Taking part in the Ann Dee Ellis 8-Minute Memoir Writing Challenge. This is Day Twenty-Five.
When you went down the steps from the old white house, you could turn one way towards grass, the gully, and the high tall oak up the hill where the swing waited. If you turned the other way, a gradual downhill took you across a wooden footbridge over a shallow seasonal creek and up through the apricot orchard where the dads occasionally set up bales of hay for target practice with compound bows and sometimes even loud guns. The shots would echo up the canyon, and while we kids were shoed suitably far away, the reverberation would rattle my teeth.
In the creek, feet covered in clay and balancing on smooth stones, us kids would find small green and black snakes, small bumpy frogs, and sometimes even a crawfish. Following the creek down behind the barn led one past the hog pens, and I liked to find a switch from the oaks and scratch the backs of the 2 or 3 auburn-bristled hogs milling about grunting softly. There was a horse pen next to the hogs, but I wasn’t allowed near the only semi-tame painted horse. The pony was the same auburn as the hogs, and I loved sauntering around the property on his slow, tired, dusty back.
There were no parents managing us kids, not really- we’d be expected to check in periodically, but mostly we were free to range. We’d walk down the dirt road towards the pond, toes leaving imprints in the silky dry dust, feet toughened by days upon days of being outside. We’d swim in the steep-sided pond, sharing the space with harmless garter snakes, and knew enough to keep our eyes out for less harmless rattlers. We’d start a pick-up whiffle ball game in the gently sloping dirt driveway, bases created from whatever we could find. Dogs barked and ran among us, and an occasional stiff breeze reminded us the hogs weren’t far away.
If you meandered up through the apricot orchard, your bare feet would crush the wild growing native oregano with each step, perfuming the already impossibly scented California air. The edges of the orchard were deep with pines and oak scrub, dark and sighing. We didn’t go there.
The house was old, had been moved there years before, and in my earliest memory, doesn’t even have indoor plumbing. There is an actual outhouse and we bathe in a galvanized apple tub in the front yard. On the old wood stove near the gully the water is heated, and the dirtiest kids go last. The water was either tepid, or scalding hot, and moms were waiting with warm dry towels to wrap each child fresh from the tub.
We’d be ushered upstairs, where bunk beds and thick, dusty quilts awaited our sleepy, tired bodies. I could peek out the wavy old glass windows into the night, and fall asleep watching the parents gathered around a bonfire, their distant laughter and happiness drifting over the cooling night.