I was born in Tacoma, Washington, and the first ten years of my life were fairly uneventful. I remember my first day of kindergarten and still haven’t figured out why all those stupid kids were crying during the first week of school. I can remember the chicken pox, camping trips, row boats on Spanaway Lake, and throwing rocks at a little girl named Darlene. That would have been the event that taught me how effective lying could be if four other kids, including Darlene’s brother, swore on a stack of chocolate chip cookies that I was telling the truth when I said I wouldn’t dream of throwing rocks at anybody. I can remember singing Glen Campbell songs with my sister while we did the dishes and loving her when she let me dry. I can remember what felt like hours at the dining room table doing math word problems (and crying, like a stupid kid!) while my engineer-brained brother, for the zillionth time, tried to explain how easy they really were. I can also remember the day my father announced his retirement from the United States Air Force and told us that we were moving “home” to West Virginia. That was the summer I turned ten.
In Tacoma, we lived in a neighborhood where there was always a kid outside to play with, and play we did. In that city place, there were wild games of whiplash, tag, prisoner’s base, and red rover. There were quieter games of “mother, may I?” and hopscotch. There were swing jumping competitions and jump roping contests and every kind of dare devil jungle gym antic in the book. After a storm, we would build huge forts out of the limbs broken off of the numerous pine trees in our neighborhood. We spent an equal amount of time getting the pine pitch scrubbed off our bodies by a rough, smelly bar of Lava soap. We roller skated and rode bikes and had a continuously running fantasy play, complete with dress-up costumes and a porch that made a perfect stage. It didn’t matter that we lacked an audience. I can remember hating my sister because, if she played with us, she got to be the queen and I was the slave. When it rained, we’d all be hunkered under someone’s carport, playing board games, Old Maid, or marbles. We’d be coloring, or constructing magnificent projects from Popsicle sticks, Elmer’s glue, colored paper, old cereal boxes, and pipe cleaners. I remember watching television when I had the chicken pox but TV time was rare. In that city place was every kind of outlet for an energetic child with an active imagination.
This new place, this country place on Bunner Ridge, was the community where my parents were raised, where generations of my relatives had lived. It was rich in family history but we had no close neighbors, no ready playmates. Making play dates wasn’t something parents felt the need to do back then. Some of my cousins spent the night occasionally and we had plenty of chores but, for the most part, it was a lonely, solitary life for a ten-year-old with more energy than brains. I spent most of my daylight hours that summer playing in the woods near our house, climbing trees, building rock castles, swinging from grapevines, and catching crawdads in the creek. In my favorite tree, I nailed an old cigar box where I kept a notebook and pencil. My long time habit of keeping a journal began during that lonely period in my life.
My sister, who was starting high school that fall, made me a rag doll for my tenth birthday. Her name was Mary Ann and she had red yarn hair and an embroidered face. She wore a party dress made from one of my favorite old dresses, one of the few dresses I’d ever had that was purchased in a store. She also had flannel pajamas, a skirt and blouse, a pair of purple boots, and a purple corduroy coat. I had never played much with dolls, but Mary Ann became my best friend. Loving a doll may be a few steps beyond normal, but she still holds a special place in my heart.