Islands in the Field

I was cruising around WordPress and came across this picture at Netdancer’s blog. It reminded me of a place a long time ago in a neighborhood far, far away. I’m not even sure how old I was.  I was old enough to run around the neighborhood with my friends until the sun went down, but young enough to lack the wisdom of age and experience to not drink from the nearest hose in anyone’s yard when I was thirsty.

The reason this picture reminds me of that place is because at the end of my street there was a T intersection that bordered a corn field. In the middle of that field was an island just like this one. That island was our base of operations during the winter months. After Christmas, we would gather Christmas trees from nearby houses after they were taken outside to be picked up by the garbage collectors and drag them to this island where we erected a fort. From there we launched into all kinds of adventures. Sometimes we had to infiltrate an enemy’s stronghold. Sometimes we had to hunt down a bank robber. Sometimes it was just a matter of survival. We had crackers, Pop-Tarts, and canteens of water. The first one to bail was a sissy.

As you enter the field from my street, to the right, at the edge of the corn field, was a forest. I couldn’t begin to count the hours we spent exploring the vast woodlands. There was a small stream, possums and woodpeckers, snakes and bugs, flowers and trees, Mushrooms and moss, and rich, loamy soil. It was the kind of place that you wanted to get lost in. It was peaceful, calm, and quiet. We fought wars there, hunted for buried treasure, and solved some of life’s biggest problems under the canopy of leaves that rose so high overhead that we couldn’t see the tops.

Between my street and the cornfield was a thicket of wild raspberries and blackberries. I remember taking large butter tubs and filling them full of berries when they were in season.

I remember the name of my friend, Jeff Demorest. My brother, 18 months older than I am, hung out with us often. Besides the cornfield and woods, Jeff lived on a slope, which was perfect for sledding in the winter time. We also used his garage for our hundreds of army men. We each took one of the four large concrete squares, set up our armies, and fought it out. When it rained, we collected rain water. We played baseball, had snowball fights, and just ran around and had fun.

It was a magical time in my itinerant life.

My father was upper management at the Dana plant in Ecorse, Michigan. They made steel frames for GM cars. When I was only a few years old, right around 1970, they had massive layoffs, which included my father. I was too young to remember the intervening time between when he was laid off and when he started his next job. All I remember is that he went into real estate. So did my mother.

We moved. A lot. We lived, in no particular order, in Taylor, South Lyon, South Gate, Trenton, Allen Park, Novi (twice), Lincoln Park, Sterling Heights, and I’m probably forgetting one or two.

My dad had a private pilot’s license and flew out of Grosse Isle. There was a golf  course there where my brother was a caddy.

Those were years of feast or famine. I remember living in a three level house with a finished basement, a large, two car garage, and my brother and I each a balcony outside our rooms. I also remember getting IOUs for Christmas one year and my mother crying as we opened the envelopes.

I also made a lot of money when I was a kid. I cut grass in the summer, raked leaves in the fall, and shoveled snow in the winter. My best friend in Trenton was Paul Mithoff. We had regular customers we went to every season and we were paid well. Some of them had hot chocolate for us.

I wish I had known about Apple, Microsoft, Intel, Berkshire Hathaway . . . .

He lived on Kenwood Drive. We had a gang. We called ourselves “The Kenwood Killers.”

We played Monopoly using two boards, and we made deals in the tens of thousands. We had to make our own large bills. We played Risk and added continents, airplanes, and ships. Games of Monopoly and Risk would last for days.

We had beer can collections. Some of my cans were worth $30 or $40. We had fish tanks and spent a lot of time at the Day One Tropical Fish Store. It was a pleasant bike ride over a brick paved bridge. They’re still in business after almost 50 years. I bred angel fish. When they were about the size of a half-dollar, I would trade them to Day One for plants or a couple of fish. Just before we moved, my kribensis started laying eggs. I was looking forward to raising those beautiful fish. The memories of setting up an aquarium and caring for tropical fish have stayed with me. Shortly after I was married I set up a 55 gallon tank that was probably the most beautiful I’d ever done.

Of all the places we lived in Michigan, Trenton and Novi hold the best memories. I had a pleasant childhood. It wasn’t full of drama. Compared to kids these days, it was pretty mundane.

I never had a lot of friends. I always only had one or two, but they were very strong. And I was okay with that. I can’t think of anything I would change, could I travel back in time and do so. Those experiences made me who I am today. It wasn’t all wine and roses. There were some hard times, but I don’t focus on those. They’re there, but they’re tucked away in a little room that I keep locked and only open to jam something else into it and quickly shut the door again. But I wouldn’t change anything.

I think Captain James T. Kirk said it best. “Bones, you’re a doctor. You of all people should know that guilt and pain can’t be taken away with the wave of a magic wand. They’re the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I want my pain! I need my pain!”

The joys and pains we experience form our opinions and shape our philosophy. They color our vision and give us a perspective that is unique to each of us as individuals. They influence our personality and prejudices. They motivate us to reach for the next level and make us want to be a better person. They make us interesting and give us depth. They make us stronger and more empathetic. They make us care. They make us love.

They give us life.