I was reminded of a “memorable neighbor(s)” when I visited Orange Park, Florida, over Martin Luther King weekend. I had gone there to meet up with people I had known as part of the Rainbow Girls and Order of Demolay oh-so-long-ago, and they are trying to do an annual get-together. Several of us ran a 5K race that morning, then met up at the Lodge.
Between the lodge and lunch, I drove through my old neighborhood, which looks so much smaller than it did in my imagination. Smaller houses, smaller greenspaces, smaller and somewhat more rundown “everything.” There was a house around the corner from mine where four girls lived. As an only child, a house with four girls seemed like Heaven to me. The Harringtons were all very Scandinavian looking – blond hair, blue eyes – and they were all so athletic. I was definitely the “odd girl out” physically and athletically, but for a few summers I was a sort of quasi-fifth sister.
(I don’t have a picture of the oldest sister, but here are the other three.)
We had a quintessential “kids’ summer,” the kind that many of our kids these days will never know. We hung out at their house, played endlessly in the open field adjoining our yards (which looks eerily like the field in “The Lovely Bones” – a thought that struck me when reading the book and watching the movie – even though it doesn’t make sense that a Florida field would look like that cold stark midwestern field in the movie).
I remember spending hours skateboarding. I remember being barefooted. I remember pogo sticking. I remember lizard catching (trying at least) among the sharp-edged palmetto bushes. I remember jumping into a huge pile of leaves. I remember almost breaking my neck when I missed the leaves once and ended up landing right on my head (ouch). I remember the lack of structure but the way the time seemed to fill itself up.
In retrospect, I think the home of the four sisters had its own issues. I very rarely saw their mom – I am not sure if she was sick or had some type of addiction issue or what. The dad was very nice. Whatever the case, being in a home where I could walk away from those problems at night was an arrangement that worked okay for me. I had my own stuff to deal with in my home.
But in a childhood where I did my own share of reading alone in my room, creating social networks in my head, and hitting a tennis ball against a wall, it was a memorable to have company for barefooted pogosticking lizardcatching adventures.