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The Christmas Gift

Christmas Eve 2013 and the family gathered in the great room to experience the yearly gift-giving tradition. Naser, my husband of 42 years, our daughter Sha, her husband Peter along with our matriarch Lois Marion are all in attendance. Our son Bobby and family were unable to attend that year. We had enjoyed a lovely meal with the beautiful Christmas red chargers for each china service at the huge table in the house on the lake. Our hunger had been satiated and the time arrived to move respective belt fastenings to the next larger notch to allow for the usual gluttony.

Our yearly tradition allows all to share the surprises together when each family member opens their various presents alone. The youngest members of the gathering had the duty to play Santa and hand out all the gifts from under the tree. Sha dutifully took the honor of playing Santa and also to open her gifts first as the youngest member of the family in attendance.

As the time came for me to open the many gifts gathered at my feet, I excitedly began to open my treasures. Sha and Peter are always very generous both with their money and their time to her Mama, Daddy and Grandmother. She awaited my reaction with baited breath to witness my opening the very special gift marked FRAGILE. She loves to surprise me and now as an adult has become my very best friend; something I thought would NEVER happen in our relationship while she was in the teen years. (Many of my readers might be able to relate to my sentiment if you have raised a teenager at all!)

The next part of my narrative requires a walk back in time to explain certain circumstances before sharing further. I sincerely beg the reader’s indulgence…

Over the years, I have shared memories of my special relationship with my Grandmother, Lois Annie, the subject of my first published work. My second publication is the continuing story of my mother Lois Marion and my father, Charles Henry.

I have also shared just a smattering of my memory of my Grandfather, William Henry on my father’s side. By the time I was two years old it seemed I had become very much a favored and special granddaughter with my one and only living grandfather. I was the daughter of his only son, Charles Henry and the closest grandchild in residence as well. There are only a few snapshots of him within our treasures of family pictures but stories of his special bonds with me have been related by many over the years. Apparently in those days, most of my daily clothing here in North Central Florida consisted of a simple diaper and no shoes. (There may be those of you who shared the same fashion with me!) It seems my grandfather loved to hold me and from all accounts truly doted on me.

I have very few memories of him but there is one in particular that has always touched me deeply. It is a memory of him walking down a dirt road with me as a very young toddler sitting on his shoulder. He suffered greatly with varicose veins and surely walks must have caused him pain, however, he proudly carried me and treated me with trinkets and sweets just the same. Apparently I had lots of blond curls in those days, by all accounts was a precocious child and am told was very friendly as well. Family members have told me he dearly loved to share me with the local residents at any and every opportunity. (I can definitely relate to that brand of pride as a Grandparent!)

In those days in the little community of Mason City, there was a small country school in which my father, his older sister Maude and his little sister, Juanita attended their entire school careers. The only other community building was a little store on the main highway. This little community store was very small offering convenient goods and served as a meeting place and Post Office for the residents during the year.

This special little store is the backdrop and setting for my special memory.

In those olden days, small country stores had not only the convenient goods but also offered a limited variety of sweets and snacks. One such vendor was Tom’s Toasted Peanuts. Many of my generation probably remember those lovely glass jars with the glass lids topped with a bright red knob and name Tom’s written in red across the jar itself. The peanuts were sold in small packages and I’m sure many a youngster of my generation begged their parents to purchase those little packages just the same as I did over the years.

The glass jar in this little store, however, was not only to hold the little packages of peanuts, one also held beautiful very large single oatmeal cookies with a hard white icing as a topping. The special cookie of my youth however, was the pink iced oatmeal cookie. I can visualize a proud Grandpa holding a curly headed little girl and allowing her to pick out her very own cookie! To my mind’s eye, those cookies were as large as my head and I could never eat the whole thing although I’m sure I gummed through as much as possible! I’m sure Granddaddy received cookie crumbs from my leftovers as well but he never bought one just for himself I’m told.

His life work had been as a share cropper in the southern farm community in which we lived and his wife, my Grandmother, had passed away in childbirth with my father’s youngest sister. By the time my Grandmother passed away with the newborn baby girl, my father was the tender age of 6 years old and his older sister married and moved to a distant city. This left a small family of three, my Grandfather, my father and his newborn sister Juanita to carry on a difficult existence. Those years were extremely lean and included the depression years and World War II which many families barely survived. Hence, his finances were limited to say the least.

It is the special memory of my grandfather, William Henry that I share today; the sweet memory of a loving grandfather trudging down the dirt road with a toddler on his shoulder. His aim was to allow her the special treat of picking out her very own special pink iced oatmeal cookie from the Tom’s glass jar. What a wondrous experience for a little girl!

