Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

May 6, 2013

The backyard — then and now

by JAMIE PARSELL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — There was a time when I stood at the top of the hill and rolled down the bank. I would stand up, dizzy and flushed, and run straight back to the top. I rolled down the grassy hill until my skin turned red and itchy. I thought dandelions were the queens of the green, raising their sunny faces to the sky. So did the rest of my classmates; dandelions were the only flowers in the school yard to give life to our imagination. Many fake weddings had dandelions as the bridal bouquet. I never understood why the bright flowers stained one’s hands. No amount of soap could erase the evidence of hours spent gathering bouquets. If I picked flowers during recess, I went home with dandelion hands. My childhood was spent in the grass, letting it tickle my bare feet, or laying on my back watching the clouds form misshapen pictures. My brother and I would guess the shape. A dog? A cat? Or maybe something more sinister like a monster? To a child, the lawn is nothing more than a soft, green blanket. Even then I knew the folklore about spring and the summer — no planting and no bare feet before May 15. That was the rule set down by my great-grandmothers and passed down to my mom. I spent the earlier part of May wiggling my toes inside tennis shoes, just waiting to cast them off.

But the yard wasn’t always friendly. If you got too close to the clothesline, wasps flew in and out, making handing sheets and towels a danger zone. Sneak your hand through the briars for a blackberry and a thorn would scratch your wrist. Perhaps the harshest brush with reality came in my grandma Thelma’s yard. I was running through the grass and fell. Instinctively, I threw my hands out to break the fall. I expected soft grass. Instead, I found a thistle. My hands stung; tears flooded my eyes. As I set on the steps, my grandma took a pair of tweezers and pulled out the tiny white thistles, one by one. It became a teaching moment. She began telling me the biblical story of Adam and Eve’s beautiful garden and how their act of disobedience — eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil— resulted in a different type of world. One where thorns and thistles grew among lush grass and sunny flowers. My tears dried up, but like most children, I kept running through the grass. This time I skipped over the thistles like an Olympic hurdler.

In 1989, Hollywood turned the yard into a jungle with “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.” Blades of grass turned into giant sleds; flowers were towering trees. And the bugs? Special effects made them appear dangerous. Only 9 years old, I fantasized about what lurked in our backyard. I was convinced there was no oatmeal creme pie — in the movie, the miniature children discover a discarded Little Debbie cake — in the yard. (My brother would have never thrown out his favorite snack.) However, I was slightly nervous about encountering larger-than-life bees and scorpions, or a shrink ray machine. For months, I thought about the popular Disney movie every time I went outside to play.

I am not sure at what point I stopped running through the grass and picking dandelions. There is never one defining moment, or leap between childhood, the teen years and adulthood. It all merges and blends, just like spring blends into summer, a day at a time. Now, I stand at the top of a hill and see my childhood. I see yards, clouds and sunny flowers, but I just sit and gaze. And somehow I am content and happy to observe God’s creation. I had to fully experience spring and summer as a child. I wasn’t happy to watch the trees bloom or the garden grow. I didn’t take the time to appreciate nature. I had to be in the moment, a part of the rush, just like rolling down that hill.

 There isn’t a lot time to be idle though. You can’t sit and stare too long or the grass gets tall;  weeds get out of control. The yard stops being a playground and becomes a work zone. The only time to relax is after one mows the grass, grabs a bottle of water and sits on the steps, admiring a new soft, blanket of grass.

Jamie Parsell is the Lifestyle editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at jparsell@bdtonline.com or on Twitter @BDTParsell.