I was the kind of kid who ran around most of the summer without shoes and uncombed hair. I would wear the same old t-shirts from the discount rack at TJ Maxx year after year. My mom said spending money on summer clothes was a waste — They’ll just get dirty! And she was right. If it wasn’t dirt or the remains of a popsicle, it was something else.
I grew up on a cul-de-sac surrounded by forest. Not too far away, there was a creek where we’d splash around and go swimming. I spent nearly all of my time outside digging holes, building forts, or reading a book under a tree. I was lucky without knowing it, having this incredible place, and mostly to myself.
At night, if enough of the neighbor kids were around, we’d play games like Kick the Can or Ghost in the Graveyard. I remember the thrill of running for the can, but even better was shouting Olly, Olly, Oxen Free! at the top of your lungs to let the other kids, who were still hiding, know that the game was over.
On nights when there were just a few of us, we’d tell ghost stories under the street light or make up songs and dances in the empty street. One night, it was just my best friend and I looking for something to do. We decided to pretend to be spies, which basically meant we were going to snoop on our neighbors.
We scuttled to the backyards and into the skirt of the forest for coverage. When the coast was clear, we’d tiptoe up to the houses and peer into the windows. We didn’t see anything very interesting, mostly just lit up TV screens and the shadows of our neighbors. But the thrill of getting caught and possibly discovering a neighborhood secret kept us playing.
We ran down a steep hill into the next yard. These neighbors had a walk-in basement, and the double doors were made up of glass. We tucked our bodies behind a nearby oak tree. I jutted my head out and made binoculars with my hands. I saw Joe, the lawyer with two grown kids, sitting on a tall stool. He was painting onto a large canvas.
From the angle of the tree, I couldn’t see what he was painting, and I was determined to get closer. I laid on my belly and propelled myself forward through the grass. I started to make out the painting. It was a portrait of a man, a Native American Indian. The man had deep set sorrowful eyes, high cheek bones, and a serious looking face. I was captivated, such wisdom and beauty I found there. For a minute, among the chirping of crickets, I imagined I knew his stories. He was a warrior and a hero who had fought bravely, a proud chief and leader of many generations.
Unexpectedly, my reverie was broken. I heard my name echoing in the still summer air. It was my father calling me to come home. That night, I ran home as fast as my bare feet could carry me.