Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Secret Hiding Place

Tipper at Blind Pig and the Acorn wrote a post about her children's "camps" made with sheets on their Granny's porch. Her post made me remember things from my childhood and the ways we played, especially in the hot summer months of the pre-air conditioning world.

When I was little we lived in a tiny house in the woods that offered opportunities of all kinds for play. Pine forest, a crawl space under the house, sheds and ditches and a rose arbor were all perfect for the kinds of games we played. I was only 5 when we moved, but my memories of the little house are vivid. I remember well my first secret hiding place; it was in the woods, surrounded by bushes and not visible to anyone passing on the path nearby. A perfect place to hide.

(photo below was taken in Centreville, before we moved to the big house in Manassas. Apparently a game of cowboys and Indians was in progress.)

Our next house was big and old with large rooms, high ceilings, tall windows, and cool plaster walls. In summer, the windows were open and sliding adjustable screens let in any breezes that might stir the mimosa in Mrs. Blakemore's yard or the old silver maple in our back yard. A large fan on a stand rotated in the dark downstairs entrance hall and often we'd put our fingers through the open cage and let them rat-a-tat-tat on the blades as they whirled. Sometimes an unfortunate child would get their fingers in the wrong place and get whacked hard by the spinning blades, but I don't remember any cuts from the fans.



Dad made schedules for his thirteen children in the summer, and created to-do lists with incentive prizes for doing certain chores. This worked well to motivate us right after school was out, but after a while we'd get tired of the lists or we'd have developed a game we liked to play. So we'd do the assigned work but the incentive lists usually languished after the end of June. Dad's strategy was probably to keep us busy while we adjusted to being home--and to keep us out of Mom's hair while she adjusted to us being home.


By July one or two games were usually in full swing. We didn't play games like most people think of them; for us, games went on for days or weeks, even all summer. Our favorite was the Town we created in the back yard. There was little grass in the area immediately to the right of the back porch steps. We kept it worn off with our play. In the bare dirt we used our little beach shovels or Mom's garden trowel to create roads, dips, curves, intersections, shopping centers, schoolyards and farms. Each of us had a role to play--farmers, mothers, fathers, shopkeepers, teachers, doctors. I was usually the orphanage keeper and my name in our games was Uncle John and Aunt Susie (dual personality, I guess). Many an emergency, conflict, injury, death, wedding and party happened in the course of an afternoon ---who needed General Hospital with all the drama we had going on in our yard?




When it rained the fun moved indoors. Upstairs would become a Wild West town. We'd raid the attic for clothes, Joe would wear his play gun and holster, someone would have the popgun, and always we'd have a dance with Joe as the caller, standing on the dresser and singing ("I belong, I belong, on the lo-o-o-ne pray-er-ee"). Indians would raid, cattle stampede, gunfights were many and bloody and bodies often littered the floor. Joe or Tom played the sheriff and would pronounce guilt or innocence and generally keep the peace. When the town got too rowdy, the real boss--Mom--would make us settle down.

We played long-running Monopoly games that resembled some of the pictures I've seen of poker games--intent faces, piles of money, deal-making and breaking, occasional fights and tears. A single game once lasted almost a month, with money changing hands as quickly, and probably as crookedly, as on Wall Street.


When we got tired of each other's company, we all had our secret hiding places. I had several: the attic was best for reading, and there was always a breeze through the little half-moon window in front with the far-off view of the Bull Run Mountains. Under the front porch was cool and damp and kind of scary, and a good place to go with Judy if we wanted to be alone. The cherry trees were excellent in June when they were filled with cherries and a girl could climb into the branches and eat to her heart's content. There were plenty for me, the birds and for mom's jam-making. The side yard with my redbud tree and bluebell garden was fairly sheltered and if Miss Mary, who lived next door, wasn't home I could climb up into the redbud tree where I would be out of sight and could spy on brothers and sisters who played on the swingset. Why did I want to spy on them? I have no idea. Maybe I should blame it on Nancy Drew, since I read every one of those books and all of the Hardy Boys too during my attic visits.

I wonder if children still play games like these, and if they still have secret hiding places? As an adult, I sometimes long for the redbud tree and the sanctuary it offered when my little life felt too tumultuous and overcrowded with siblings.