The reason this memory is so special to me is that at my tender age of 2 ½ years, my very special and beloved Granddaddy passed away, leaving me with very, very few memories. Hence my private memories of those trips on his shoulders to the community store and the Tom’s Peanut glass jar have always held much reverence for me. They truly are the ONLY memories of him I can relate to.

Each time I have seen an antique glass jar with the bright red Tom’s printed on the side and a bright red knob on the lid, it yet again brings back that special memory of a time long, long ago and one very special man in my life. Over the years I have mentioned at times to my family that it would be nice to own my very own jar but never really got around to finding one of my own.

I thank the reader for indulgence in my explanations and at last we arrive back in 2013, Christmas Eve and the gift exchange tradition at Mama’s house…

As I excitedly removed the gift wrapping from my daughter’s gift, I noticed that she sat on the edge of her seat with anticipation of my reaction and a huge grin on her face… As I continued unwrapping the multitude of shrink wrap and tissue paper I realized this beautiful gift of love from my daughter and son-in-law is something I had dreamed of my whole life; something that has always brought a sweet memory to my heart of my lost Granddaddy William Henry.

My beautiful daughter had presented me an original Tom’s glass jar, complete with the bright red knob and signature name on its side to call my very own!

It was filled to the brim with pink iced oatmeal cookies; the same as my wonderful memories shared with her had revealed over the years! My heart swelled with pride and my tears fell like rain when I realized what she had done! My mother remembered the special memory shared with her over the years and knew what I was feeling at that moment. She and I both shared tears for some time and my mind went back to a simpler place and time with my beloved Grandfather. Her memories returned as well as she relived and remembered her life with my father and me as a small child.

My tears were plentiful that day but they were not tears of sadness for a time or person lost. No, in fact those tears were tears of joy that my daughter and son-in-law had honored my own special memory in such a loving, kind and considerate way!

I am very proud to report my Tom’s cookie jar now resides on my kitchen counter to hold whatever I desire to place within. Each time I gaze at it, my mind travels back to that special time with someone I truly loved and I have my beautiful baby girl to thank for the honor!

My Christmas Gift of 2013 was truly a special gift of love from my best friend, my daughter.

Crime and Punishment – 1957

“But Mama…I want to play with all of my friends too!” I cried. “Their Mamas are letting them play down in that hole; why can’t I?”

With a stern look on my Mama’s face she replied “Because I said you could NOT go down in that hole, the road pavers are digging that hole to put in drainage pipes before they pave the street. It’s dangerous for you kids to be playing where they’re working.”

“But Mama…the men have all gone home and we won’t be in their way!” I pleaded.

I didn’t want to accept her reasoning…all I could see was that my friends, Becky, Bo (Rennie), Gail, and Bo’s little brother Robert were all running up one side of the huge mounds of dirt and then over to the others. The squeals of joy in play were as a moth drawn to a flame. I WANTED…no… I NEEDED to be out there playing with them. I would have to beg and plead with Mama to make her change her mind and let me play there too. (I was up to the task at hand!)

The workers had dug up the street in preparation for the new pipes before the new pavement was to be installed. However, the workmen were gone this fine afternoon and the thought of digging in that wonderful, marvelous dirt was more than I could stand.

I had no idea if my friends’ Mamas even knew they were out there playing in the construction zone but my assumption was that they all HAD their mother’s permissions. I was beginning to have a very dark view of my Mama’s actions that day.

Why was I being singled out? I wondered.

It was around 1957 and I had one baby sister and another on the way. Becky’s Mama had Brooks and Terry and Bo’s little brother, Robert was a tag-along with everything we did. He did his best to keep up with all of us and was well succeeding this day; at least for my friends, as he kept up as well as the older kids. I, unfortunately, was not ALLOWED to be there.

Ms. Gussie, our next door neighbor, a treasured very loud and boisterous woman was sitting in her living room watching from her window. She had a very loud voice and many times we could hear her conversations through the open windows of her house. She was a very funny lady and possessed an extremely exuberant laugh that was infectious to say the least. She loved watching her soap operas and the children at play; her own five children were now adults and young teenagers.

By now, my Mama had said “NO” in no uncertain terms. I was going to have to live with that and could only envy my friends in play.

As I sat on the back steps of my little house on Fifth Street and heard their cries of delight, I literally and sufficiently wallowed in my misery.

After a while I decided to go behind our garage to see my friends playing. The construction was south of Ms. Gussie’s house and right in front of Bo and Robert’s house but  blocked from view of my house. I wanted sooooooo much to play there.

I inched myself back behind our garage, then slowly moved closer behind Ms. Gussie’s garage as well. Before I realized it, I was standing at the end of Bo’s fence line and directly in front of where all the action was happening!

Very soon I found myself standing directly on top of one of the mounds of that wonderful, cool dirt and my friends noticed my presence.

“Dell Anne…come on down, we’re having so much fun, why don’t you come and play!” they yelled.

