Around my ninth birthday my family moved into a fixer upper on an acre and a half on the outskirts of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The sandy brick ranch was almost double in size the little blue house with the ditch boundary. With a child’s perspective, that acre and a half was a kingdom. To the left of the house was a wooded boundary, which to see it now, is a line of trees marking the property line. But in the daylight of my youth, it was an enchanted forrest that by night housed all the demons of hell and nightmares.
The backyard sloped down, the perfect pitch for sitting on your bike and rushing down with feet sprawled like wings, hands gripping the handlebars with white knuckles as the grassy terrain caused teeth to chatter as the breeze brushed against the face.
In the center of the yard was a majestic weeping willow. It’s bowing limbs creating a perfect canopy for playing house and then magically turning into the swinging vines of Tarzan and Jane. We could be as loud as we wanted in that back yard, it had yelling room, or so I heard my dad say. The weeping willow was my favorite part of the house. This was in-spite it being the location where we were sent to pick the switch to be used for our spanking. It only took once to realize the small branches were a bad choice, as their lack of rigidity gave them a whip-like quality that stung far worse than the their thicker counterparts.
To the right of the willow, a row of apple trees harvested small tart apples. They were short trees with low branches not worth climbing. The apples were enjoyed more by worms than our family. The highlight of those trees being the day, in his pursuit of efficiency, my Dad used the red Murray riding lawn mower from Sears to trim around the trees, misstepped and gassed that mower right up the trunk of the tree, flipping it over backwards
In the general area of the yard was a sink hole opening. It was usually covered with large rocks so that we could not fall into it. Although after Baby Jessica made the national news, I did not feel extremely secure those rocks were going to save us. When a hard rain would come the back quarter acre of the yard would flood just over that sinkhole. If the rain was consistent enough, the makeshift pond would stay for a few days. The willow branches then became the perfect swinging ropes to let go of making a large splash where it was just deep enough to cover your dropping body. My Ma Jewel, afraid of water she could not see the bottom of, was visiting after such a rain. She decided this might be her opportunity to try out canoeing. My father obliged, laying the canoe on the grass beside the water. My grandmother, usually graceful and elegant, climbed in looking a little like Mowgli, bottom in the air, and found her seat. With the slightest push she floated to the center, oar in hand, gliding through the water. Her face held the look of delighted anxiety. It was in that moment, I relished the idea of coming from people who would canoe in rain puddles.
My father, who had four daughters, saw that acre backyard as more than a lawn, too. After years of hearing wishes for ponies, my dad made arrangements for us to get a horse. You must imagine the slick shiny muscles of a thoroughbred to fully appreciate that this horse was nothing like the image you have in your head. The matte gray-brown hair of this horse seemed to be the color of the inside of your vacuum cleaner and no less dusty. No matter how much you cleaned and brushed, if you patted that horse, a cloud would rise.
We loved that horse. We would climb upon her back and ride around the yard. This tiny horse–not a miniature horse by classification, just a small, short horse–would prance around the yard, bearing the weight of girls who knew nothing about horses. So little did we know, that it was a huge surprise the day we arrived home from school to find a colt in the backyard. We had no idea she was pregnant.
My dad’s career lead us to move from Murfreesboro. Both horses and about eight dogs were sold or given away at the yard sale we had before packing up the house. We said goodbye to our little acre kingdom with the weeping willow tree. A home where we welcomed our baby sister. It was there that my dad was diagnosed with cancer. My mom earned her college degree and my dad passed the bar exam. We had two cats, a bird and about thirteen dogs. Only one of those dogs was allowed to go to Memphis with us. When the house was loaded into the trucks, my Mom and sisters left Murfreesboro in the minivan. I rode with my dad in his diesel fueled truck. As we stopped at the gas station, I thought I might be able to keep the last puppy we failed to find a home. He sat in my lap, a puff of fur a husky-schnauzer mutt. Our Dachshund was sitting in her spot next to my Dad’s seat. A car pulled into the opposite bay. The mother rolled down her windows and walked into the convenience store leaving two boys sitting in the backseat. My dad yelled over, “You boys want a puppy?” With wide excited eyes they looked at the sweet puff and exclaimed, “yes!” With a quick move my Dad handed them the puppy through their window, jumped in the truck and headed out of the lot just as their mother walked out of the store. And like that, we left for new adventures.