One of the best things about my house growing up was the backyard. It was huge. It was a yard you could really play in, but also get lost in, and explore. There were nooks and crannies that could turn a boring Sunday into an afternoon of adventure.
The yard was sort of divided into two sections by a massive Weeping Willow tree. This tree was a great source of fun in itself. The vine-like branches would make a curtain of green that you had to venture through to get to the back portion of the yard. The branches were also good for swinging on when you were younger and lighter, providing you grabbed a hefty handful of them all at once. We had a tire swing from one of the branches for a while, but I think my mom made dad take it down once the rope got a little rotted.
The front part of the yard which was directly out our back door was sunny and open. The right side of the yard was bordered by our ramshackle metal garage and a gate that led to the driveway. Along the garage was a garden which I remember being jam-packed with tiger lilies and ferns. It was unkempt and wild, but sort of cool too – like a jungle. On the left side of the yard was a split rail fence that ran the length of our property, and beside that were these giant rose bushes that would get covered in fat, lazy blooms of white, pink and yellow. There were also pussy willows, forsythia and azaleas.
As a small child, this front part of the yard was great for playing in because mom could see me easily from the kitchen window. Plus the hose was right beside the house and you could beg to have the sprinkler set up here. As a teen, this was THE spot for catching sun. Wendy, Judy and I would lay a sheet down, lay in the sun, drink Diet Pepsi, and watch “All My Children” on a small tv that we would plug into the outlet on the back porch. This was great until a perverted neighbor moved in next door and used to leer at us over the fence. But that unpleasantness aside, I do remember getting just as tan during spring vacation as any of the rich kids who got to go to Florida or California.
When you got past the weeping willow tree, our yard took on a more lush, somewhat darker personality. There were at least 6 maple trees which kept 85% of the back-backyard in shade. To the left was a little grove of dogwood trees and very large, thick patch of pachysandra that was notorious for devouring Wiffle balls. Only a thorough search and rescue mission with a bat or hockey stick could retrieve them.
The right side of our yard was bordered by a broken down wire fence. Just behind the garage was where dad would stack the wood for the fireplace. I hated that wood pile because there were always tons of spiders in there. Plus, I thought it was a brainless place to stack wood as it was pretty far from the back door. We used the fireplace a lot in the winter and let me tell you, making that trek on a cold, dark, snowy night to get more firewood was like trying to summit Everest.
Beyond the wood pile was the 15% of the rear yard that got sun. This is where the blackberry bush and the vegetable garden were. We had a HUGE blackberry bush that would yield hundreds and hundreds of berries. It was a marvelous thing to take a break from baseball or hide & seek to grab yourself a handful of fresh berries. I wouldn’t wash them either; those suckers went straight from the branch to my mouth.
Just beyond that was a small plot of land where my mom attempted to grow vegetables. I remember multitudes of tomato plants, and it was fun as a kid to wander back there and see how they were coming along. Sometimes mom would send me out there with a bowl to pick the ones that were ready, and I thought that was fun because I could imagine myself as a farmer’s daughter rather than just a dopey girl in northern New Jersey. I think she tried to grow corn once, and cucumbers too. However, I only remember picking tomatoes, so I ‘m not sure if anything ever came of the other plants.
One of the best things to do in the backyard was play ball: Baseball, wiffleball, kickball. There was this giant root from the Weeping Willow tree that peeked up out of the ground creating a perfect home plate. As luck or fate would have it, there were trees perfectly situated for 1st, 2nd and 3rd bases. Unfortunately, there were lots of other trees in the yard which made playing baseball cumbersome. Unless you hit a ground ball or a line drive the ball would disappear into the branches and foliage of a tree and bounce around like a plinko chip. You never knew where the ball was going to land. It made the games interesting, that’s for sure.
The very back of our yard was quite overgrown with bushes and bramble. I remember there was always a pile of lawnmower clippings and sticks in one corner, which I think was my dad’s attempt at a compost pile. That corner was musty and moldy and it really sucked if you had to root around that pile for a stray ball.
There were a few bushes that grew together in a such a way that they made cool clubhouses too. Most of these were found out of sheer desperation during grueling games of hide & seek, but they would come in handy on a boring afternoon. It was fun to climb into these little clearings in the shrubbery and pretend you were somewhere else in the world. Or pretend to you were an orphan mountain girl and you had made this thicket your home. Yeah, my yard was an adventure land for a girl with a good imagination. There was always something blooming or growing and you could spend an hour or more walking around peeking into all the little ecosystems and territories.
It was also party central in the warmer months. My parents would throw at least one really good backyard party each year where every table and chair we owned would get hauled out of the garage and the basement and set up all over the yard. Those parties were great…endless food, stories and jokes from relatives, and maybe even some music if my grandfather had is accordion. Once it got dark we’d run out with an old Skippy jar and catch lighting bugs.
It’s sort of a bummer my kids don’t have the same experiences. We never really utilized the yard at our house properly, and it just sort of sits there. Oh, I have dreams of making it into a place where little things grow with paths and benches, but that all takes money, and I have more important things to spend it on. Even hubby, who had a backyard the size of a postage stamp, has great memories of him and his brothers making the most out of the little patch of land out his back door.
Yeah, it would be nice to go back there again. To smell a fat, drooping rose, find a wiffle ball or two, and eat a big handful of blackberries.