“Shhhhhhhhh.” I whispered. “Mama says I can’t go down there cause it’s dangerous and I shouldn’t be there! She’s so MEAN…I can’t believe she won‘t let me play with y’all!” I lamented.

A voice rose up from the valley of soil in which they so exuberantly played “Well, she’ll never know it…she can’t see you from here!” (I’ll never know who voiced the sentiment but the words were just enough to allow my wants to overcome my fear of Mama’s wrath. It didn’t take much cajoling as I quickly threw all caution to the wind, pulled off my flip-flops and FLEW down into that hole in the street!)

I can remember running through those hills and gullies of sand and dirt, whooping and hollering with all the other kids, thoroughly enjoying myself! It was a wonderful and freeing experience!

Unfortunately I lost all track of time and my sense of secrecy as well.

All of a sudden, the whooping and hollering ceased (except for me) and as I tumbled down an incline of that glorious hole in the ground I realized everybody was looking up at something or someone at the top of the embankment.

Oh, my word!!! IT WAS MAMA and she was madder ‘n a wet hen!

Gritting her teeth in anger she demanded “Dell Anne Hines, get yourself out of that hole right this minute and get your butt up to the house … NOW!”

(Now, those of you who know or have known my Mama in your lifetimes know that she is normally a very meek and mild woman; never loud in her way or words. However, THIS day was different entirely! She was MAD and I could almost feel the fire and brimstone coming!)

“Mama, I’m sorry, I just couldn’t help myself” I cried, rushing to gather my flip-flops, and chase after her flying skirt-tails. She was moving faster than I’d ever seen her move!

“Just get to the house, little girl, you’re going to get a spanking for this!” she declared.

Ms. Gussie who had saw our joy in play but also my Mama’s demeanor at the moment rushed out from her living room and said to her young neighbor friend, “Now Marion, that child was only playing with all the other kids. I was watching all of ‘em and they ain’t making no trouble at all. Nobody got hurt; just let her be, won’t you? There’s no harm done.”

“Well that may well be,” my Mama kindly said to Ms. Gussie “but the fact of the matter is that my daughter specifically DISOBEYED me and for that she has to learn her lesson!”

Once we arrived home, my tears commenced as I watched the dreaded belt come out (it was less than an inch wide and she wore it with her pretty purple Sunday dress but to me it might as well have been a mule whip!)

As she turned to me she repeated the words that have stuck with me my entire life…

“This hurts ME more than it does YOU!” (Yeah….right….!)

With that she gave me three lashes across my rump (which was more humiliating than painful but I cried dutifully nonetheless.)

I shed the requisite tears then Mama made me sit down and told “think about what this lesson tells you…you MUST OBEY me when I give you instructions!”

I listened to the sounds of preparations for Daddy’s homecoming from work; Mama putting supper on the table and sounds of family life in our little corner of the world.    I was very fearful she would share my disobedience with my Daddy.

What will HE do now…would there be another lesson in crime and punishment? I wondered.

Apparently my Mama did tell my Daddy that day but they agreed I had suffered enough and were sure I would remember the punishment the next time I thought I could pull the wool over Mama’s eyes.

(The very idea…that child sneaking around like that!)

The memories of the next meeting with my friends and their questions on “what happened…did you get whipped?” still rings in my ears but the lesson was well learned and mostly heeded in my lifetime.

Even with parents, Crime does not pay!

To my Mama and my sweet Daddy…I’m so sorry for all those years I disobeyed or troubled you but know each time I was disciplined, the lesson was filed in my memory banks forever! 

 

‘Baby Girl’ Mischief Maker

I’m sooo bored, is there anything I can find interesting to do? She thought to herself.  There’s no one to play with and I just don’t want to play with my toys right now.  What can I do to make some fun around here?   She had played outdoors as much as she could; her usual activities involving running, jumping, riding her bicycle and anything totally physical. Her engine usually ran on all eight cylinders at any given time.

Middle daughter Kathy had a penchant for finding ways to get herself into mischief, most times totally innocent; sometimes not.

One such occasion found her squeezing her tiny little frame behind the furniture in her home.  She was bored, she was mad and she just wanted to disappear into the woodwork.  She didn’t feel much appreciated at that moment; she didn’t think to run away from home, she just wanted to disappear for a little while. If I hide myself, I wonder how long it might take Mama and Pops to find me she mused.

She found a little niche in the living room behind the furniture and realized she could fold her tiny little frame perfectly within that tiny space, totally concealed from anyone passing by. She decided to see just how long it might be before her family missed her and thus settled herself into a comfortable position to wait …

She cuddled into that secret niche for some time, just thinking, enjoying the solitude and listening for any alarms being raised by her mother or father.  She settled down and began to breathe very silently and slowly, hoping her presence would not be noticed.

