It is truly amazing that I lived to adulthood. When I reminisce about childhood and all the things I did, I shudder to think what all could have befallen me. There were near misses that at the time I dismissed; however, now I see the folly in the chances I took. I would never have dreamed of allowing my children or grandchildren to do what I had done, but then again those were different times.
I grew up just outside of Detroit city in a little green and white wood siding home. Although we had a backyard, my playgrounds tended to be the railroad tracks, abandoned buildings, cellars, and overgrown wooded areas. It wasn’t that there weren’t children to play with or houses I could have safely visited, but rather the tomboy in me thrived on adventures and hidden treasures. Rocks, broken pottery, left behind fragmented furniture found on properties within abandoned homes were my holy grails. Many a day my wagon and I would set off to explore the unknowns as if the world were my kingdom and I, the ruler of all about me. If one of the neighbor boys wanted to tag along they were welcome but truthfully I preferred to head out on my own. Girls with their dolls I totally ignored. Although every aunt, cousin and friend of my mother’s gave me dolls for every holiday, I either ignored or used them for shooting practice with my brother’s dart set in the basement.
I remember one such adventure when I was checking out a field with my red flyer wagon. It probably belonged to my brother in truth; but, it was one of those things I confiscated from him, as nine tenths of the law as they say. While trekking through this particular lot, only recently catching my attention, I stumbled upon a patch of wild onion and strawberries, which I sat down and ate with abandon. I learned early on, someone told me I just do not remember who, that chives were sweet if you pealed open the green shoots using your teeth along the inner soft area. I sat in my wagon swinging my legs as they dangled over the rim, enjoying the sunshine and a cool breeze blowing curls away from my face. I hated my soft blondish brown hair that mom insisted on perming in an attempt to make me look more like Shirley Temple and hopefully give me the appearance of being a girl. I approved heartily of barrettes or headbands because they kept the pestering ringlets from falling in my eyes. Today I had on a stretchy light blue headband, which I pushed down then back up in an attempt to pull back more of the unruly hair. As far as I was concerned, curls just made it easier to get burrs and sticks stuck in them when I crawled around and under the bushes.
Examining the area around me of overgrown weeds, prickly shrub surrounded by pine and oak, I realized that this was different from the usual wooded lots I tended to roam. Jumping from my wagon, I searched about the ground and soon realized, this had once been a house that had apparently burnt to the ground. I noticed overgrown holly shrubs and what used to be an area for a garden. There was wild rhubarb, mint and parsley as well as the strawberries, grapevines and onions. Chomping on a leaf of mint, I further explored the area beneath my feet. One fragmented outer brick wall sat to one side of the broken charred wooden flooring and small areas of inner cinder block that once divided rooms poked out from the weeds growing where a house once stood. Pieces of torn wallpaper survived the flames, hung limply off jagged walls that remained in places. Mapping out rooms, I was able to discern where the kitchen had been as well as the bathroom, pieces of porcelain still evident from the fixtures. I found an old plate, a plastic cup, a chipped coffee mug, a couple of pieces of silverware, and even a pan, which although blackened had survived the fire. I used a board to push aside overgrowth, careful not to disturb any rodents or possible snakes hiding from the afternoon sun.
I loaded these treasures into my wagon, thinking how they would make great additions to my clubhouse stash. I found an old shed near my home that I had converted into my own private playhouse. The walls were shaky with a few missing boards and the door didn’t stay shut on its own, but I felt it was mine. Little by little, I cleaned and decorated it up with rugs and stools, vases and pillows I either scavenged from neighbors discards or pilfered from my basement.
It was while I was exploring the foundation that I stumbled upon the living room area. There had once been a grand fireplace here but all that remained was broken marble and slate. To me these were priceless and I marveled at the luck of my find. I loaded up my wagon with all that I could manage to pull, hauling my treasures back to my house. I just knew I was rich beyond my wildest dreams. It was a shame that my parents weren’t as happy with my finds. Mom eventually did use the slate for stepping stones in the yard but I have no idea what they did with the marble. I did manage to keep a large chunk as a paperweight for my clubhouse though.
Further adventures would have me unearthing what I thought was a dinosaur bone and a gold nugget. Dad was sweet enough, and curious enough himself, to have them examined. My bone was a petrified cow bone and my other was fool’s gold. These discoveries eventually lead to my interest in rock collecting that lasted well into my teen years. I still catch myself walking, looking at the ground and picking up special rocks to take home to add to my gardens or mix with my knickknacks. These are my memory gems of paths I have walked during my life. So if you catch me smiling as I hold a rock in my hand, I am not senile or crazy; I am but recalling wonderful times.