Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Happiness Was a Picnic ( A Memoir)
When I was five, the world was green and anything was possible. The spark of imagination ignited my dreams and life was magic. She, who pumped the air into my balloon, was my very own mother and I embraced the wildness in her. Marian was a pyromaniac of sorts, striking match to stone, calling wind through my brain to push the flames higher. She loved my silliness and my laughter and I found that I had power to change her moods from grey to sunny, at least then, when I was a child. Even though the day would come when I had to stand against her ~ that was not here on Linden Street where Marian’s magic bloomed. That was not today, when I was five and the world was green.
Concrete sidewalks do not fare well for children. Scrapes and bruises and bits of old yellow glass find their way into tiny knees. How I longed for soft green grass! My mother, who always knew my fragile heart, obliged my dreams with a plan to ease that longing, and gave me a gift that day. Three young maple trees stood in a row, donning our city street in Brooklyn. Each one in its own empty sidewalk square filled with soft earth, trees planted perhaps to watch over me . . . or so I thought back then. They were the faithful signs of changing seasons I grew to understand.
In the spring, I watched each day, as green grass grew around their roots and filled each patch of earth with life. It was there that my dream of the country came alive and it was there that I took my little sister on our imaginary picnic. Mom had packed a small wicker basket with peanut butter triangle sandwiches, bunches of grapes, chocolate milk and cookies. Then she draped a checkered cloth across my arm and bade me “Go on now. Take your sister on a picnic . . . the grass is waiting for you.”
The tree nearest our building was the safest. There I could still look back and see our first floor windows, their striped awnings and my mother’s waving hand. That day I claimed for my own and began a lifetime of loving trees. Not a soul could tell me that this shady maple wasn’t mine and no one could convince me that the grass hadn't grown beneath it just for this, our perfect picnic. I spread out the red and white cloth and there we sat silly, smiling from ear to ear, ready to feast on our basket of goodies.
The bark of the tree felt alive and the new green grass a cool silky comfort to my knees. Tiny inchworms and furry caterpillars stumbled along its gnarly roots as we watched, so removed it seemed, from the concrete of our world. Munching on cookies and sitting like little Indians, we looked up with bent necks, viewing the spring canopy of sunlit leaves that covered us that afternoon. I was five and I was happy, safe without a care except to be a child pretending.
Neighbors passed, coming and going, smiling and saying “Having fun, girls?” or whispering “They must be Marian’s kids.” But I paid no mind to their shuffling feet and their squeaky carts . . . or their whispers. I just thought that nobody's Mom was as special as mine!
The world stood still for us that long afternoon and it remains one of my fondest childhood memories, reminding me always that I was loved.
Joanne Cucinello 2007
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