Presently she heard voices from the dining room. “Has anybody seen Baby Girl?” Papa called to Mama and sister.  His favorite name for his second daughter was “Baby Girl” and the two had formed a closeness treasured by the middle child.

She listened silently to see who would answer his question.

“Nope, she’s not with me, Papa”, older sister Elizabeth yelled out.

Mama comes to her husband and says “Well, I thought she was playing but I don’t see her outside.  Do you suppose she went down to the lake?”

Her angst was rising and she just wanted to be able to count noses of her daughters to make sure all were safe and accounted for.

“Somebody watch out for the baby for a few minutes while I drive down to the lake and make sure she’s not there” she called as she hurried out the door with car keys in hand.

Papa began searching room by room and even walked past mischievous Kathy still silently basking in the glory of pulling yet one more joke on her family. Silently reveling in the glory, she thought to herself, Gee, I sure am pulling off a great joke THIS time!

She watched her father; the sound of his footsteps through the house increasing until it almost sounded as if he was running from room to room, his voice, now becoming louder calling her name …

“Baby Girl, where are you?” she heard him calling.

She kept silent but began feeling a little niggling fear that she might just have gone a little too far on this joke. Did she dare reveal her hiding place yet? With great resolve she thought I’ll just let them stew a few more minutes then I’ll jump out and surprise them all!

She continued sitting still in her hidey hole until she heard the family car arrive in the driveway, her mother slamming the door as she ran inside.

“Is she here yet?” Mama cried with fear, now bordering on tears.

Elizabeth, Papa and Mama were huddled in the kitchen, fearful of what horrible plight had befallen little Kathy… dear little Baby Girl.  What has happened to her and where on earth did she go?

She could finally take the excitement no longer and decided she had better reveal herself right away, things were beginning to get out of hand and even she was a little worried at the moment.

Jumping out from her hidey hole she cried “Surprise…I’m here…I fooled all of you, didn’t I? I’ve been hiding in my secret hiding place all the time and nobody could even find me…“

She caught a glance of her father’s eyes and with REAL fear realized that not only was he looking at her, knowing that she in actuality was not hurt at all but his face began taking on a really angry, frightening look.  It seemed his eyes simply burned through all the way down into her little soul.

Mama now stood as frozen as a statue, silent tears streaming down her face, obvious relief visually flooding over her entire being.

With an extremely loud and authoritative voice, Papa turned to Baby Girl Kathy and demanded she march herself right into her bedroom.  “GET IN YOUR ROOM … NOW!” he bellowed.

Kathy who by this time was quaking in her boots, fearful she might even lose her water, ran as fast as her little legs could carry her to her bedroom.  Jumping straight up onto the bed she fretted about how mad her father appeared to be.  Her anxiety began to escalate as she waited in her bedroom alone for the next few minutes; those minutes that seemed unending.

Papa, on the other hand, had to let her stew for a little while before he calmed down and would be able to speak with his daughter about her mischief. When finally he entered Kathy’s bedroom, his eyes still had that intense angry stare and she knew she was greatly in a world of hurt on this one.

Through clenched,  angry teeth, Papa began “Baby Girl, do you GET just how frightened you had your mother and me?  Do you have any idea just how bad we were feeling when we couldn’t hear you or see you?  We had all ideas someone had taken you or you were laying hurt or dead somewhere.  Just WHAT do you have to say for yourself young lady?” he bellowed.

“I’m so sorry Papa, I didn’t think my game would hurt anybody, I really didn’t mean to scare anybody.  I just wanted to have some fun and thought this would be a great hide and seek game” she cried.

“Nobody knew you were playing hide and seek; we only knew we could not see your face or hear your voice and it scared us to death” he continued.

“For your punishment, let’s just see how much FUN you’re going to have when I lay my hands on your backside” he quietly threatened.

Quickly grabbing her little arm, he laid her over his knee and whacked her back-side twice, each time telling her “you better NEVER do that again…do you hear what I’m telling you?”

When the punishment finally ceased, both father and daughter had to hold each other, neither speaking but each feeling the rush of pain and fear the other had experienced.

The little mischief maker, Kathy, declared that particular hide and seek game from her family to be off limits from that time forward. She could not witness her father’s anger and fear for that mistake again.

The incident remains vivid in “Baby Girl’s” memory and the tenderness and obvious relief shown by her father after he had been forced to discipline his daughter feels as real today as it did all those years ago.

The incident however, also warned little Kathy that sometimes Mischief sometimes just doesn’t pay…

Memories of Mama

The time is 1960 and the place is a very sleepy little town in North Central Florida.  The thoroughfare was a paved little two lane highway through town, no interstates nearby.

