A Patch Of My Childhood

treesBehind my mom and dad’s house, the 1,070 sq ft brick ranch I grew up in, is a patch of my childhood. A weathered and shadowed two acres of gnarled, twisted pines where I would disappear on hot summer afternoons. This is where I would pretend to be on the forest moon of Endor battling the Empire after devouring Return of the Jedi for the 15th time. It would also double as the grizzled German countryside as friends and I fought the Nazis after watching The Guns of Navarone. We’d gather limbs and make lean-tos and hide in their claustrophobic shelter hoping someone, anyone, would walk by and not notice we were there.

As I got older someone made a bike track in that patch of my childhood. There were dips and dirt ramps and long runs that let you build up speed. There was one jump I never would do out of fear of breaking my neck. Red, yellow, and blue dirt bikes made their presence known in those woods. Chromed-out pedal warriors shot through the stagnant air among those weathered pines, vying for the best trick. I liked being back there, as it felt like we were riding in an indoor track. Like nature decided to move indoors. The trees were dense enough that even rain rarely penetrated the tightly knit limbs and their prickly appendages.

I remember the older kids heading into those woods. This was when that forest was much larger,denser, and foreboding. It extended for several acres back to where light rarely made its presence known. But in the distance you could see a glowing orange inside the heart of the forest. Teenagers would make a fire and go back and smoke, drink, and do those things I wasn’t allowed to watch in R-rated movies(the movies my parents would watch after I went to bed.) I can remember my mom and the neighbor marching back into the thick of it and telling those kids to go home, but not before staying and making them put the fire out. My mom called a few of them by name as they lived in a nearby neighborhood and were my older brother’s age.

mom, chris and john henry with tomatoesThere was a network of trails in those woods, too. They led from one end of the woods to the other. They ran both north and south and east and west. I used the trails to navigate to friends’ houses. Chris lived to the east, while Jay lived to the west. My next door neighbor had direct access to the trails, while I had to either jump the fence or use his yard to get to them. When I was a little older a large chunk of trees were cut down and a road was paved in the woods. Homes were built. This cut the woods into sections. It also created a ditch that separated our patch of woods from the rest of the forest. I always imagined it to be a moat. When it rained hard the ditch would get a little water build up, and I’d imagine a creature swimming in the water waiting to take us under and devour us.

We would often venture to the far north end of the woods, as it felt like uncharted territory. On one of those adventures we found the remains of an old Corvette. It had to have been early 60s by the body style. I often wondered how did it get there? Who left it? Why would someone keep a wrecked sports car in the forest? Had someone died in that Chevy convertible? It was a mystery that was never solved. We also found in the center of the forest an old field fence. Like something that would be erected to keep cattle from wandering off. An old wire metal fence that reminded me of pictures I’d seen of World War One. It made me think of men cowering in fear of their life as they’re being shot at by the enemy. It also seemed strange to think why someone would put a fence up in the middle of the woods. It was likely there before the woods. Maybe there was a farm there at the turn of the century. And tiny pine trees were planted around it.

mom in backyard with Miller LiteAs I got older that patch of woods was a place I’d go to just be alone. The neighbor kids were long gone and it was just me. I’d listen to my Walkman and walk along the trails, thinking about a girl that broke my heart or a girl that would eventually break my heart. With more homes built, the mystique was slowly drifting away. Civilization was taking over. A place to hide among the trees was vanishing. My cousin would come over in the summer and stay a week. We’d head out around 9pm and walk on the road that went through the woods. There were only a handful of streetlights back there as there were only a handful of homes built. In the dusk hours the woods transformed back to the mysterious dark world it once was. It became alive. It became intimidating and alluring once again.

Nowadays I still see that patch of my childhood as I take my afternoon walks. It’s merely a shadow of what it used to be, consumed by suburbia’s black hole of consumerism, browning lawns, and colorful sheds. The trees have been dressed in a thick fashion of ivy, moss, and time. The forest floor a tapestry of dead limbs, pine needles, poison oak and sumac. The brush now so thick that not even a game of “war” or hide and seek would be possible. There still remains two of the trails that I once rode my bike on and attempted to keep clear of sticks. The view is much different, though. No more tunnels of pine or pockets of quiet. No longer are there trees strong enough to climb and hide in. There’s no vast depth or feeling of isolation. There are no kids running through woods shooting cap guns or pretending their dirt bikes are speeder bikes. No moon of Endor or warring factions of 9-year olds.

It’s just a patch of my childhood, fading like the memories it holds.


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