Friday, October 1, 2010

Rachel Marsh's Childhood Wonderland

(My backyard lies beyond this house)

The grass feels cold and slippery underneath my little bare feet, refreshing in the stifling, humid air of the summertime. The tall pecan trees surrounding the area are like colossal giants to me, selflessly providing me shade to also help beat the heat. The air smells of the sweet fragrance radiating from my mother’s garden of brightly colored flowers of blue, purple, and gold. The scenery of the back of my old, white house with the black shutters whizzes past my eyes as I swing on my old, slightly rusted orange and brown swing set, squeaking as I fly back and forth. My brothers appear out of the little white shed of a garage behind the house, riding their bikes down the rough cement driveway that interrupts the grass. I pick up my plastic bucket out of my green turtle-shaped sandbox, and get busy hunting up rolly pollies, slugs, caterpillars, ladybugs and inchworms to collect in it. Our two dogs that run about on long chains beneath the blossoming dogwood tree, for we do not have a fence, bark at a robin resting itself on the gray cement birdbath for a drink. I pet their soft tan and brown heads consolingly as they lick me with their slobbery tongues. This was a typical summer day spent in the backyard of my childhood home in the heart of downtown Ste. Genevieve, Missouri.

My backyard was not a space, but a place to me. It brings back fond memories of my childhood spent playing in it and the happiness I felt at the time. I absolutely loved that backyard, how it felt like my own little world, my Wonderland. Since I have such a strong emotional attachment to it, I consider it a place. It was not a public space, but privately owned by my family. It was a place not used for productivity or business-purposes, but one used for leisure, fun, and play. Primarily my family, and occasionally family friends used it. When the weather was satisfactory, I would play in the backyard almost every day. I became familiar with every inch of the place to the extent that I still remember it clearly today.

This place was used most often by me after my older brothers were old enough to go to school. After school sometimes they would use the driveway to shoot hoops in the basketball hoop, or ride their bikes around on it. My mother would use it to tend to her garden surrounding the back of the house, sometimes with me helping by digging holes in the black dirt and dropping in the tiny seeds. My father, being a workaholic, rarely used the backyard except on weekends when he would mow the grass. I, on the other hand, declared myself Queen of the Yard, and used it as my own personal playground. Playing whatever game of imagination I came up with that day, I would prance around the grass barefoot, against my mother’s protests. The only beings that used the place more than I were our two dogs, which lived outside next to the beautiful dogwood tree. To them, the backyard was their home.

I have a strong positive emotional attachment to the place. It is where some of my fondest memories from childhood took place. The security of its location, being hidden from plain view behind the large house and surrounded by large pecan trees, and the beautiful aspects of nature, such as the living insects, plants, and flowers, act to generate this positive attachment. The place is very much designed to be child friendly, with its swing set and sandbox and basketball hoop. Therefore, as a child it appealed to me, and as I used it more and more, I became attached and loved it. The backyard represents to me now a time when I was happy and ran wild and free.

The difference between a location being described as a space versus being described as a place is relative and subjective. A space is typically defined as a public location designed for productivity. Its layout and atmosphere are not designed to encourage people to want to linger there very long. It is used to be productive, that people move through quickly. A place, on the other hand, is typically defined as a private location, it’s more personal. It’s designed to encourage people to spend a lot of time in. It is used for leisure, personal activities, or living in. Those who use it feel an attachment to it, and are very familiar with it. The defining of a location as a space or a place is highly subjective. For example, if someone works in a location others define as a space, said person may consider it a place instead. I consider my backyard as a place rather than a space because I used it as my personal private area, but someone who did not live there or use the backyard might think of it as a space. My front yard, on the other hand, I would consider a space because it faced a busy street and was a much more public area.

As I think back upon this outside place and what it means to me, I realize why it is so special to me. It is a place that cannot be replaced by any other in my memory that can conjure up such a specific emotional response. I have lived in other houses with other backyards since then in which I also spent time in, but to none of them do I have such a strong emotional attachment. Never in my life have I felt as profoundly free, carefree, uninhibited, joyful, curious, content, and natural as I did when I spent time in that backyard as a child. I had no restrictions or responsibilities, and was free to be myself. The space outside my place, the entire rest of the world, did not matter while I was happy and safe and free in my beautiful backyard of childhood enchantment.

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