When I was younger, we were expected to go outside, especially on pretty days. I grew up in Wisconsin, where you embraced the cold and took advantage of the warmer days. When my older siblings were younger, we played outside with the neighbor kids. A lot of times it was cowboys and Indians, or cowboys chasing bank robbers – whatever was popular on TV in those days. Quite often, I felt left behind on the action since I was too little to keep up. But I would try. When I was 3 or 4, I remember running as fast as I could to get to the front porch. We were either playing a tag game, or I was trying to get in the house in a hurry. The front step was a big one, but my goal was speed, and in my effort to go fast, I failed to go high. I tripped on the first step and smacked my face right into the concrete, knocking out my two front teeth. I went through at least 2 Christmases without my two front teeth, and all the “how cute”, and “I bet I know what you want for Christmas” comments were tiresome.
My effort to keep up with the big kids got me into danger several times. One time, my brothers were on the ground wrestling on a mat we had in the basement, and I wanted to get in the middle of it for some reason. I remember seeing a foot with a dark colored sock headed for my eye. They told me I was being a baby when I cried about it, but had a nice black eye the next day to prove how much it hurt.
Our next door neighbors had a swing set with a couple of swings, a slide and one of those carriage type baskets, that could hold 4 small children – 2 on each side. We didn’t have a swing set, but somehow we felt like we could play on it any time they were out there. It was in a tight space, in the corner of the yard. The bushes had to be navigated, and then if someone was on the carriage basket, you’d have to dodge that to get to the swings. I never had a fear of it. I had easily dodged it before. I was excited to see that there was an actual swing open – a rare occurrence – and I went for it, but got slammed in the chin by the carriage. Thinking about the fact that I had gotten hit in the face, rather than the side, I must have ran first, and then looked – maybe someone warned me and stopped me, but I saw the thing come at me for a split second before I was slammed to the ground. Immediately my scream cut off the joyful noises of playtime and one or two of my siblings ran for my mom. Blood was pouring out of my chin, getting on my clothes, and I desperately clung to my chin not able to contain the agony of pain. We loaded up in the car, and I curled up in the back seat, keeping a cool cloth on my chin. I kept my eyes closed, trying to shut out the physical pain and the emotional strain, due to our destination. My mom decided to take me to my dad’s office to see if he could help. For those of you who hadn’t read my previous blogs, he was a physician. I tried to tell her no, I would be fine, but I couldn’t speak, the pain was too great to move my jaw. I thought when we got to his office, he was going to punish me for being so stupid and missing the carriage, and bothering him while he was at work. I had heard the phrase, “Wait until your father gets home,” said enough times to my older brother, that being TAKEN to him had to be even worse. My emotional terror seemed as strong as the physical pain, and all I could do was keep my eyes closed and ask for God’s help.
Next thing I remember, I was lying down on the examining table, and my dad was going to take a needle and stitch me up. I was mortified. The idea of a needle in my chin at this point seemed like more pain than I could handle. There was no way I was going to let him do that. He told me he would freeze it up first, so I wouldn’t feel it. I still refused to hold my head still as he held the needle in his hand. Then my dad did the unexpected. He smiled, and sweetly said, “if you hold real still, you can have a popsicle when I’m finished.”
I was stupefied. Really? A popsicle? You mean I wasn’t being punished? He really was going to help me?! Somehow that changed everything. I don’t think I was so easily bribed with a popsicle as I was deprived of his presence and care. I was feeling like he genuinely cared about me and wanted to help me. The initial shot was painful, but I was the perfect little patient. He spoke to me softly and encouragingly as he gave me a couple of stitches that would remain as a scar for life. Then he told me how proud he was of me. As I write this, I’m realizing, it was one of the few times I had heard him say that.
I got my treat on the way home in the car. I didn’t realize how painful it was going to be to actually eat the popsicle, but I endured it. I couldn’t risk missing my well-earned reward. I also made a promise to myself that I would never go on that swing set again. And for the remaining year or two we were still there, I kept that promise.
We moved to a new house when I was 4 – almost 5. It was a dead-end street and we didn’t exactly connect with the kids. The ages were off from ours and they were either older or younger. Playing outside was not as inviting. There were no sidewalks connecting the houses, and the yards were bigger but felt empty. My siblings were getting older too, and weren’t as interested in imaginary play (except for my brother who was just 1½ years older than me.) There were a few things I found to do on my own, though. I’d sit under the big willow tree in the back yard where the canopy was so big, no one would see me in there. I also rode my tricycle up and down the sidewalk next to the house, and the driveway. I didn’t feel safe to actually ride on the road. I used to put the bike upside down and spin the wheels with the pedals as I poured rocks on the wheels, listening to the clinking. I would back it up like mom backed up the car and pretended I was taking it to the store, or to the gas station. These were some happy moments for me; being in my own world of sweetness and imagination.
One last thing I’ll share with you that I loved to do was something I only did when I was by myself. I would talk to my friend, the wind. I would open my arms wide and ask the wind to blow. A soft breeze would caress my face, and like a superhero, I would command it to “Blow, blow, blow!” The wind would pick up, and blow harder and harder. It would blow my hair while I would laugh with joy. It was an empowering feeling. I would tell it to soften, and the gust would turn into a soft whisper. The wind and I have had many moments together. Even today, when I’m outside by myself, I’ll ask the wind to react to my commands. There are days it acts up, tangling my hair, reminding me of that childlike joy.
To close up today's blog, I'll share with you my tricycle song, inspired by those blissful moments of innocent imagination. https://soundcloud.com/julie-rust/i-am-free