Some of my best childhood memories involve being outside. We lived on just under six acres across the street from Whippoorwill Farm, where my grandparents and two of my uncles raised crops and milked Holsteins. Holsteins are the black and white bovines that you see standing in the fields when you’re in farm country. Including my Mom, four out of her six siblings lived within a mile of each other.
8533 Sharon Hollow Road, Manchester MI
There were a number of barns and buildings on the property. When you’re a kid, that translates into places to hide, create forts, explore, and do stuff your parents probably wouldn’t approve of. Years after it happened, we kids: my older sister, younger brother and younger sister, confessed that we really did hear Mom calling us at times, but pretended that we couldn’t because we didn’t want to go in the house and get stuck with doing housecleaning or some other unpleasant task. We also confessed to tossing some of the chickens out the barn window to see how well they could fly. There were just fine – sure, a little scared – but no chickens were harmed in our experiments. A couple of them got even by chasing us and pecking our calves when we couldn’t outrun them.
There was a pool in the side yard where I learned to swim. To this day, I don’t like putting my face under water, but I can do a pretty respectable doggy paddle. It was so relaxing to float on my back and feel the sunshine on my face. Slathering ourselves with sunscreen was unheard of then, but I don’t remember ever getting badly sunburned despite spending hours in the pool.
On weekends we’d gather up all the relatives for a softball game. Since I couldn’t really throw or catch, I was usually the pitcher. That was a good spot except for the times I got drilled in the forehead with a line drive. It was fine, though, just a bruise. I’m quite certain there was no lasting brain damage or anything.
Since the property was once a working farm, there were all kinds of fruit trees behind the house. There were two tart cherry trees, a peach tree, a mulberry tree, and several pear trees. There were also raspberry bushes. Mom would bake us cherry pies and can pears for us to eat all year. It was so awesome to just go outside and pick a ripe juicy pear – no store bought pear has ever tasted that good.
After the sun went down it was time to jump rope under the pole light. Bats would flit around overhead, chasing after bugs, but we weren’t the least bit concerned about them. It seemed like every night we got to have ice cream cones filled with orange sherbet or neapolitan ice cream. Neither of those flavors appeal to me today, but then it was the best and most refreshing of treats. If we’d grilled hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, we would get to have s’mores once the coals were just glowing embers. Summer never tasted so sweet!
I’m the one with the big hair sitting in the lawn chair.
Winter was fun too. The house stood on a big hill and was great for sledding. One year there was an ice storm and it was so fun to slide down the ice covered snow. It was beautiful, too, the whole world looked like it was encased in glass. Cold didn’t seem to bother me then and Mom usually had a cup of hot chocolate for us when we came inside.
Lest you think it was all fun and games all the time, we had chickens, ducks, heifers from my grandpa’s farm, the occasional pig and sheep, plus cats and dogs and a goose named Stanley. They had to be fed and watered twice a day, stalls had to be cleaned out, and eggs needed to be gathered. We had to lead our sheep Sara to different areas of the yard to eat a circle around the trees we chained her to. There were even a couple of ponies for a while, but much to our disappointment, we never got to ride them. There was always a huge garden that needed to be weeded, or worse yet debugged. It was bad when we had to pick off the potato bugs, but the worst was finding big, fat hornworms on the tomato plants. I was always sure that they were going to somehow curl up and sting me with that pointy thing on the end of their bodies. There was absolutely no remorse as I tossed them to the chickens – tomatoes are my favorite and I wasn’t about to share with the likes of them!
Notice that I’m working while the others watch. Mmmhmm.
There were also opportunities to learn about wildlife when we encountered chipmunks, woodchucks, raccoons, weasels, and skunks. Not all of those memories are pleasant, however, so they don’t belong in this post.
When it’s really nice outside, I still have the urge to go off and explore, to check out what’s happening in nature, and to look for good things to eat. Sometimes I’ll see the perfect tree and think about how fun it would be to climb it or build a treehouse in it. If there aren’t too many bugs, I still enjoy taking a chair or blanket outside to read and there’s nothing as relaxing as swaying back and forth in a wooden swing. There’s something about the sun shining on me, soaking all the way into my bones, taking away all the worries and responsibilities of being a grown up, making me feel like I’m a kid again. It was before we had hair products, okay?