Summer time is the best time of all for playing outside. Especially if you are like me and really, really hate to be cold. Once the barn chores were done, the dishes washed and put away, the chickens fed, and the laundry folded, a summer day was all mine. Play was mine to be defined and negotiated with my friends. Me and my siblings and our friends made our own rules and assigned our own chores.
Right beside the tree swing sat the play house. Mom said it was a dog house when Nikki was our dog and when Mom and Dad raised German shepherds. I never saw a dog in there. I only knew it as a playhouse. If it was a dog house, it was a mighty fine dog house, with shingles, and a window and a wood floor and a door that opened in two pieces.
Sometimes that playhouse was a home, sometimes it was a store, sometimes it was a horse barn or a ranch, and sometimes it was a garage. Same thing with our tricycles: sometimes they were cars or horses or stagecoaches or elephants “to ride upon, my little Irish Rose”. The tricycle with the sidecar was the best, ’cause the person peddling was the horse, the person in sidecar was the passenger of course, and the person pushing on the back was the driver, whipping that horse with a fine willow branch from the weeping willow tree out front.
We had all kinds of rules for how things worked, like the playhouse got swept out and cleaned up before we made-believe in there. Any good pretend with people in it had to have money, so we had our own currency: leaves and rocks or nuts. Animals and fairies and elves don’t need money, so that was a whole different story. Any kind of people needed money, no matter if they were from the old west or from the old country like grandma, or they were just plain old teachers and moms and stuff. Saints and cowboys never bought stuff, they just traded and depended on God and good people. I never pretended to be a saint, I tried to be one. I pretended to be a cowboy loads of times, ’cause shooting and hanging bad guys was way more fun than praying and waiting around for someone to challenge my faith.
We built a whole city, called The Camp, out by the fence that separated our farm from the Black’s. The Black’s field was behind Tommy’s and Cathy’s and Robbie’s house. Somewhere far away was the Black’s house, which I could only see in the winter, ’cause all the stuff growing blocked the view and the houses was way, far away from us, so the only reason I knew it was there was sometimes at night when everything was still, and not even the wind was blowing, I could hear the Black’s dog barking, and then another dog barking in return; just like in 1001 Dalmation, when all those dogs sent a message Perdi’s puppies were in trouble.
Anyways, we made a whole village out by the fence, with rooms for everything, including a bathroom. Mom said come back to the houses to go, but heck, that was a long ways away and a waste of precious time for playing. I got caught, ’cause I got a sty in my eye, and Grandma said that was from peeing outside. She could say that; I had to say ‘going number 1″, ’cause “pee” was crude. I found out later that Grandma was kinda crude in other ways, like she laughed at Mom when she was a little girl, because of the story she told about Mary and Joseph and how Joseph would know which girls was gonna be his wife, ’cause his staff would rise up when he saw her. Mom sometimes gave Grandma that straight-lip look;
he one where her bottom eyelids squinched up a little and I could see Mom holding back words until she had time to think things through. I was more like Grandma. Words just fell out of my mouth, before I had time to clamp it shut.
Lots of times Deanna and I made sandwiches and a big jug of Kool-Aid in the morning before we hiked back to The Camp Bonita and Vickie and Nancy and Dougie and Tommie and Cathy and sometimes Robbie. Nancy and Dougie brought lunch, too. They got potato chips and Oreo cookies. We always had home-made cookies, and never, ever had chips unless there was company, and Nancy and Dougie didn’t count for company ’cause for one thing they were neighbors, and for another thing they were kids, and kids never counted as company except for our cousins from Chicago. Tommie and Cathie went home for lunch. Besides, Robbie had a hard time staying with one game for very long, so by lunchtime, he was long-gone. Sometimes Tommie’s mom was so busy laying on her picnic table getting all brown-as-a-nut, she forgot all about lunch. The rest of us shared. We ate the berries that grew on the fence keeping us out of the Black’s farm. Mom told us they were poison, but nobody ever died or even got a tummy ache, even though those berries were sour as all get out, and made the back of my throat clamp together and my tongue get all dry and kinda itchy feeling. I guessed Mom made a few mistakes about eating stuff, ’cause she was always telling me not to eat stuff ’cause it was poison or would give me a tummy ache. I never had a tummy ache in the summer-time. Well, just that one time when I was out on the tractor all day and got super hot and then I had a headache and a stomach ache and I got the chills too, but that had nothing to do with eating berries.
Today so much of our lives get defined by where we work and what career path we chose. That makes about as much sense to me as defining my childhood by the chores I did. The past two weeks I had time to go to Rome and play with four of my best-friend-sisters and my smart-as-ever Mom. We trekked all over the city on high adventures and devoured great meals. What fun to talk and laugh and play together with complete freedom. Six very different women, comfortable with their lives and open to each other. That’s the very best way to play.