The cars in our town were not the air conditioned, streamlined little gad-abouts presently on our super highways but most were the huge old four door sedans which used gallons and gallons of gasoline and more often than not probably offered no more than 10 miles per gallon.  Of course, that was fine for the townsfolk, since most travels for these residents were not that very far from home.

I was all of 11 years old and was the oldest sister to three little ‘doorsteps’, Charlene, Kay Sue and Nola Jane, ages 4, 3 and 2 respectively.

We lived in the house on Fifth Street, MY own little house; the one most treasured in my now twilight years.  My favored mode of transportation was my special Roll-Fast blue bicycle, that trusty 26” bike given to me at the tender age of five by my Mama and Daddy on Christmas Day of 1955.  My Daddy was so tender and patient while I was attempting to manage that big ole bike.

I must have ridden a million miles on that trusty Roll-Fast and my imagination soared each time I placed my feet on its pedals.

Sunday April 17th was the date of Easter this year but Mother’s Day would soon come on May 8…not too far away from the Easter celebration. These holidays were very special to our family and Mama and Daddy proudly marched us into Sunday services each Sunday morning and evening and the fellowship was very special for the family. My Mama had been busily sewing our church frocks for Easter that year and I knew how she loved to dress all her little girls with frills and ribbons.  She most times, however, did not buy her own frocks ‘off the racks’ in the department stores.  No, her dresses would be lovingly hand-made; she was quite frugal. I was sometimes not the best at relating my school needs before the absolute last minute and unfortunately this event would cause some stern warnings from my mother that day. It was Saturday afternoon and Mama had already been to the grocery store for her weekly shopping but I had failed to inform her of my needs for new tennis shoes for my school class on Monday morning.

In our sleepy little town, the department stores did not stay open late and would not be open at all on Sunday.  It was 5:40 PM on this Saturday evening when I finally informed my Mama that I needed those shoes.

She was in the middle of cooking our supper and Daddy was not at home at the moment.  The time for the department to close was fast approaching and she knew she had to get those shoes for me.

The department store was close enough to our house that I would be able to ride on the sidewalk down to the store, pick out my shoes, put them on an account where she called the owner of the department store and promised to pay on Monday morning.  He knew my parents were good for the money.

My Mama had it all under control!

She did not normally let me ride to that particular location all alone but this time would be required.

I set off on my trusty Roll-Fast with instructions to “ride like the wind, daughter.  You need those shoes!  No dawdling around on your way home either, you hear?”

In my child’s mind the exhilaration of riding that bike would create the need for me to ride on the sidewalk under the overpass in our little town on the way to the store.  There was a special spot on the sidewalk where one could ride as fast and hard as possible but coast all the way down the incline without ever needing to pedal.  I was excited to experience the thrill of that ride!

I pedaled fast and furiously to that spot and with both feet out and my long hair flying out behind me, traversed that wonderful sidewalk and enjoyed the feel of the cool breezes on my face.

I arrived at the store at 5:57 and frantically told the shoe salesman who was expecting me what I needed.  He handed me just the right pair and I was back on my way home.

Upon my arrival home I found my mother holding the screened door for me, pocket book in hand and saying “Honey, we need to get in the car and go back down to the store…there’s a wonderful surprise for you!”

I was unaware of just what the ‘surprise’ could be but Daddy had arrived home to take care of the babies and Mama and I were on our way to find out just what I had in store!

When we arrived back at the store, the clerks were all lined up and waiting at the door.  I had no idea for what but knew my Mama needed me to go back so that’s what I would do.

Soon I learned that my visit to the store had actually been a special ‘number’ of customer to the store and entitled me to a gift certificate all my very own for the princely sum of $25.00!  I was ecstatic and my Mama told me “pick out anything you want, Honey…it’s all yours to spend just the way you want!”

These long years later I have absolutely no recollection of what the special number would have been; surely it could not have been ‘the millionth customer’, there weren’t that many people in our little town!  Whatever the number, however, it was very special to the store owner and our community.

I remember walking around and around that store searching for something I could buy for myself, however, nothing proved to be just the right purchase.

I remember looking at my beautiful Mama’s face and thinking, She always makes us such beautiful dresses and she sometimes just doesn’t have the time to make a new one for herself.  I think I’ll let her pick one out just for her special Sunday frock!

I moved towards the ladies dresses and remember her saying, “Well, those sizes are too big for you, the children’s section is over here.  Let’s go look over there and see if there’s a dress just for you.”

“No”, I replied.  “I think I would like for YOU to pick out a special dress for Sunday.”

Her eyes welled up and I remember the sweet hug she gave me that day when I assured her that was what I wanted to do.  I convinced her it was my choice.

