Averyell A. Kessler
I learned a lot about life behind the garage. Deep, dark and oily, it was a place of intrigue. Our garage was a typical two car, wooden behemoth, nesting behind our Laurel street home and a good 15 yards from our back door. Spare bicycle chains and clothes line rope hung from the walls, as well as a tin wash tub, a collection of rakes and saws, and a display of license plates from the last seven years. We had only one car, a black Chevy sedan, so the vacant space was used for rainy day roller skating, hop scotch and storing Daddy’s push lawn mower and wheel barrow. But behind it, a secret garden!
It only a narrow patch of grass between the back wall of the garage and our neighbors’ fence. Not a thing like Mary and Colin’s lovely hideaway, but to me, it was a private sanctuary, a childhood nirvana free from adult eyes. My friend, Martha and I found it early on and made it our clubhouse – no grown-ups allowed! She was a seven, I was six.
Martha had an older brother and knew the ways of the world, I was an only child and needed advice. She taught me the difference between gold and white honeysuckle and how to bite off the tips and suck out its sweet juice. I learned how to survive my first day at school, step around rowdy boys and avoid slimy mounds of spinach in the cafeteria. Together we spit watermelon seeds, dug up roly polys, and captured lady bugs in mason jars. We watched tree frogs and ruby throated lizards, touched spider webs glistening with dew and saw grasshoppers lolling in the sun. Happily, no snakes! Before summer ended, we learned about heat lightening, made kites out of sticks and newspaper, and recognized the earthy smell of rain falling on dirt.
Our hideout was also a place for serious discussions, to work out our childhood theology, question how Noah got all those animals onto the ark, and ask why some people thought boys were wonderful, when we both knew they were loud and disgusting. Although, the subject of babies never came up, we dismissed outright the idea that a stork dropped them off. “Something happens,” Martha whispered. “My brother knows, but he won’t tell.”
We moved when I was twelve, and I’ve never been back to the Laurel Street House. I wonder if my secret garden is still there, if that sweet place of gentle silence survives, and little girls are telling secrets in the soft summer heat. I hope that children will step outside to catch bugs, taste honeysuckle, and make clover chains. Maybe they’ll run through a sprinkler or wave sparklers in the midnight sky. I want them to search for four leaf clovers in thick grass, blow bubbles, eat grape popsicles, and let mud ooze between their toes. I hope they’ll rake seeds out of watermelons and spit them over the back fence. Most of all, I wish they’ll hide behind the garage and try to figure things out.