“Nostalgia (noun): a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past,
typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.”
Noticing a dragon in the big white fluffy clouds as I sat in traffic the other day, I found myself suddenly nostalgic for those days in my childhood when Angie Kerley and I lay flat on our backs amongst the clover in our babysitter’s backyard and pointed out puppies and castles to each other. I yearned for other lazy summer days, floating in our backyard pool, watching plane contrails move across a Carolina blue sky. Thoughts of the pool led to memories of playing in ocean waves in front of the Shorecrest Motel with my brother, Curtis, at Windy Hill in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. We were up with the sun and had to be ordered off the beach after several rounds of “Five more minutes!” pleas from both of us. The same was true of summer evenings at home. We never wanted to go in. We’d chase lightning bugs, catch them in our hands, and put them in Mason jars with holes punched in the lids. They twinkled on our dressers as we went to sleep at night and were released the next morning.
When I was growing up in the late 1960s and 1970s in Long Creek (in the Piedmont area of North Carolina), summer was filled with fun and leisure. Up until I was twelve years old I spent weekdays (while my parents worked) at a neighbor’s house. Barbara Freeman babysat a half dozen or so kids for working parents for, I believe, $15 per kid for the entire week. In addition to my brother and I, Angie Kerley and her sister, Carol, and several short timers (I remember two different Kellys, and Julie and Roger Brown, occasionally) hung out all day with Barbara’s sons, Miles and Mark. We were all within a five year age range of each other and got along well … for the most part.
We were outside as often as possible. On sunny days we played yard games like Tag, Red Rover, and Hide-and-Go-Seek. We rode bikes and skateboards. We rambled through the woods and caught crawdads in Long Creek. We walked the half mile to Long Creek Elementary school to play with our Slinkys on the concrete steps at the front of the new building and to swing on the swings and goof around on the monkey bars. On the way home we stopped off at Puckett Brothers Store for peanuts and frosty Coca-Colas in glass bottles. (We would have scoured the roadside for drink bottles on the way to the school, hoping to collect the nickel each was worth when returned to the store.)
On rainy days we piled onto the couch, chairs, and floor to watch television, often arguing over whether to watch Batman, The Flintstones, or Gilligan’s Island. We played Clue, Monopoly and The Game of Life for hours gathered around the coffee table in the formal living room. When she couldn’t take any more of all of us cooped up in the house, Barbara drove us to the library in Huntersville to pick out books. The library was so small and I was such a voracious reader that I had a hard time sometimes finding books I hadn’t already read several times. When we got back, I would find a quiet spot and get lost in Narnia or on the prairie with Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Our house was often the neighborhood gathering place on weekends. In addition to the inground pool, we had a paved drive with a large turnaround area at the bottom that served as a half court basketball arena. Hours of Horse and 21 were played by my brother and his friends. The driveway was also perfect for skating, skateboarding, and Big Wheel riding.
There was a giant cedar tree that hung out over the driveway. My dad had nailed four or five boards up the trunk so that we could climb up to the thick limbs. Though I hated the sticky sap that inevitably ended up on my hands, legs, and clothes, I loved the feeling of being up in the canopy of that tree. Underneath the tree was a sandbox that was used more by the neighborhood cats than by us by the point I can remember anything. Perhaps we loved it as smaller kids. As we got older, the sandbox was a hazard. I remember Kristy Honeycutt jumping from a limb of the cedar tree down to the concrete drive, hitting the sand, and shrieking as her feet went out from under her like she had landed on ice. Luckily, she just had the breath knocked out of her. I think the sandbox was removed shortly after that.
Another tree at the top of the driveway held a swing dad had fashioned from a heavy yellow nylon rope and a seat he had cut out on his jigsaw. Notches in the seat hugged the rope and big knots beneath secured the seat to it. The grass beneath the tree could never get a toehold. Our scuffing feet wore it down. I loved to be pushed in that swing, but if no one was around to push, I would work my legs harder and harder, swinging so high my feet were parallel with my head. Feeling like I could fly, I would often jump off mid-arc and sail across the grass, praying I would stick the landing.
In those days our area was so safe (or we were so unaware of any dangers) that we ranged miles from home on our bikes. We would leave our driveway, turn right, and pedal like maniacs until we reached the Plummer’s driveway. There, we would lift our feet and coast all the way down their property line so that their ankle-biter chihuahuas who would inevitably chase us, barking their heads off, couldn’t reach us. We would cruise the neighborhood to see who else was out and about. I loved the feeling of the wind in my long hair as we flew down the hill in front of the Summerville’s house. The paved road was so new and smooth that I could ride with no hands on the handlebars for a quarter mile or more. We might end up playing Kick The Can in Nelson Chapman’s yard, writing on the hallway walls at the Droppers’ house, or bumping over tree roots on the woodland trail down to the creek behind Stan Gant’s house. In the shade of all the old growth hardwoods, the creek water was cold even in summer. I loved to wade in it. It was crystal clear and we often cupped our hands and took a drink, then rubbed our wet, cold hands on our sweaty necks, cooling off.
I have often said that I wouldn’t want to go back when I hear people talk about how they would give their right arm to be a kid again. When I hear someone say that, I’m the kind of person who immediately thinks of all of the things I’ve been through in life that I would never want to experience again … a junior high bully … teenage heartbreaks … an intense anxiety disorder … the death of my grandmother and mother. But the feeling I had yesterday when I suddenly remembered what it felt like to lie in the grass and look at the clouds, imagining, dreaming, without a care in the world made me long for that freedom of my youth. I had forgotten what it felt like to have the security, the certainty, that comes from someone else being responsible for feeding me, clothing me, keeping me safe. I would give a lot to feel that way again … carefree, innocent, filled with imagination and creativity, just living life in the moment.