Our backyard was big enough.
It offered thick grass, a vegetable garden with chicken wire and a stack of firewood against the clubhouse. In the corner of the backyard sat a picnic table that sank into the soil on one end, a dog pen for John Doe and a tree stump with mint.
As we grew, the backyard went through several moltings. We called it the beach as teenagers and strategically placed Reynolds Wrap in front of our faces, especially if we were going out that night. On Sundays in summer we inhaled my father’s barbecue sauce on charred chicken legs while wedged in between each other and sitting sideways on the picnic table. As kids, we loved the clubhouse.
The clubhouse was a one-room house that the family before us took the time to build. No sink or plumbing, but a shelf area and a wooden floor on which we fought more than played. The clubhouse smelled of wood and dirt and suggestions. It changed along with us and became a rabbit hutch, a private nook for thoughts, a one-night sleepover experiment, a place to hide beer, but as children, we would sit on its front steps and decide what to do next.
Sometimes, great performances came from our thinking on the steps. “Let’s put on a play.” Chairs were dragged out but creative differences were the norm.
One particular day on the steps, when day camp was over, we couldn’t believe how hot it was. I wanted to swim under water with my eyes open and we had no pool. Our neighborhood friends had no pool either and we weren’t allowed to play on their rusty swings that went really high.
The hose? Nobody wanted the hose.
We slumped on the steps and pushed our sneakers in the dirt, making tic-tac-toe that nobody wanted either.
Then someone spotted Jilda over the fence. We peeked around the clubhouse.
Jilda was the lady who lived in back of us. She was putting out her sheets with clothespins. Ralph was her husband. All of a sudden, we realized their names were funny.
Somehow, someone suggested the word “nude.” We put those two words together – Jilda and nude – and it was a miracle!
We needed to laugh because we had no pool and it was so hot out and we were told to “entertain ourselves outdoors.” It was too early to play steal the bacon because we played that after dinner on Lincoln. So we started talking about Jilda being nude, and the words soon found music, and the music soon found new words!
And then we were off the steps and holding hands and dancing in a circle on the sunny grass, singing a song that made us laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh. Even John Doe got into it.
“Jilda the dancing nude! With Ralph! They’re playing our sonnnggg!”
We sang and sang! We skipped in our circle and it was so fun and funny!
“Jilda the dancing NUDE! With RALPH! They’re playing our SONNNGGGG!”
“HEY! HEY THERE!”
We trickled to a stop and looked over the fence, up at Ralph.
Ralph was leaning out the second story window, his jowls were long and flappy and his face was red.
We sang again.
“Jilda the dancing nude! WITH RALPH! They’re playing our SONNNNGGGG!!!”
At some point during our ovations my mother received a phone call.
We were told to come inside the house and sit down at the kitchen table. My mother sent the neighborhood children across the street.
There is no memory of the exact words my mother said, only the vibrations of her emotion that leave on me the meaning of kindness and manners. When she was finished, she looked around for something to give Jilda and Ralph. We found a new game called Boggle but couldn’t find wrapping paper so our mother said to use tin foil.
My sister and I walked up to Prospect and our mother stood behind us as we knocked on the front door.
Jilda barely opened the front door. I thought she would be happy to see us with a game! We held out the tin-foiled game and said sorry.
She took the game and closed the door.
Up Next, on June 19: A Ghost Story