Yesterday I found myself on Google Earth revisiting Newark, Delaware. I typed in my childhood address, 18 Minquel Drive, Silverbrook, and there I was, floating over our old house.
We moved to Silverbrook when I was two, moved out, to Oaklands, at the beginning of seventh grade. That worked out great for me since most of my West Park Elementary School buddies were going to Central Junior High. But it stunk for my sister. She was beginning her Junior year of High School and was forced to leave her friends of a lifetime.
Mother professed the move was for school districts. However, I don’t buy it. Marilyn had done great at Christiana High. I wasn’t going to do great no matter where I went. I was a lazy student at best. The truth was Mom wanted a fancier home than the little Silverbrook split level.
18 Minquel Drive backed up to Rittenhouse Park. We could walk through our yard, slip into the neighbor’s yard and access the gate into the park. We spent entire days playing there. In this day and age, few mothers would feel safe allowing that.
Summer found us hopping from one moss slick stone to another, crisscrossing the Christina River. The dappled sunlight played on the water. Sometimes we were Indians. Others we were tiny people living on a giants head. The tall trees were his hair, fallen leaves his dandruff. No memory of what the creek was. Sweat, perhaps?
We found blacksnakes. We saw but didn’t pick, jack-in-the-pulpits. Lisa McClendon told me plucking those wasn’t legal. Who knows. Sometimes we waded in the shallows grabbing water beetles.
In the winter we put on our skates, and atop weak ankles, we slid around on ice until our feet were numb. We’d hear the ice crack and realize perhaps we shouldn’t go any closer to the warning sound.
No parent ever came looking for us. We were usually gone all day. No one wondered if we were floating face down in the middle of the river. We weren’t. It was a delicious time and place to be a kid.
The next door neighbor girl, Kathy, was Marilyn’s age. They set up a pulley system with parallel strings wrapping two nails in each of their bedroom windows. They would attach little notes and tug them back and forth over Kathy’s large side yard.
When I was about seven, our family took a cross-country trip to Disneyland. There we were able to ride in small motorized cars. Daddy adored cars. One Sunday afternoon at dinner (dinner was a big meal after church about one in the afternoon, later, about six, supper was something light.) while they were eating real food and I was eating cream cheese with a spoon, Daddy suddenly spoke up.
“Girls, I’ve been thinking of building something for you.” In a monotone, he asked, “Would you like a small playhouse in the backyard?” Then he continued, but his voice was suddenly enthusiastic, “Or a little car? A real car with a motor? You could drive it through the neighborhood! Visit friends! Zoom here and there!”
Naturally, given the zealous introduction, we picked the car. Daddy built it out of wood. A two-seater. The upholstery was a vinyl tablecloth tacked over foam. It had a lawnmower engine. The steering wheel was a baby buggy tire. We pulled a cord to start the motor and pressed a lever to a spark plug to stop it. I think he painted it the same color blue as my bedroom. It topped out at about three miles an hour.
We named it The Little Car.
The Little Car was the envy of all the other kids. At first, we drove in the streets until neighbors complained. After that, it was sidewalks only.
Daddy put a hook on the back so we could attach a wagon and give friends rides.
The only spanking I ever got was when I stubbornly refused to let anyone ride in the wagon. My Little Car. My wagon. Get lost. Daddy was furious. My butt was still red at bathtime. When mom saw it, she got quite angry with him. (Curious, she oversaw my baths as if I might drown, but she let us run amok by a river all day, no worries.)
Yesterday I “drove” all around Silverbrook via Google Earth. Rode down Minquel, took a right on Lenape Lane. Paused to look at friends’ homes. The Hiltons, Catalina’s, Winky somebody’s, Patnovic’s. At the end of Lenape, I turned left and drove out of the ‘hood over to Art Lane and the Tew’s house. I spent a lot of time at the Tews. They had a laundry shoot we could crawl through going from first to the second floor.
Then I turned around and headed back to 18 Minquel Drive. It was a fantastic trip down memory lane.
Mother and Daddy kept The Little Car. When Matthew came along I took him riding all around Oaklands, the neighborhood we had moved to in seventh grade. By then The Little Car was red. Daddy installed a seat belt–one of his old leather belts. If we were gone too long, Daddy would climb into the car and search to make sure we hadn’t broken down.
Later, when we had Mo, the kids would take turns having car rides. By that point, Matt drove with me as the passenger. Mother still had the car after Daddy died. We were living in Chicago. One year she called to ask if she could give it to a friend for their grandkids. My first reaction was, “No way. My Little Car!” (yes, greedy Alice probably deserved another spanking.)
Then I relented. It was just sitting there, unused, front and center in their garage. The Little Car was meant to give magic to kids.
I wonder if she still exists?
I wonder if kids are ever allowed to play freely in Rittenhouse Park these days? I’m so glad I was.
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