It is when I am in nature where suddenly a feeling of total elation passes over my being and I recognize what that feeling represents, memories from times in my chidhood where I was completely one with nature as it beckoned me in to play and get lost in my imagination.
The memories are of times spent with my sisters, Melanie and Michele, playing in the woods of the isolated places where my parents had their houses. Maybe our deep-rooted bonding came from the isolation where we had no one else to play with but ourselves, or maybe it was from our desire to escape our father’s thunderous roar, whatever the reason, my sisters have always been my everything, breaking trail to make life easier for me as I was growing up.
Having two older sisters who were the kind of girls who didn’t whine and liked to climb trees was a bonus. Melanie, the oldest by three years, was, and still is, powerful and has taught me how to accept personalities so different from my own. With long, thick and curly chestnut hair and a Stallion-like body made for a bikini, she turned me on to Led Zeppelin and what it felt like to be cool. She introduced me to the world of acting, producing and casting plays where we softly bullied the neighborhood boys to dress as girls to perform Zoom plays in our backyard that made for the perfect stage. The best part about Melanie growing up were the scary boyfriends who revved up the driveway on their motorcycles, cigarette in mouth, hair blowing in the wind, sans helmets.
While we were in high school Melanie loved to show off her baby sister. In between classes I’d suddenly find myself barraged by a gang of Seniors, embracing me with bear hugs and delicately running their fingers over my cheeks to check out the peach-skin softness that Melanie spoke of. She ruined me that Melanie-Mouse, making me feel so adored. One can’t possibly live up to that reputation all their lives…. but one can certainly try.
Michele was the total tomboy. Independent, petite and always willing to try anything, she was the one that lured us deeper into the woods, finding sand dunes to leap off of and sledding hills with no run off where you’d have to bail before hitting your demise. We played on the hills of the golf course that belonged to the private country club located behind the woods of our backyard. A club that was restricted to Jews and Blacks. At that age I had no idea why they wouldn’t want intelligent and entertaining people around. I just chalked it up to the fact that they must be stuffy and boring. Our revenge was to let loose our completely untrained German Short-Haired Pointer who would race off to their golf course and deposit lifeless ducks on our doorstep. Other revenge tactics included blowing dandelion seeds onto their manicured lawns and poaching their swimming pools on warm summer nights. Kids have their passive aggressive ways of retaliation.
Like the most playful of kittens, we three sisters couldn’t stay away from each other, pawing at each other one second, and tearing each other’s hair out the next. We became proficient in holding our hair from the top when facing the anger of each other so it didn’t hurt so much and we tumbled through life intertwined with one another, always playing, always wrestling. We were not of the computer/cell phone generation and so were present and everything we did, we did to its fullest.
Most of our time was spent swinging off the boughs of our favorite pine tree that stood where our yard met the forest. Climbing its branches, we’d reach the tippy top to get a much larger scope outside of the insular world that we were too familiar with. It was safe under that massive pine, and our go-to place when we weren’t playing flashlight tag at night with all the rough boys of the neighborhood, or launching off of the sand-dunes that eventually got leveled like the home we lived in. We chased stars and boys with the fireflies until the dinner bell rang summoning us to come home.
But life wasn’t always charming. Being the third child, I was placed in the worst and coldest room in the house that was situated above the garage with a dark back staircase that led to the kitchen. My only comfort was to hear my mother cleaning the dishes as I fell asleep, which led me to yell out a litany of actions she had to do in order for me to actually drift off, “don’t go in the den (too far away from me), don’t turn the lights off, kiss me good-night again before you are finished” …. the list got longer as I grew into a toddler … and shorter as my high school boyfriends began to climb onto our roof and sneak into my window.
It was scary back there in my little room. To get to my parents room I had to choose either to traipse through Melanie’s bedroom that connected me to the other side of the house, or travel down that dark back stairway with a Narnia-like closet at the top (all of our closets were Narnia-Like, some felt more villainous than others).
Depending on Melanie’s mood, who became a teen-ager way too early, that hallway door was not always open to me, and so I often lay in bed staring at the darkest closet of all, my own. With a vast imagination, that closet brought on recurring nightmares of the door slamming open and dragging me violently into an evil vortex, tossing me about in the darkness. The nightmare lasted well into my adult years and only terminated when the house, and the hill it stood on, was leveled by new owners who built a contemporary monstrosity.
On those dark days when Melanie had the door closed, I’d summon up the courage to knock. Trepidatiously she’d open the door to find me in my footsie pajamas, thumb in mouth, curly hair wildly spilling out in all directions, demanding passage, a Swiss Army Knife in my hand as my sword. Assessing the benign situation, she’d laugh at me and slam the door on my cute little cherubic face. There I’d be left standing alone in the darkness. Just me and the sharp-toothed beasts that waited to pounce on me inside the stairway closet, just a hairs-breadth away.
All would be fine in the mornings though when I’d awake to find myself uneaten with the sun streaming through my windows and the birds chirping outside.