In spite of the clarity that a dvd will suddenly bring to the hazy memories of childhood birthday parties, babies' first steps, and Junior sharing his ice cream cone with Fido, some of the best memories are those that were never captured on film of any kind. Those are the spontaneous moments that burst from our creative youthful psyches, demanding their release in some form, often referred to as foolishness by the parents. I can't speak for what others do with such memories, but I find myself playing them over and over with great delight in the halting, cloudy, imperfect manner in which they were originally stored in the gray matter file labeled "Life was Good". Since it is rare that anyone besides myself will ever view these files, it is of little consequence that some scenes are blurred and most of the sound track has gone missing. What matters is the warm feelings that are evoked when the worn tape is run again, taking me back to a time when the biggest concern of a summer day was whether to spend my dime on a popsicle or save it until next week when I would have two dimes and could purchase an ice cream sandwich.
On one such day, of which there seemed to be no end until suddenly they were over, my best friend had invited me for a sleepover. My mother seemed to be as excited as I was whenever I got such an invitation. Perhaps it was her shared joy in my happiness, but more likely it was her secret relief to have one less child under her roof fighting over whether to watch Bugs Bunny or Lassie on the one television set shared by eight of us. Grabbing a paper grocery bag and quickly stuffing it with a few things any ten year old tomboy would consider necessities, I raced out the door, jumped on my bike, and after five minutes of pedaling through the village I was there. Really there. Overnights with Kathy were the open doors of my childhood when anything was possible, and I threw myself into these opportunities with the careless abandon that adults rarely experience and barely remember.
In typical fashion, we sat among the clutter on the floor of her fabulously untidy bedroom, petting her cats, rearranging the rocks and twigs in our woolly bear aquarium, smoothing and braiding the colorful hair of her troll dolls, and squishing the occasional flea we picked off our legs. And, predictably, a plan began to hatch for an adventure.
Being normal kids, our adventures generally broke some rules of social conduct or personal safety, but we were not being rebellious, just allowing our childish dreams and fantasies to be our guide to fun. On this particular evening we thought it would be great fun to play outside after dark. The obvious obstacle, however, was the parents. How to get around that obstacle? That was the challenge to be solved, and solve it we did. Kathy's family lived in an old clapboard house with three bedrooms downstairs and one very large bedroom and huge closet upstairs. Since she was the only girl in the family, she was given the coveted upstairs bedroom as her personal kingdom, and rarely did anyone venture up the stairs other than Kathy and her best friend. If we could just figure out a way to reach the ground safely from the porch roof we would be golden.
image found here
So there we were. Two little girls in their pajamas standing in a once familiar backyard in the dark, not sure what to do next. These were the days when children in small towns were allowed to roam freely during the day. Parents didn't concern themselves about a child's absence for hours, because the whole village was a playground and when they got hungry they would come home. We were familiar with every street in the village, and our curiosity to experience our well-known world in its darker version propelled us out of the backyard and down the block. Wow. Everything looked so different. It was like looking at negatives of photographs, where the normally dark colors were light and the light colors were dark. Windows that were dark during the day were lit up, many uncovered, revealing bits of private lives that we knew we were not entitled to gaze upon so boldly. But with a defiance we believed the darkness would hide, we gazed and gazed. There was a fascination with seeing a man move across a room toward a television, or a woman standing with her face to the window in what appeared to be a posture of dishwashing, knowing that these individuals had no idea they were being watched. It was the naughtiest thing we had ever done in our lives and we crept through the town looking for uncovered windows to gawk into until we began to get cold. We had had our fun and we were ready to call it a night.
Not until we stepped back into Kathy's backyard and saw that white sheet rope dangling five feet above the ground did it occur to us that we couldn't reach it to climb back up. As panic threatened to devour us we held each other, shivering, and devised a new plan. We would simply have to wait it out. There was no habit of door locking in those days. What was the need for locking a door when crime in our village was almost unheard of? So we figured if we could just be patient we would be able to enter the house through the back door once her parents had gone to bed and they would never be the wiser. For the next hour we did what our exhausted bodies could do in an effort to keep ourselves warm in the damp, rapidly cooling night air. We were rewarded with the amusing scene of her teenage brother staring at his reflection in the kitchen window, apparently admiring what he saw. But for the most part the wait was long, cold, boring, and a little frightening as silence magnified the night sounds of unidentified creatures.