Practically every kid on the planet has done each of the following at some point during his or her tenure: marred something of immeasurable value with an impossible-to-remove substance, tried flushing something that’s decidedly unflushable and/or threatened to run away from home for one seemingly absurd reason or another. Of course, the world is full of overachievers in this particular realm, as many will attest to having surpassed the gold standard of misguided behavior. I am no exception.
My guess is that much of what kids do stems from an unquenchable thirst for information and a great longing for independence. Further, I’d surmise that much of their internal dialogue begins with phrases like, “I wonder what would happen if…” and includes impassioned statements like, “If I were king, there’d be no more… bedtimes, baths, rules, etc like at so-and-so’s house.” Indeed, the grass is always greener somewhere else.
Back in 1970, I for one believed it to be so — just two doors down, in fact. A lovely couple, whose children were long since grown, lived there in a quaint little brick house with a sprawling back yard and the most enormous shade trees I had ever known.
That’s where my four-year-old brother and I found George and Bernice, in the haze of mid-summer — lolling in cavernous chairs when day was done, enjoying what breeze could be summoned as the sun inched toward the horizon, watching and waiting as the shadows lengthened and the crickets prepared for their nightly symphony.
Invariably, she’d wear a light, cottony dress with a floral pattern and generous pockets for clothespins and whatnot. He wore woollen pants, a plain, white t-shirt and work boots. Suspenders sometimes, too. Cookies were involved, as was lemonade. There were countless treks through their garage, their magnificent garden as well as their home because, of course, it was their pride and joy and they seemed genuinely pleased to show us every inch of the place — from the ceramic sink in the kitchen to its stiflingly hot attic.
All the while we learned where each knick-knack came from, who was pictured in the portraits on the walls, the make and model of their extraordinarily well-cared-for car (an Olds, I think) and how to keep rabbits from nibbling at lettuce. But mostly, we sat under the tall trees and talked. Their ageing beagle, that hobbled even more than they did, stayed close. Cool grass and good company were precious commodities. Even my brother and I knew that. Especially on the days we packed our bags and ran away from home — frustrated beyond words with our parents, fed up completely with this or that perceived injustice, eager to find something better under someone else’s roof. George and Bernice’s seemed just fine.
Oddly enough, they tolerated our gripes and grumbles. They listened intently as we told of the insufferable nature of living in a home where an eight-year-old might be expected to take out the trash or set the table from time to time. They nodded understandingly and offered quiet solace as we voiced our rage against the powers that be. But they had to have been laughing inside — remembering a time when their own children had run away, hauling lumpy sleeping bags and peanut butter sandwiches across the neighbourhood.
Looking back now I see the tours and the talks for what they truly were — cleverly implemented diversionary tactics, designed to defuse our anger and redirect our attention. They were just neighbours being neighbourly. Givers of guidance. An instrument of good.
Time and again, my tag-along brother and I wised up and headed home. Darkness was encroaching, mosquitoes had arrived and our dear companions, fear and worry, had come calling (would those who had helped us pack actually search for us?!). Besides, I missed my dog and it was soon time for my favourite shows.
Indeed, it was time to admit defeat and return to the home we knew best — although it was fun to taste a bit of independence and to partake of the seemingly greener pastures just two doors down.
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