Let me try to take you to the place where I grew up (such that I ever have… It’s said that growing older is inevitable but growing up is optional.) I wasn’t wild about where we lived when I was a kid, but looking back now, I realize what treasure I had. We lived in a little house on a back road in a small town. There were six of us “L’s” – me, my older brother Larry, my two younger brothers Lee and Lyle, and my parents Lester and Loretta. For a while we even had a friendly old hound dog named Lucky. A dead end dirt road – close enough to town so I could still walk the mile or so to school, but far enough away so the only usual sounds were the soft rustling of the leaves in the two big white birch trees that stood side by side, guarding the corner of our house, the hiss of the breeze as it passed through the spruces, the chattering of squirrels as they argued territorial boundaries and scolded each other from opposing trees, the cheerful and unconcerned chattering of chickadees, finches, robins, red-winged blackbirds and the raucous squawking of the blue jays and big black crows. Ever present in the background was also the endless monologue of the brook that wound through the bottom of the ravine cutting through the mountainside in the woods behind our house. My brothers and I used to play in those woods all the time and knew them well. The paths we wore through the brambles and underbrush were familiar friends. It was there we built our forts and clubhouses of wood scraps, stones and branches. We played at being soldiers, pirates and detectives, searching for clues on the forest floor under soft sunlight filtering silently down through the rustling canopy of green and lending an emerald blush to everything beneath. We fished for trout in the brook and cooled ourselves in it on hot, humid August afternoons, stripping and dunking ourselves in the frigid pools. They were so cold that they’d take your breath away and make your ankles ache, but on those sticky thick summer days the cold water was bliss.
Across the road from our house was a huge sloping meadow which in the summer was overgrown with goldenrod. I’d make my way across the dirt road and up into the meadow until I found just the right spot. Stomping the goldenrod down in an ever widening circle, I’d make a clearing just wide enough for me. There I’d lay on my back, my hands folded behind my head, squinting up into the gingham blue sky, listening to the buzz of the crickets and letting my imagination mold the cottonball clouds into great pirate ships, rearing horses, crouching dragons and all manner of other things that run unfettered through the fertile mind of a young boy. Eventually I’d hear my the voice of my mom calling for us kids to come in for dinner, and it was back to the real world for a while. After dinner there would be a few chores to do – sweep the stairs, feed Lucky, wash the dishes… Then it was back outside to play in the yard just a little more. In the cool twilight of the evening my brother and I took turns running and leaping from the porch into the cool grass, now damp with dew, to see who could jump the furthest. Sometimes Lucky would come to play with us too and we’d throw sticks or a frisbee for her to fetch, then chase each other in circles, making trails in the dew covered grass. There were lightning bugs to be caught, stars to be counted, and a moon to be squinted at through the Sears telescope my grandmother had given me for my birthday. Too soon, it was bedtime. I’d have to brush my teeth and run a cool wet washcloth over my arms, legs and head – which for most of my childhood years was covered with my father’s prescribed haircut – a buzzcut. My bedroom was upstairs, and it was always stuffy and warm up there in the summer. My brother slept in the adjoining room, and on hot summer nights, I’d lay on top of the sheets, spread eagle to try to be as cool as possible and take advantage of the breeze made by the two fans – one blowing in my window and, in my brother’s room, the other blowing out. Sometimes if I could hold my eyes open just long enough I could watch a big yellow full moon as it steadily worked its way across the star filed sky and arced down into the trees of the horizon.
For most of these years, I gave little thought to the One who created it all, but He was wisely weaving a love of His handiwork deep into my heart, so that now, so many years removed from the creation of these memories, I can still breathe deep and smell the fresh cut grass and the crispness of sheets hung to dry on a line in the sun. I can hear the wood thrushes singing high in the branches that hung out over the edge of the ravine or the distant barking of a neighbor’s dog… I can taste the bitterness of the green shoots that we plucked and held between our teeth to chew on, Huckleberry Finn style. I can see the clouds, first wispy and light, then puffy and grey, then angry, pregnant and swollen with rain as the rumble of an approaching thunderstorm echoed across the valley. I can feel the cool softness of the damp grass as my feet swished through it, the wind on my face as I ran as fast as I could, never seeming to tire. Most of all, now I know the love of the God who, before I gave much thought to Him at all, still carefully crafted this peaceful place for me to live out my childhood years. He watched over me, kept me safe and allowed me to grow, free and without care, with eyes and ears taking it all in and storing it away until the day when I would at last understand this, the wordless love letter He penned and left for me to read.