The Ottumwa Courier

April 13, 2013

'Leafing' through the memories

Ottumwa Courier

---- — As I walked to my car on my dinner break the other night, the smell of burning leaves filled the air. And I loved it.

That scent took me on a trip down memory lane. Even though spring is finally on its way, the first memories to fill my mind came from the fall days of my youth. Visions of giant leaf piles ready for jumping (we had a huge yard with no shortage of trees, including a walnut tree) initially came to me. I remembered my brothers carrying me in the garbage cans full of leaves and dumping me into the pile as well. My sister and I took advantage of the abundance of leaves and raked them into squares and rectangles with openings for “doors.” Yes, we built “houses” out of the leaves and brought out our Cabbage Patch dolls to play house. I vaguely remember burning some of the leaves in our driveway, which is why the scent invoked these memories.

Eventually, we started taking our leaves to the tree dump. That was quite an adventure. My dad would borrow a pickup truck from one of his friends, and we would load the back up. Then we would climb in to hold the leaves down; it was such a treat to ride in the back of a truck for me in those days, and I always looked forward to this part of raking. When we arrived at the huge compost heap, we would empty the mass of leaves out and and then sweep what felt like every last crumb out of the bed of the truck. My dad now has his own pickup, and he’s still careful to make sure the bed of the truck is completely empty before he heads back home, enlisting my brothers’ kids to help when they’re visiting.

Then I started thinking about outdoor memories in general. I can’t remember ever staying inside during my summer vacations, even in the rain.

Outside of our Summer Rec programs, my family (Mom, Dad, two brothers, a sister and me) spent many an evening outside playing catch and wiffle ball. Yes, we were a big baseball/softball family. If you hit the wiffle ball across the sidewalk, it was a home run.

I think, as the youngest, I was the only one to never accomplish that feat. Then there was the time one of my brothers (the younger one, but obviously still older than me), was rounding third base (the pavement we rolled our hose up on) and tripped over the window screens that just happened to be sitting out to dry after a cleaning earlier that day.

It happened to get caught on videotape, and we seriously considered sending “Mark’s Great Fall” into America’s Funniest Home Videos. We would sometimes head across the street to play “real” baseball on a grassy patch in the City Park.

I also spent hours upon hours on my bike, which was very special to me because I won it the first time I entered the raffle at our town’s annual bike safety rally.

We lived on a corner lot, and my sister and I would go outside after dinner, hop on our bikes and just ride until bedtime. We lived on a corner lot, so just riding up and down our sidewalk brought plenty of entertainment.

We would come out of our garage, go down the sidewalk, turn right, go down the other sidewalk, turn around in the alley, go back up the second sidewalk, turn left, go up the original sidewalk and turn around in our neighbors’ driveway. A leisurely round trip probably took me about five minutes when I first started riding.

My sister and I also spent a lot of time playing “Statues.” We had two cement plinths that bordered the steps to our front porch, and we would stand on them, wait for a car to drive by and strike a pose like a statue for the driver. As we lived across from the city park and a block away from the middle school, we were pretty busy statues. Those plinths were also a great reading spot.

Heading to the park was an almost-everyday occurance. Either walking or riding bikes to the opposite side of the park to the playground, we would often meet friends and swing, go down slides, hang from the monkey bars, get dizzy on the merry-go-round or just play tag. I even broke a wrist there as a young child when I fell getting off one of the merry-go-rounds that had leg pumps to make it go faster. I must have been extra dizzy that night.

My reward for being brave during my X-ray? A Kit-Kat from our local Hy-Vee. When I was in fourth or fifth grade, they took out the old playground equipment and built a new playground.

It was a volunteer effort, and even as a kid I was able to contribute. That park was my second home, even if I was just there to watch my parents play slow-pitch softball and buy treats from the “candy man.”

Leafing through these memories reminded me just how much entertainment can be found with very few pennies and a little imagination. It has been a constant battle for me to try to find a way to drag my stepson off his Playstation3 and involved in more active pursuits. He’s starting to get interested in playing football with my husband, and we like to get him out the fields to play some baseball. But looking back, it’s not playing Nintendo that provides such warm memories from my youth (with one exception involving my dad, my brother, RBI Baseball and a shoe). It’s the time spent outdoors, bonding with my family. And these are the types of memories I want to create for my stepson and my 2-year-old boy.

Tracy Goldizen is a Courier copy editor.