Illustration by Kathleen Holdaway Swain
I entered the Land of Enchantment when I passed through that gate. Shrubs had entangled and obliterated the tangled yard fence. An amazement of possibilities greeted me. Hounds and a few chickens lounged on the drooping porch. A long-abandoned truck rested on blocks. Old tires, stacks of lumber, pots and pans, and broken toys littered the dirt yard. The hounds had dug dozens of holes, which the kids had expanded. A few wild children were whooping with joy, slinging missiles of Chinaberries at each other. I never wanted to leave. Mrs. Awful disappeared into the house while we set about entertaining ourselves, a perfect system.
At four, I was not concerned about social order, so I made my way to the doorless truck, shoving a hound off the battered seat so I could drive, my first opportunity to get behind a wheel. I stood behind that wheel, turning it madly, till I was shoved over by a late-comer. I wasn’t particularly disturbed, I knew bigger kids got the first crack at stuff, so I didn’t waste time whining, just kept shoving till they moved on. I did hurl a broken toy car as they ambled off, but they didn’t bother to come back after me.
All around me, unsupervised kids were running wild, screaming, shoving, running over smaller kids, and just having a wonderful time in general. Fortunately, there was a wide age-range of kids, so I was able to get in on the fun. Eventually, Mrs. Awful made it out with birthday cake, serving it up to us on napkins. She didn’t linger long, quickly returning to her soap opera. We heard the organ music pouring out the window. For some reason, she left her toddler, Becky, among us as she returned to her soaps.
Unlike a couple of the little girls, I had no interest in playing Mama, particularly since Becky’s diaper appeared fully loaded. I had a baby brother and grasped the significance of that drooping diaper. Within minutes, Becky’s secret was out. Kids ran screaming as she approached, like she was “It” in a mad game of chase. Several tumbles in the dirt did little to clean her up. Even though she was a baby, Becky understood and protested the shunning. She stood bravely squalling in the midst of the melee. Even that didn’t bring her mother to the rescue. Jamey took mercy and turned the water hose on her, hoping to sanitize her and make her more socially acceptable as he stripped her of her diaper. To the universal delight of the party-goers, his enterprising brother grabbed the hose sprayed the general crowd, including dogs and chickens. Should you ever want to plan a good party, be sure to put a water hose first on your list? We joyously ripped through the spray, fighting for control of the hose. Our game was cut short by Mrs. Awful hurling curses at us. If only we had not sprayed water on the television through the open window, our fun could have lasted longer. She scooped naked Becky up and exiled us to the barnyard. Fortunately, the barnyard was promising.