Thursday, June 25, 2009


For the majority of my childhood my family lived in the middle of Nowheresville, Alabama. There was a school. A convenience store way down the street with overpriced milk- the big town was 20 miles away. We lived in a housing development between cotton fields that had 4 houses on it when we moved in and slooooowly started filling up. Since there weren't any houses there yet we spent a lot of time playing in tall grass and making forts out of the taller grass and jumping off of hay bales when the said grass was cut. We also collected "indian beads" out of the drainage ditch, played down by the creek sometimes, and lifted wood scraps from construction sites. And to this day it seems weird to not just have random pieces of lumber lying around if I need some. Don't ask me what I'd need lumber for now, but it sure was nice to have it then.

Pretty much every day in the summer my mom would drive us over to the crappy YMCA so that we could go swimming. On the way there was a hill in the road that would make your stomach flip if you hit it just right. We'd slather on the sunscreen and swim for a couple of hours. The bottom of the pool was really rough and for the first few days we'd come out of the pool with bleeding toes that would leave little pink spots on the concrete. We sure never worried about catching some sort of flesh eating bacteria from the pool back then- even though it was populated by an army of bloody toed children- there was enough chlorine in that water to make your eyes burn if you got splashed. We'd swim and play until it was time to go home, or we drove my mom crazy. I clearly remember the feeling of being baked from the sun in a damp swimsuit, completely worn out, and coming into the air conditioned house to get into dry clothes and eat a homemade orange and yogurt popsicle that had just the right amount of tart and sweet to it. The rest of the day would be spent quietly reading or playing because it was too hot to play outside and we were pretty tired. That pool was probably a God send to mothers for miles around.

When I was 9 or 10 I decided to try "science experiments" which pretty much consisted of mixing up vinegar and baking soda to watch if fizz. I kept little yogurt containers of all sorts of household stuff- vinegar, baking soda, baking powder, flour- really whatever I could get away with taking a few tablespoons of and keeping in my room. To this day the smell of vinegar reminds me of being 10 years old and realizing that all the dried up foam was really starting to stink and I should probably throw all of my science experiments out.

My dad and friends of the family built a play house for my sister and me. It was on stilts for a tree house effect since there was a serious lack of any sizable trees back then. We put it way in the back part of the yard and the platform was about 6 feet high. I'm sure it really pissed off the neighbors when they built a privacy fence but we could still see over it. My dad kept beehives in the backyard (boy, we must have been popular) and one day when I was sitting in the playhouse a honey bee came and landed right on my hand. I held my breath and watched as it crawled between the tiny hairs on the back of my hand and then up my thumb before it flew off. Despite suiting up and going out to the hives with my dad sometimes, and playing in fairly close proximity to them all the time, I only got stung once. One of the hives swarmed into a tree and my dad smoked the swarm (it's really the only way to calm bees) and knocked it into a sheet. One of those bees flew straight into my face and stung me just under my eye. I would guess I'm not all that allergic to bees because it barely swelled at all. I don't remember what you do with a mass of swarmed bees once they get into the sheet- probably try to reintroduce it to a new hive and see how it goes. Honey bees are some fascinating creatures. We only got our hives far enough to harvest honey once, and it was the lightest honey I'd ever seen. The bees were collecting pollen from cotton flowers to make honey.

If you live outside the south you might not even know that cotton HAS flowers. They are beautiful- little pale pink flowers that get darker as they get older. We would occasionally steal cotton bolls from the fields near the house just to play with the cotton or send them to incredulous friends up north. Farmers aren't too thrilled about people stealing cotton, but it wasn't like we took a whole lot and we usually took them after harvest- it's hard to tell a harvested field from one that hasn't been touched yet- the cotton industry is incredibly wasteful when they pick.

So some days in summer when the air is just right and it is really hot and I can smell fresh cut grass and the bottoms of my shoes feel like they're melting and the asphalt shimmers, I flash back to those days of being a kid in Alabama. When I drive back through that neighborhood now it feels trashy and sad, but to a 9 year old it was downright idyllic.

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