beside our pool that my sister and I would play in for hours. It looked like a miniature version of the house on our breakfast syrup bottle, conjuring up the image of a forest full of Maple trees. I would collect the bugs that found their way inside in jars and make potions out of leaves and flowers. My mother would sneak in and free the insects that I had trapped and dump my collections when they started to fester and smell. I would imagine myself as a brave explorer, my head swimming with stories about life on the prairie. I relished the smell of the wooden walls and the shade it provided from the summer sun. I would sit in there until bedtime listening to the crickets’ chirp. Even then, I needed my solitude, to distance myself from the noise and distractions to recharge.
There was a small stone path leading up to the cabin’s entrance surrounded by a small plot of grass. My father would mow the grass every so often but he never learned how to tend to it correctly and there were always bare patches of dirt throughout. Rose of Sharon bushes grew wild along every side of the yard. I would watch the bumble bees fly around them endlessly. I tried to catch one to see if their yellow stripe felt soft like fur. I only tried that once. When it rained, the flowers would fall off the trees. They were slippery like banana peels and you would have to watch your step when walking on the concrete. I liked the pool but preferred the ocean. I never liked the smell of the chlorine or how it burned my eyes when I tried to swim underwater. My parents ran the filter every day and vacuumed it often but it still never felt clean to me. I don’t think I have swum in a pool since my parents took theirs down.
As the weather turned colder, I would still make an effort to play in the cabin. The windows had small screens that let in all the rain and cold and there was no door. So, I knew that when the leaves began to change, that my time was limited. I would pack up the toys that I kept inside it, my jars and buckets, and cover the small plastic table and chairs set with an old blanket. I would pretend that, like the birds, I was moving on to a warmer climate.
Over the years, the cabin walls began to rot from age and termites. One year, the weight of the winter snow collapsed its small roof. I had outgrown our playhouse by then and my fantasies about frontier life. And even though I could barely fit inside anymore, watching my father tear it down, felt like a dismantling of my childhood. My parents removed the pool and grass not long after, replacing it with a smooth red deck that covers any traces of what once was.
It's funny the memories that stick with us from childhood. What we carry with us, consciously or unconsciously, and what we let go of. Many years have passed since then, yet I still find myself with my hands in the dirt, now tending my own garden, and making potions from the herbs and flowers. My connection to the Earth keeps me grounded, keeps me sane; it offers solace in these chaotic times.
So I invite you to sit with me, sip some homemade tea, and feel the energy of the natural world around us. Listen to the birds sing, feel the wind brush through your hair, let the sunlight warm your skin, and be present in the moment because that is all that matters.