I’m sitting in my backyard today with my husband and son, amidst a lazy afternoon. The smoke from nearby brushfires is, thankfully, not blowing in our direction, and we can enjoy the sunshine (or in my case, the shade). A small child’s sprinkler – a kaleidoscope of greens, oranges, purples and blues – waves its arms relentlessly, spraying cool water as my son jumps and runs, squealing and giggling. My husband has fired up his grill, and the scent of the turkey burgers cooking reminds me I’m hungry. Our outdoor rock-inspired speakers sound off an eclectic array of tunes: 80’s, Disney, country, and pop/alternative. The simple breeze adds a backdrop to the tunes, a soft whisper. I love lazy afternoons like this; they make me feel content.
They also remind me of my childhood. I lived most of my adventures in the backyard of my Westchester home, la casita de Westchester. Though it was a humble home on the inside, just right for a family of three, its backyard was what dreams were made of – or at least, dreams for a six-year-old or eight-year-old. Or an eleven-year-old.
I can’t say exactly how big the backyard was; such exact measurements escaped my interest as a child. Instead, I was more interested in the ampleness of the grass, where I could try my headstands and cartwheels, falling laughing and laying there, arms stretched out, the soft prick of grass comforting as I stared out into the sky bright with the South Florida sun, imagining castles in the clouds and princesses waiting to be rescued.
Or, I was more interested in the two dips in the ground, one towards the center of the yard, the other towards the left, right outside my bedroom window. They became fortresses, lakes, obstacles. The one on the left became a pet-cemetary for my two parakeets when I was about seven.
Or, I would run with my dog, Lucky, waving an adult-sized full skirt, part of the traditional Colombian costume that my aunt (though which one, I don’t remember now) had brought me. Though I loved that skirt and how it made me feel (like a princess, beautiful and delicate), it was much too large, and it was much more fun to wave it around and watching Lucky snap at it erratically until he finally caught the material in between his teeth. I’d tug and pull and he’d growl, and then I’d turn round and round until Lucky would lift slightly off the ground, teeth still attached to skirt. When we both let go, he’d run to me as I lay on the floor, and I’d laugh while he licked my face.
Or, I would sit on the outside air-conditioner unit after having a fight with my father, my face tear-streaked and my chest heaving. The hum, and Lucky’s wet licks on my hands, would comfort me and there I’d imagine I lived somewhere else where “life wouldn’t be so unfair.”
That backyard was my haven, my domain. I could be anyone or anything.
At one time, my father said he’d build me a small house in the backyard and I could live there. I think I might have imagined that, but I remember the dreaming vividly: a small, wooden “house,” just one room with a cot and a window with flowers. It would be right next to the dip in the center, and I could enter and exit into my backyard as I pleased. I would have the stars at night for company and the next-door-neighbor’s banana tree for food. I really wanted that backyard house, like I wanted the Barbie doll house my father had started building me, but alas, neither became reality. The first was never started; the second, he destroyed half-way in a rage.
But sitting out here, in my own backyard now, watching my son play, I remember those afternoons in that backyard so many years ago. Much has changed since then, but the peace and possibility that arises from a simple backyard – that is still intact.