The dress she picked out that day was one of the loveliest in my childhood memory.  (Of course it could be that I was so prejudiced at my love offering I THOUGHT it was the loveliest!)  It was little violet colored flowers on a green vine with a white background.  The designs ran into v-shapes down the length of the dress with a beautiful v-neck collar.  The belt was solid violet, very wide and stiff which buckled with a very interesting buckle in the front.  When she put the dress on, I thought she was the MOST beautiful woman in the world…and SHE was MY Mama.

We took that dress home that day and the next day on Easter Sunday she wore that treasured dress and proudly told all her friends who commented on how lovely it was “My daughter bought this for me!  Isn’t it lovely?”

All agreed it was and with her beautiful hat and high-heels, her matching earbobs, necklace and bracelet she made me the proudest little girl in the entire world that day!

The dress was worn for MANY Sundays after that and on Mother’s Day of that year, my Daddy allowed me to buy her a lovely corsage to wear with it.

I was so proud!

The feelings at this writing of reliving that day in my history have brought a wondrous pleasure.  The sheer joy that I was able to offer something to my Mother that day has brought such a warm glow I can only say it was one of the most treasured gifts I was ever able to give to her.

I am blessed indeed; my mother is 83 years old this year and is STILL the most beautiful mother in the world!  She is the subject along with my father of my latest publication.

Our Summer Vacation – 1958

“Let’s see if we can sneak in through that big old iron gate; surely we can find lots of great treasures in there” I whispered to my friends Becky and Bo.  “We have to be super careful though; we can’t let that old lady see us.  She might cast a spell on us if she sees us!”

It was 1958 and just before the end of our summer vacation from school.  Becky and Bo were nine and I was eight years old.

We all had been mesmerized by the presence of a family fortress at the end of our street in our little home town.  The entire property was enclosed by fences, heavily laden with climbing roses and scratchy barbed vines.  Each time I ventured nearby, my steps would slow and I would peer through the openings of the foliage hoping to see what marvels the mysterious place held.  Venturing too closely could tear our clothing, more importantly the thorns would most definitely cause much pain and suffering if we were caught within; not to mention the wrath and ire of our respective Mamas when we were caught snooping.  On this day we had ventured farther away from our respective homes than normal and my memory does not allow me to ascertain whose idea it was to visit but we were there nonetheless.

The frontage of the four lane highway in our hometown was to our young minds a very dangerous place and the large apartment complex had been built somewhere in the twenties or thirties; we never really knew.  It was located near an ancient local cemetery which sometimes likewise held our curiosities as well.

At the time in our young lives, few if any renters lived in this apartment complex and within the fortressed confines of the family real estate were three more buildings which also held our fascination.  We never saw any cars parked in front of the property but the wonderful old azalea bushes (and there were many), rose bushes, huge old pine, dogwood, redbud and  oak trees with many strands of Florida moss hanging from their limbs reminded me of the Christmas trees we would decorate each year.  (After the arrangement of all the colorful bubbling little gas lights, the beautiful ornaments and of course, the star on top of the tree, it would be my pleasure to separate each single strand of the aluminum tinsel with which we for so many years decorated our trees.  In my younger years it would be my pleasure and responsibility to first carefully separate then hang each shining strand over the branches of the tree, the culmination of which would bring the entire tree to life for me.  It became a masterpiece only when all the silver strands had been placed.)  Those oak trees with their long strands of moss or ‘tinsel’ made me long for the next Christmas when I yet again could decorate our beloved tree.  Besides, at that time of year I would catch up with my friends and turn all of nine years old, just like them.

All of the wooden buildings located on the property were white but the paint was very old with badly peeling paint, in need of much repair and upkeep.  The total appearance of the compound was reminiscent of decay and disrepair but held MUCH curiosity for us.

As far as we knew there was only one little old lady who lived within this wonderful and ghostly and magical complex and we wanted with all our hearts to learn something of the supposed treasures we might find within.

A second building, a two storied garage apartment complex fronted the road on which my Grandmother lived, only one block away from my own little dwelling and I felt totally justified in straying “only a little farther than Grandmother’s house.”   I had no fear that my friends Becky and Bo might have gotten into trouble with their parents, or in all honesty, it may never have occurred to me at the moment.  I was THAT intent on finding out what it looked like inside those fences and gates…

We had heard bits and snatches from others (mostly from older kids in the neighborhood) that the lady who lived in this magic garden and wonderland of secrets just might come flying out on her broomstick.  More than once we would be regaled with stories of kids disappearing, never to be heard from again after sneaking into her domain.  We all were terrified of any truth to those claims but it just could not dissuade the curiosity of three little kids on that summer day.  We knew our carefree and happy summer vacation would soon be over and we would once again head back to the halls of our neighborhood elementary school where yet again we would be forced to deal with paper, pencil, teachers, school books and boredom.

For today we were intent on learning the secrets contained within this curious place.

