We live in several worlds at once. There is our present, in which much is immediate and essential and, as adults, far too sobering for a mind that once held candy, color-forms, Kool-Aid and cartoons to be most eminent. Our world of laptop computers and HDTV, the internet, global warming, terrorism, cardiac bypass surgery, MRI scanning, hip-hop, Enimem, Shaquille O’Neill, the Space Shuttle and CNN melds and intertwines and merges in a million segments with days past, the epoch of Checker taxis and Chuck McCann, 45’s on the turntable, meatloaf for dinner, Elvis, the Beatles, I Love Lucy, mom at home with a snack after school, Mickey Mantle, JFK, Vietnam and Muhammad Ali. We are the Jetsons and the Flintstones at once, and our world is a strange mix and match of all we have heard, seen and touched, and all that has managed to touch us, as well.
We are “big” now, as once we were not. As depicted by Tom Hanks in Penny Marshall’s film, “Big” may not be better, but it sure is different. A long, long time ago, though, we were “little.”
In the country, at the bungalow colony, there was something extraordinary about being little. In other times and other places being little was a major inconvenience, immediately disqualifying one from exciting and wonderful activities—almost like the figure of the child traced at the entrance of every amusement park ride, commanding who shall and shall not pass to the Ferris wheel or the bumper cars. At the bungalow colony being little was a free pass—an admission ticket to a trove of magic and treasure that was reserved for those who were still tight to the ground. Oh, there was the usual spectrum of specialties—kiddie movies and bingo and weenie roasts—but then, there was so much more.
There was awe and wonder in most everything we saw and touched and tasted. There was the thrill of daisies. They were remarkable—the white pedals downy and soft as linen, and the coarse yellow center so fragrant, so pungent and alive with sensation. Plucking petals from daisies aside the handball court during milk and cookies in day camp, permitted to sit in the shade and bypass the camp hike in the blazing sun because, well, we were little.
Preparing for bedtime was special in the bungalow by the simple absence of a bathtub. Most bungalows contained a tall and dark stall shower, dictating a daily shower rather than the bath we’d otherwise have surely known. To stand in the shower stall, alone, the water streaking from the distant shower head, drowning you and beading up off your sunburned body, streaking through your hair, effortlessly washing away a days worth of dirt and grass stains and pollen and chlorine. You felt, you felt, well, almost big.
Being little meant bed-time before the sun had left the sky. It meant chocolate milk and Oreo cookies, and being carried into your bedroom, and a story from your mom and feety pajamas and a damp head on the pillow, and money beneath the pillow each time you lost a “baby” tooth, and Golden Books—maybe Rootie-Kazootie or Henny Penny.
Being little meant frequent piggy back rides from the older kids, and getting away with most anything because you were considered “precocious” or “mischievous” or just plain “adorable.” You shared the thrill of victory when the camp won a competition with a rival colony, but you were also free of the pressure and stress of the competition. Being little invited rapture from a long lace of licorice, or the creamy sweetness of a Fudgcicle on a hot July afternoon, and the honest fascination found in the intricate patterns of a butterfly’s wings, or the confounded slipperiness of a bullfrog. Being little meant summer had no beginning and no end, as everyone and everything within your world was timeless and ageless, for all was as it had always appeared and you were wonderfully oblivious to the countless cadence of time. The secrets of the universe were found in the Crayola “big box” and a virgin coloring book, and there was not a fear or trepidation that did not cower and run in the face of a hug from your mom or a moment from your dad spent on your bedside, assuring you that night was simply the absence of light, and that there surely would be sunshine in the morning.
Giggling, tickling, running, jumping, hopping, skipping, roller-skates and jump-ropes and doing everything without ever getting tired or lacking energy or wind or fearing you might pull or strain or sprain or weaken… your amazement with the size and scent of a cow, or a horse, alive and before you on the adjacent farm…how you looked forward to each new activity and experience, and devoured it while letting it, in turn, devour and envelope you… you immersed yourself in the days and each fresh moment without counting or fretting or fearing what might be ahead…kickball and duck-duck-goose…red light-green light and Mother, May I….Chinese handball and the smell of a newly opened box of fresh Keds….lanyards and skimming stones and bunches of huge seedless grapes and large slices of watermelon sweet and trickling down your soft neck, and the soft swell of flesh at your wrist—baby fat—because you are not that far removed from being a baby. Arts and crafts projects and hours on the swings, a big kid pushing because you can’t yet “pump”—your head thrown back, the wind on your face…the teeter-todder and the sliding pond and the monkey bars and the small pond filled with frogs and tadpoles and salamanders beyond the camp-house…chasing fireflies in the early evening…swimming the width of the pool underwater for the very first time.…flip flops and discovering “shrinkage” after stripping off your wet suit fresh from the pool…standing on tip toes to reach the faucet….your hands so small a ripe summer peach fills your palm….the patronage, attention and affection of the big kids, the sureness and certainty and security of your baby-sitter on the front porch while you curl beneath your blanket and nestle close to the knotty pine bedroom wall, listening to the hum of music and conversation and teenage laughter, and, little fool that you are, silly and bamboozled, you drift off to sleep and dream of one day being “big.”
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