For the better part of the 70s, my family lived in a duplex in the south suburbs of Chicago. I remember lots of moments from the carefree years spent there: I had a very happy childhood and thinking back on those days always makes me smile.
I don’t know if the neighborhood was “full of kids”, though I had several good friends who lived practically within arms’ reach. One of my best friends at the time lived a few doors down, one lived in the other half of our duplex, and two others lived in the two duplexes behind us, across an expansive lawn that ran behind the houses like a big, green alleyway.
Our days were spent in that backyard-to-all-of-our-houses, playing tag and practicing cartwheels on the soft grass. One of the neighbors had a huge weeping willow tree in their yard, and we used to play games and tell secrets underneath the branches that, heavily laden with leaves, nearly touched the ground. The scent of lilacs perfumed the air in springtime. Looking back as an adult, it seems now like some sort of dream world. We had so much fun together. I’m sure from time to time there were days on which getting along with each other was a challenge, but I don’t remember those days: my long-term memory decided to hold onto the togetherness our little group enjoyed in that vast playground right outside our doors, and discard the rest.
When I think back, I remember that lawn as being huge and going on between the houses as far as the eye could see. In my memory, it’s as big as the grassy area (but without the hills) on which Melissa Gilbert and her tv sisters ran, in the opening theme for “Little House on the Prairie”. I used to go out in our back yard and scan the area to see if any of my friends were outside too, and upon seeing one I would wave and we would run to greet each other, usually meeting in the middle where the terrain dipped down a little bit.
If I were to visit today–and it’s been on my to-do list for years–I think I would be shocked at how small the grassy backyard really is in comparison with what I remember from more than thirty-six years ago. Time and growing up do funny things to long-term childhood memories: what was once huge is now tiny, even though in reality nothing has changed at all.
I am fairly certain that knowing what I will see is why I haven’t made the hour-long drive to visit the setting of many of my very best childhood days. Every spring when the lilacs bloom, intoxicating me with their strong scent and bringing me back to the days of cartwheels and weeping willow trees, I make the conscious decision to pull my memories closer to my heart and readjust my to-do list, moving that visit to the bottom again.