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IN CHILDHOOD'S VALLEY OF GIANTS AND JOY
This Sunday, I sat staring out into the shimmering heat, pondering my life and I thought, ‘It’s Labor Day weekend, the end of summer.’ A little sprinkle of joy made me wiggle my feet. The summer had been exhausting and painful and humbling. Far from joyful. I am waiting for Autumn, my favorite time of year – I love the colors and quieting into myself that happens in conjunction with the leaves deepening into the wild shades of yellow and red before letting go in their dance to the earth.
While it’s not Fall yet, those months are near; Labor Day signals that nuanced shift in my body – energy rises, appetite awakens, and I feel young again. Like a child. Like the child who came to the US for the second time at age 11, old enough to have savored being wild and free (unlike the first time I came to the US at seven when all I remember is the terror of ‘weird talking’ Southerners).
This time, I gaped at the enormous spiders sitting in webs strung between the sky-piercing pine trees, the many-footed crawling roly-polys, and monster-sized cats running through our yard.
On this trip, we didn’t come by ship – we flew. I don’t remember any terror except for getting lost in La Guardia. We stayed for more than a year. That summer was idyllic – memories of the smell of grass, the hush before afternoon thunderstorms, the silky delight of Dr. Bubbles in a tub, and the freedom of days where parents were at work and our housekeeper watched soap operas, leaving us kids free to explore this bizarre, unfamiliar place called Alabama.
I would grab my sister’s hand, push my brother down and tell him not to follow us – he was too little. Of course, on his toddler’s legs, he ran after us, and when he fell, either my sister or I would run back, plop him upon his plump legs, scold him to stop crying, run on, then run back to grab his hand. We were our own world, and our world was full of pirates and fairies, snakes and creepy crawlies.
We would tell my brother, “Don’t tell but we’re going through the Snake Kingdom to the Valley of the Jolly Green Giants.” (I liked the commercial.) Actually, we were cutting through a large patch of Kudzu, trying to touch as little of our foot to the ground as possible to avoid the probable snakes. “Ho Ho Ho,” I called. My sister answered, “Green Giants.”
Next, we walked a tightrope to prove our courage to the Giants; in reality, it was a six-inch-wide-ish sewage pipe over a creek of water moccasins. I’d scream at my sister, and she’d yell back at me. “Don’t fall in. The snakes will eat you.” My brother was full out crying by now, but he hugged the pipe and scuttled across on his belly. “Ho Ho Ho,” we yelled at him.
Past the pipe, we broke through a line of tall pines, showering ourselves with pollen, and emerged onto this broad area of green lawn, which I pretended was the Pentland Hills of my homeland. All shades of green, tickling our feet and rolling at a slight tilt away from the enormous faraway house, made up this strange thing called grass. I am sure we had grass in Scotland, I remember being terrified of it and screaming bloody murder when made to stand on it. My sister had the same reaction to sand. My brother has that response to me as an adult, probably leftover trauma from that summer.
Lolling on the grass, oblivious to anyone that could be sitting on their balcony and watching the hooligans from the other side of the trees, we would lay flat and look up at the sky. It was so hot, even sweltering but kids have different thermostats than adults. The clouds were white bunnies hopping across a blue field. So, we took off our clothes and swung upside from the trees, which I now realize were beautifully manicured. One of us would begin, “In the valley of the … “ and the other two chimed in, “Jolly green giant.”
We’d do this until we got hungry, gathered up the scattered clothes, ran naked along the pipe, through the kudzu with the snakes, put on our clothes, and promised to do horrible things to my brother if he told on us. Then trooped up the back steps, through the kitchen to stand before Christine and say as one, “I’m hungry.” She would get up slowly, shake out her skirt, and make us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which we hated, or heat up a can of Campbell’s soup, which we loved.
It was a grand summer. No one ever told my parents about these adventures. My childhood sweetness, I love these memories and tell them to whoever will listen. Maybe I’m not quite ready to give up summer.
As summer's joys give way to Autumn's quiet, I wish you a few minutes to relive the grand memories of your childhood. I would love to hear them. Ho Ho Ho, Green Giant!
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