Tipper's daughters still have that magical gift of childhood, the gift of play. I hope there are many other children out there with the same gift, touching the past and inventing futures to suit themselves. I am afraid that today's children are losing the magic of creative play. I hope that in some small town in America, there is a child building a castle under the dining room table or a fort behind the sofa. I hope a little girl or boy is exploring under a forsythia bush and finding a hidden-way world that only he or she knows. I want to believe that children are still chasing birds with salt shakers, looking for four-leaf clovers, lying on their backs and finding shapes in the clouds, catching tadpoles in puddles and finding wild berries along the sides of dusty roads.



I hope childhood is still the place of possible hopes and inspired dreams, where anything can and will happen for the child who imagines it into being.


Granddaughter Haley in the yellow apple tree--one of her hiding places at my house.

14 comments:

Country Whispers said...

I agree! Many kids are leaving the pretend play for video games and so forth. This includes my children too. But they still enjoy making blanket forts, playing cops & robbers, dressing up & playing store. I miss those days of hiding under the pine tree, making forts and playing hide & seek.
Fun memories!

Vera said...

I enjoyed that very much,brought back a lot of memories.

Granny Sue said...

My parents limited our TV watching pretty severely and we often felt hard done by about it. Now I think they were very wise (and having TV sets that often didn't work well played a part in their wisdom too!). I wonder if parents nowadays do a similar thing with the video games and other electronic gadgets? That's not to say all new things are bad--they are a lot of fun and also teach skills. A good mix of both creative play and electronic play would probably produce some amazingly talented kids.

Rowan said...

Your childhood sounds idyllic, Being an only child I have no real idea how it must have been to have other children constantly there to play with but I do remember tents in the gardenmade from my mum's clothes horse and an old army blanket and spending hours in the fields with my friends. I lived in a world of imagination and I haven't lost that even now. I feel sad for today's youngsters many of whom have no idea how to 'play'.

Granny Sue said...

What we didn't have was money, Rowan and of course that caused stress in the household often. But having someone to play with, or imagine with, was never a problem. I can remember times when one of us would go to Mom and say, "I don't have anyone to play with!" She was hardly sympathetic!

hart said...

I was also an only child, I envy all your siblings. One of my favorite hiding places was under the wicker rocker. Turned over there was a space between the back and the floor. I now have that same chair and I must have been very small to fit in there. Your experiences under the house also broguht back memories, a scarry, spidery place. Once I left some treasure under there and my very patient mother held a flashlight while I went after in in the middle of the night.--Jane

Granny Sue said...

The memory of the wicker chair is so vivid, Jane; I am glad you still have the chair. It is interesting to look back and realize how very small we were, and yet we felt so powerful and invincible.

Brighid said...

My grands & I make blanket tents,hide out in the bean teepee, blow blubbles, collect rocks, & feathers, make mud pies, play games. Carrying on the tradition and loving it.

Janet, said...

We played outside a lot when I was a child and we enjoyed every minute of it.I had a teepee constructed around a tall tree in our backyard, played in the creek and played every game imaginable in everyone's front yards. My kids and the neighborhood kids played in what they called the dirt pile. It was the dug out foundation of a house in which the people decided not to build. They played with their hot wheels, bikes and had many squabbles over in the 'dirt pile.' They made a tree house down the hill-over the creek-and up into the woods from our house. They were lucky, there were around 8 or so kids in our little country subdivision and they all grew up together.

Granny Sue said...

The dirt pile! Kid heaven! your boys were certainly fortunate to have kids close by--and a dirt pile and a mom who let them play. Those are the memories of their childhood they will cherish.

Tipper said...

The girls play-the long drawn out games you spoke of. They each have jobs-and the 'play life' just continues from day to day. I loved reading about your memories from childhood. And like you-I do so hope all kids can enjoy the carefree days of letting their imaginations lead the way in a pretend world.

solsticedreamer~laoi gaul~williams said...

a wonderful post!
although we did have a tv we never watched it~always far too busy with camps, shops and cowboys and indians, locking my sister in a hen house with a cockeral, sneeking up the ditch that divided the back gardens from our road and the next and 'scrumping' runner beans!

Granny Sue said...

Tipper, your post inspired mine-- Thank you for reminding me of those days of long summer games. And my best to your girls, creativity will never be a problem for them.

Laura said...

My kids have no fewer than 4 "clubhouses." They are always rescuing items from the trash to take and use in the clubhouse. My daughter says they are recycling and I should be proud. I just smile and secretly hope they never grow too old for clubhouses.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...