The bungalow colony lawn held a curious wonder, so manifold, yet ubiquitous, that it is only in the recalling that I appreciate the full breadth of its miracle. In the “city,” our Queens apartment building stood hard by the side of a major thoroughfare, squeezed tight by long stretches of asphalt and concrete, the spare patches of grass and plantings guarded by an a border of chain and posts in austere gray steel. Driven into the earth, at random spacing, were foreboding signs that warned us to “Keep off the Grass.” Were these measures insufficient to protect the valued sod, there was no shortage of female neighborhood elders who, perched by their living room windows by the hour, upon seeing one pair of Keds touch turf, would shriek, “Hey! Getoffadagrass ya rotten kid!!”
But in the mountains there were no grouchy women to chastise our irreverence. Well, they were there, after all, but their ire was reserved for arguments over heated games of mah-jongg and canasta, or for complaining about the teenagers—the “hoodlums” who cavorted across the colony grounds late into the summer evenings. We kids were liberated from our concrete jungles to soak up all that was different, and in that sense wonderful, about “the country.”
That we were surrounded by nature—as much as a motley collection of ramshackle shacks—was indisputable. When before, where else, had we seen butterflies, frogs, tadpoles, salamanders, snakes, turtles, gophers, deer, skunk, wild flowers, daisies, huge orange lilies, fields of jasmine and honeysuckle, not to mention poison ivy and poison sumac? But all we would come to hold in awe and wonder began with the simple pleasures of the grass.
There was an abundance of four leaf clovers. Today, on suburban front lawns and back yards, in urban parks and in country fields, they appear so rare as to be non-existent. Can it be we created an endangered species of foliage with our incessant plucking of the quadrant shaped leaves? Daisies grew wild everywhere—in never-ending bunches and rolling pastures, wonderfully encroaching onto the colony lawn. The lawn was if painted—how else to explain the transfer of yellow and green—glorious stains to our clothing—after an afternoon of rolling through the blades of grass?
We’d tear long blades of grass from the soft ground and, like surgeons, slit the blade lengthwise, finding the stems inside and the soft, downy silt left by the morning dew. We discovered dandelions—yellow ones and, most delightfully, the end stage dandelions that were of soft, billowy cotton that would scatter to the winds with the simple push of our child’s breath. Every summer day was the hint of pollen about the grounds, but it was defeated by the sweet smell of the day—the apple trees, the flowers, and the small sound of cool water running over smooth rocks beneath the wooded shade by the stream near the road.
It was a garden, our garden, and the only garden many of us would ever know. A child’s garden of unbounded joy and merriment and endless days, punctuated only by a transitory moment to shift from one game to another, or a few moments stolen beneath a tree to sip a cold soda or suck on an ice pop.
Today, in middle age, the front door of my home opens to a long, carpeted hallway, a stand of identical doors, and a bank of elevators. The main entrance to my high-rise leads to a sidewalk, and a parking circle, and an impressive fountain and a somewhat disturbing piece of sculpture. Oh, there is grass, to be sure, but what there is, though verdant, is for show, not go, and the neighbor’s children are seldom seen acquainting themselves with its magic. To smell it, to touch it, to roll about and walk barefoot—the blades beneath and around your toes—and to aimlessly pluck four-leaf clovers in the mid day sun.