I do not.
I do not remember her. I’m not sure that I was ever that raging thrill-seeking, uninhibited freedom-loving girl.
But I was prone to dreaming.
At about the age pictured above, my summer ecstasy was a bit more tame. I’ve described it before in an essay titled Sandbox Dreams.
Before I knew of Southern lady rules of dress, the most important guideline for apparel came down from Ginger, the resident “nanny” of sorts for the daycare I attended. She was somewhere between momma and great-aunt age and she could just as easily shoot fire from her eyes as whip you up a homemade rice pudding. Such resulting actions depended on you, but mostly you’d register somewhere between reprimand and praise.
There were a few things you had little control over and one of them was this Ginger rule: No going bare-foot before May 1st.
From somewhere around the middle of March until April 30th, we hated that rule, every one of us children who spent our Mondays through Fridays, parents’ working hours, at Laddie and Lassie Nursery School.
But come May 1st, the world was made new. And everything was good.
Children who normally sauntered in a half-sleep state then ran in early morning hours. You wanted to be the first to arrive, but you never were. Already in the playroom, there would be a group of them sitting on the floor, untying laces. There would be the smell of sweat that comes from anticipation, not from activity. And always, there would be the row of sock-stuffed sneakers and unbuckled sandals covering the top of the old black piano.
It was all a flurry of unwrapping not seen since Christmas morning.
And in the end, feet were naked and unashamed.
We girls had one destination in mind, but knowing the limits of tender, uncalloused feet, we took the long way there. We scurried down the porch steps and straight into the yard, bypassing the rough sidewalk for soft grass instead that tickled our toes. We lingered in dew drenched clover fields that clung to our soles and when we knew our feet were wet enough with the morning, we stepped into the sandbox.
We squirmed. We squealed. We danced in delight, like pixies pouncing into the pliable earth. We cooled ourselves in shallow dips, toes separating, sand exfoliating, stretching deeper until only ankles were left on top of the ground. And when we were sufficiently refreshed from the lifetime of winter, we sat down to dig and dream.
The sandbox dream was always the same and we began each year with determination. We would dig to China. I had never been.
I imagined new friends, how they would appear as we came up at their feet, what surprise would show on their faces, and who would help us to learn their names. I daydreamed of newspaper headlines in a language that I could not read, describing our feat to the entire world.
It was an excitement I have not known since.
On occasion I wondered what the center of the earth was made of and if it might be dangerous, but laughter drowned out the trickle of fear.
The joy would last until almost lunchtime when I was five, six and seven years old. After a hot meal and a lazy nap, we usually decided we would not be able to make it to China in a day. We dug a little. We played a lot.
By eight or nine years old, doubts began to destroy my dream. If you could dig to China, then someone would have done it already. With every scoop of sand, I repeated this negative mantra to myself. Such pessimism slowed progress.
At ten years old, I knew too much about geology to even start digging. I waded through the sandbox, but never sat down.
By the time I was eleven years old, I worried more about having to wear a bra than about getting to take off my shoes. Some dreams are so short-lived.
Anything like you?
Then you’ll forgive me if my adventure this week was one that most might think little of.
You see, on the first day that grandma’s neighborhood pool was open, I put on that tankini from last year that was a bit too small and I took a swim with Ian. No one else was there. So, I suppose there was no real bravery in the near nakedness.
But, the water was chilly – and I still waded all the way in.
All the way.
My face, I believe, looked a bit like that little girl’s above.
And I even got my hair wet.
That’s a darn good summer start.