The property contained a main dwelling on the property where the very old and private woman resided and so far as we knew even some of the neighborhood adults heard little or saw much of this lady.  She was considered a recluse and we thought no one knew much of her life, her history or her personality…only rumors of which our little trio HAD to know more.

“Do you think we can get in without letting anybody know we’re here?” Becky asked Bo.  “Oh Sure,” he replied, I can open ANY gate; I’ve done this hundreds of times!”

We studied the mechanism on the gate, which to our thinking appeared to be the most hidden entrance from the main house.  Nervously we determined it wasn’t really locked; we should be able to just push up the heavy latch and enter inside.

With baited breath, we lifted the latch and cautiously crept up the paved sidewalk.  Once inside the compound, we marveled at beautiful azalea plants encircling each tree and the garden appeared at one time to have been a showplace of colors.  The plants over the years had become very leggy and scraggly but most assuredly must have been beautiful when in full bloom.  The garden also contained camellias, dogwood, redbud trees and every kind of grasses imaginable.  It was a beautiful and magical place, even in its present decrepit state.

As we followed the winding sidewalk we found it encircled many little fountains, each again encircled with beautiful grasses; some even blooming beautiful long stemmed purple stamens.  In our stealth, we became extremely excited to learn there were real fountains within this wondrous place.  The only fountains we had seen in our little town were in the lake next to the local courthouse, hospital and our home church.   Those fountains were certainly not this close and personal and we each thrilled to be close enough to examine the wonders and sounds of cascading waters.  It was hot that August and the garden was dense and cool; the thought of dangling our feet in those waters was just too, too enticing!

We were very nervous knowing we were trespassing into someone else’s world but in our minds we thought we could pull it off without being caught.  At every movement of the mosses in the trees, the backs of our necks would prickle in fear that the fearsome lady of the home would find us.  The stories told by the elder children in our neighborhood about “the witch who lives there” did not stop us from satisfying our young curiosity.

In our respective wonder of the waters within the fountains, Becky and I found to our amazement that there were fish living in the waters beneath.  There were beautiful lily pads and things swimming beneath that at first we could not determine their origin.

“Oh, look!” Becky exclaimed, “There are goldfish down there…and there must be millions of ‘em!”

To our dismay, Becky and I heard Bo muttering under his breath, “Man, I sure wish I had a fishin’ pole!”

We found beautiful gold fish of all sizes, shapes and colors and wanted to scream with delight.  However, we must at all costs hide our presence since the terrible consequences of trespass just might cause the total disappearance of three little kids!

As Becky and I were entranced with the beauty of the assortment of colors, the silky and flowing long tails of the goldfish and the pleasure of the pond, we had no notice that Bo was no longer within our midst.    In our total concentration of one pond we had come upon, he had already moved on to the next conquest and began his quest to find other treasures.  He had already scouted out the entire property…every nook and cranny to see just what else was within this glorious garden, hidden as it was.

If anything could be assured of our friend Bo, it was that he was very quick to find even more treasures…ALL of them as a matter of fact!

Upon the discovery of his travels through the property, he breathlessly arrived to inform us this was only one of many ponds within this magical place.  We just HAD to come with him to see all the others!  Our joy and curiosity in seeing the others totally overpowered our fear of the resident witch and sent us running to each successive pond in witness of even more beauty.

I’m sure THIS may have been the point that our fearsome resident of the magical gardens must have heard of our presence!

Becky was right though; there must have been MILLIONS more beautiful goldfish in those lovely little ponds and we were intent on seeing all of them.

I remember running from one to each of those new-found ponds, each one offering a different size and coloration of gold and had never seen fish with such beautiful long and billowy tails as these.  I lost all traces of fear of being caught and just reveled in the utter beauty and magic of the place, even in its obvious decrepit state.

(As I remember this time and place in my life I realize this may have been the beginning of a new and wondrous joy in my own life in searching through new and different places for treasure.  In my later years I have been happiest in searching through every nook and cranny in old antique stores, old abandoned buildings, and any and all attics.  My quest for historical information has only increased in my lifetime since one never knows what wonders lurk if one only looks!  Now so many years have passed and my memory has clouded somewhat in the next sequence of events but I will attempt to tell as much as I can remember.)

On this summer day of 1958 as we gazed at each of the beautiful ponds, running excitedly from one to the other within that fortress, suddenly we were faced with a very diminutive and frightening silver haired lady who appeared out of thin air!  She was holding a long handled broom and to three guilty little trespassers seemed to breathe fire as she approached!

All three of us stood stock-still; our fears having rooted our feet to the soil as so much concrete in our shoes!

She angrily stalked through the grasses, visions of the story of Hansel and Gretta and the wicked witch dancing in our respective heads, and became to our way of thinking a horrible and threatening reality!

