Essays on Faith: Woods near a house on a steep hill created utopia

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A week or so ago, I was watching the movie “The Legend of Tarzan,” and when the time came, Tarzan swung from one big vine to another. It was then it occurred to me that I’d swung on a large grapevine when I was 9 years old, but did I ever tell my parents? The answer would be: “NO!” Did I jump from one large vine to another? I didn’t. In the woods, the vines weren’t close together. They were too far apart for me to chance it.

The woods were about a block, although the street on the steep hill in St. Albans had no blocks, from the house where I lived with my mom and dad. Actually, the street ended in a paved cul-de-sac where all the neighborhood kids gathered. When my parents bought that house on the steep hill, my love for nature set me afire.

And so did the boy next door. He was older than me, had blonde hair and blue eyes. Every time I saw “Leo,” my heart jumped faster — and he knew it. I’d go up to the cul-de-sac, dragging a friend along as a cohort, hoping he’d be there and he always was. I acted like I knew how to play football but I was clueless, and the boys that were at the cul-de-sac just snickered.

It was that group of us that explored some of the woods and that’s when we all saw the huge grapevines. On my part, I’d never seen one up close and personal, but since I’d watched “Tarzan” movies, I assumed they were for swinging from here to there. As I stated earlier, I did swing on one but not far; other kids were more adventurous — and a lot got hurt. “Not for me,” I thought.

Down the hill in the woods was a creek, and I loved creeks for my aunt and uncle had one behind their house. When it was hot, we’d take off our socks and shoes and wade in the cool creek. To me, that was pure utopia, until I slid on a rock and got my clothes soaked. I wondered if “Leo” was watching (oh my) and of course he was — but I wasn’t the only water-soaked girl or boy. Most of us were.

I learned how to skip a rock across the creek, but I left catching tadpoles to someone else. They were scary and slippery little things to me. Enough said of them.

Every single day, no matter the weather, most of us in the neighborhood were in the street, in someone’s backyard or the woods. There was no reason for us to be afraid and we knew our boundaries. We had no cell phones, as they hadn’t been invented. Our parents for the most part knew where we were or, rest assured, some neighbor would tell on us.

Nothing sordid ever happened because, thankfully, it wasn’t in our makeup. Like the other kids, I felt ultimate freedom to skate up and down from the cul-de-sac (even though I had a lot of falls and scars), ride my bike showing off with no hands (more falls, worse scars), digging up May apples, finding sassafras and loving that creek.

My parents and I only lived in our house, and near the wonderful woods for four years. I didn’t want to move and neither did my dad, but it was my mom’s choice. More than that, I’d only see “Leo” one more time, and by then I was a young, married adult. I wiped out the entire moving day from my memory — it was too painful.

Another move, but back to the city. No more woods. No creek. No cul-de-sac.

Later in life, my then-husband and I were looking for a house to buy. We must have looked at 25 houses until we saw the one: It had woods across the street and out to the paved cul-de-sac. I felt as if I were 9 years old again it was so much like where I’d lived. Best of all, we had two sons.

We bought the house, and to this very day I thank God for my memories of that house in St. Albans and this one. My sons got to experience the same things I did, including going into a creek over the hill, swinging on vines and later each would build his own treehouse — of that I never told either that we had one in St. Albans.

Like me, they rode bikes, then skateboards, but I never learned of their “adventures” until years later. Boys are like that.

Like them, I got to explore woods again finding nature’s treasures, but I never would touch a tadpole.

It had to be divine intervention to get to live twice in the same type of area. Most all my sons had the same freedom, joy and banged-up knees as I did. I thank God for that incredible second chance — He had His part in it and He added May apples and sassafras, a view of the stars and the chirping of crickets at night. Bliss.

Sherry Hill lives in Charleston.

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