I walked up that driveway twenty-nine summers, sometimes being carried and other days pacing myself. Birds played in the lordly oak holding together a rectangular side of emerald lawn on the left. To the right and straight ahead is the yard’s expanse whispering behind a silver fence, unfinished projects and tools littered everywhere. The house is weathered red brick. The porch splashes out of it, anchored by a long bench. A railing threads around the porch to provide somewhere to lean. There are two hospitable windows drawing visitors in, leaving behind the numerous cars always parked to deposit loved ones and occasionally strangers. Granddad Marvis is really proud of this, and spent an additional sixty summers treading the backyard in the hopes of solidifying it as home. This has been successful. Even though he and Grandma Annie were quieter than most, they always took us in with love. Their black cocker spaniel Inky, always wobbled up to the fence with his tail wagging. Cars on the busy interstate behind us faded into nothingness and an afternoon of visual discoveries and grown-up talk ensued.
Inside the house there is the smell of old wood and furniture polish. If it’s lunchtime, baked chicken or greens cooking on the stove. The living room holds pictures of everyone, smiling or merely grimacing for the picture. A television set is always on, and usually with news of the nation’s capital. We always venture to the dining room primarily, to converse and review Sunday ads. Even on Saturday, because The Washington Post is a popular paper and because people in this area demand news immediately. It’s part of the culture. After a few hours, we transition into their bedroom to look at old pictures or objects belonging to someone in the family who has passed. Granddad loves his history. Risa and I are sprawled on the bed salivating over Grandma’s costume jewelry. Imagining how we’ll solve the world’s problems wearing coral and pearls on our neck and arms. Breathing in the vanilla scent of her vanity covered in perfume bottles. Snacking on the cookies she bought for us earlier. We’re usually here longer than I can’t take for granted, an adolescent desperate to get back to her video games and fairy tales. I wish I knew that this is where parts of character are born. Here in the house of the people who love you.
Aside from the indoor relationship-building, the legacy of outdoor play was left to us. We were allowed to roam the rugged grass with Inky, to investigate long-forgotten tools in the basement, to hug the front yard’s tree and laugh into twilight. Every branch was a flare and each flower a message-in-a-bottle towards adventure. How can anything be contained in God’s open air when you’re young? What can’t you find there, even now? The smell of grass and dirt left such an impression that all it takes is one memory to trigger it. One sliver of childhood to give you calm, happy breathing in its wake. This is why a child needs recess.
The permission of exploration means life. Standing in the center of a grassy kingdom brings courage, drive and passion. I never realized how many answers were spun from this free time. The extended warmth and safety of being inside brought all of those answers deeper into my heart and mind, and cemented them. Could I give myself the same allowance to do that now?
As I speak of children, our own child comes to mind’s play. Only two weekends ago we found out that a baby is growing in my body. We are now responsible for a human life. Forcing food down my nauseous throat, stumbling into work when possible, and avoiding certain entertainments in exchange for rest are for the well-being of our child. As selfish as I was and still am, I’m now on a journey to think the best for someone else all of the time. In meditating on this, I found that being outside with the baby as much as possible will be good for all of us. I feel that surrounding him or her with the beauty of other people, despite our social hang-ups, will be worthwhile in the end. Then one day they can recall the simple but everlasting joy of being around and unconditionally loved by their family.