Upon her threatening and menacing approach, we heard a scream … “YOU KIDS GET OUT OF HERE…NOW!”

Fearfully I thought to myself OH MY GOSH, is she going to RIDE that broom?  We’ll NEVER get away from her now; she can FLY and she’s sure to see us! 

At this point in time however, she did NOT have to tell us to get out twice!

We ran like the devil was after us and didn’t look back, winding through those beautiful ponds and grasses, leaving all traces of the wonder and magic behind.   As I ran, I lost one of my shoes and had to stoop to retrieve it.  I experienced a horrible and sick feeling that if I left that shoe, it might be something she could trace back to my home and my family and we all would be in mortal danger!

I just could not leave it behind!  After all, isn’t that how Prince Charming found Cinderella?  my common sense told me.

All three of us ran down that little street, past Grandmother’s house, past all the other houses on our way back to the safety of our own homes.  The residents on the street that day must have wondered what those three ‘streaks’ were that passed by so quickly!

In actuality, it was three little guilty trespassing hellions trying their best to escape certain harm!

We huddled in the intersection of our houses, the power pole in our back yards, and strained to catch our respective breaths!   Hidden behind Ms. Gussie’s garage and ours was our secret meeting place, a haven for us, our own little secret place to plan our travels.  To the Southwest of the pole was Bo’s fenced yard, northwest was Becky’s fenced yard and sharing Becky’s fenced back yard was my own back yard.  All were connected by this one power pole offering a climb into Bo’s back yard and gain entrance to his world.  Becky’s connection was not as easily accessed as it had a low growing tree located there.  Mine was a totally clear passage and once we arrived at our safe haven, we cowered there till we could catch our breath, Bo on the lookout for the witch on her broom.

We could NOT allow her to find us!

After what seemed hours and MUCH fear on our parts, Bo, being the bravest of our threesome, decided it was time to see if we had evaded our predator.  He bravely dared to venture out from behind the garages into the menacing outer world.  Becky and I fearfully huddled together, neither wanting to leave the safety of our haven.

“She’s gone now, you can come out…She’ll NEVER find us this far away” He crowed.

I nervously stood and looked around us to see if he was right but each step I took out of my circle of safety made my heart beat faster and faster.

With much authority Becky stated “Now, we ALL have to swear we won’t tell ANYBODY about this day…” turning to Bo and me she repeated, “do you SWEAR?”

“We swear.” Bo and I replied in unison.

Grinning mischievously from ear to ear Bo said “NOW…what can we do for fun!”  and we proceeded to plan our NEXT scavenger hunt and mischief…

Our fearsome trio continued in our imaginative play for the next few years until my family and I moved to our first farm in 1961, Becky moved away somewhere thereabouts and Bo stayed a little longer in the old neighborhood but not too much longer.  We never ventured into the magic gardens again (at least not as a trio…it may have been either Becky or Bo ventured back but I was NOT brave enough to experience it again!)

We all survived that terrible ordeal that day, the lady did not come after us after all; she probably had perfected the tone of voice necessary to chase bothersome neighborhood kids from her domain.

It saddens me in my later years, however that we may have caused undue hardship to an elderly lady that was probably very unnecessary.  The question remains with me to this day that if we had simply gone to her front door and knocked, she may well have welcomed us to view her lovely goldfish ponds with no fear of repercussions of any kind.  She might have been a very pleasant lady and in our youthful curiosity and exuberance, we gave her no chance at making new friends.  The loss very well could have been ours as well; who knows what experience may have opened a new and wonderful magic garden to allow our enjoyment as we matured.

Alas, the spontaneity of childhood sometimes can cause so much loss of what could have been…

I mourn the fact that I will never know much of the history of that lonely little lady and the buildings still stand with their forlorn and peeling paint, in so much disrepair.  To this day, I travel that little street past the compound, past my Grandmother’s little house and even past my own lovely abode from so long ago and the ghosts of all the millions of miles Becky, Bo and I spent riding our bikes up and down those streets come back to offer much pleasure.   I will never forget those places and times.

It felt like hours for me during those few moments in time we trespassed into our neighbor’s yard and the wonder of all I witnessed that day will never leave my memory as I hope my time with Becky and Bo will never leave their memories as well.

I do often wonder though on my sentimental journeys to the old neighborhood just what our magic garden looks like now, all these years later.  It appears the entire property may be abandoned, the original home inside the garden may still be standing but I haven’t been able to see that for sure.  Each time I travel that part of the neighborhood though, my memories fly back to those wonderful carefree summer days, just before we had to return to school and it brings so much pleasure I could never fully describe.

One thing is for certain though, when our respective teachers wanted a speech or report on just what we did on our vacation from school that summer of 1958, we DID NOT report or share our trip to the magic gardens!