I am a wild child, roaming the hills and woods around our little town of Nokesville. I spend most of my time outside because I am told to go and get some fresh air by my adoptive mom. If I hang around the house, I have to do more chores. As it is, I have a lot of chores. I do my own laundry and hang it on the clothesline, even when it is below freezing outside. I have to vacuum the entire house, a three story house, and dust everything. I do all the weeding and cutting of the yard. I love cutting the lawn though because we have a riding lawnmower and I can go as fast or slow as I want. I sit up there and sing at the top of my lungs as I barrel around the yard. My neighbors just love me. Our next door neighbor, Mrs. Zimmerman, came out one morning as I was finishing and putting the mower away. I was secretly in love with her and I was pretty sure that she was really Dinah Shore, the talk show host. She looked just like her and she always smelled so good and was always so nice to me. I hated her kids, but I loved her. She loved to work outside in her garden and she would talk to me sometimes as she cut and trimmed her rose bushes.
“Wow, you have quite a pair of lungs on you, don’t you”, she smiled at me.
I remember blushing so deeply as she said that. “Sorry about that, I managed to croak out. I’ll try not to be so loud next time”.
She looked at me and seemed to understand how embarrassed I was and she laughed and said that she didn’t mind. “I sometimes wish that I could sing loudly like that. I can’t sing though and I don’t think anyone in my family would approve.” The sound of her laughter and the way she smiled at me made me happy and I remember walking away, wishing so badly that she was my mother.
We moved to Nokesville when I was eight years old. We live in a three story house and I have my own room that I got to paint purple. It’s my favorite color and I have a pair of purple polyester pants and vest that Mom made me. I hate the clothes she makes for me but at least I get to wear purple. A friend of my Mom’s has a pair of purple glasses and I want a pair of my own. I’m told no, though, and I don’t know why. Isn’t it bad enough that I have to wear homemade clothes and stupid glasses? At least the glasses would look good if they were purple and maybe I wouldn’t get beat up and teased so much.
We live on a cul-de-sac and we live in the first house on the left of Cowne Court. We have six neighbors in the neighborhood and three of them have kids that I play with sometimes. I am not sure ‘playing’ is quite the word to describe what we did. Really, I spent most of my time trying not to cry around them. I mean, I wore glasses and homemade clothes and my Dad seemed to freak out the neighbors and my mom didn’t really seem to talk to the neighbors much. I spent a lot of time alone, mostly, and I preferred that. I loved going outside just as the sun was waking and laying in our yard, watching the spiders and ticks coming out of their cocoons. I would lie for hours and watch the dew shining in the clear, morning light on the blades of grass. I could watch the cocoons opening, and the insects pouring out of what looked to be a wad of spit. I was fascinated to watch the baby spiders crawl out and take flight in the wind, spinning wildly on a strand of web as the wind would send them out over the yard. The damp smell of dark earth would fill my nose as I watched crickets, praying mantis, and ladybugs crawl on my arms and fingers. Most of the time, I had a dog or cat or both to keep me company. They would follow me as I made the rounds of our yard and neighborhood. They were my true companions and playmates. One of my neighbors, who really lived in another neighborhood but whose lawn ran into our neighborhood, was a police officer. He had a giant red Labrador, named Big Red, of course, who would run over to my house every morning. He and I would run all over the yard and we would play in the ditch that ran all the way around the neighborhood. He would let me straddle him as we ran, and I imagined that I was riding my big stallion, fighting the cowboys and dragons.
Our neighborhood was filled with kids of all ages. Our next door neighbors were the Zimmermans and they had three kids. Sarah was the oldest and she wanted nothing to do with the rest of us. Paula was next in line, my age, and was a bitch. Johnny was their younger brother, a year or two younger than I was. We got along for the most part because he didn’t pick on me like the others would.
Next to them lived an older couple who were raising their grandchild. She wasn’t allowed to play outside much because she was retarded. At least that was what we were all told by our parents. We would see her outside sometimes and if none of our parents were around, the other kids would shout at her and call her names until her grandmother would come out and shoo them all off. I would always get mad at them and tell them to stop but then they would turn on me. Mostly, I would just run off into the woods or cow pastures that were near us.
Next to them lived the Berdines. Todd was the oldest and was two years older than me. He was the bully and a Dallas cowboys fan. Tyrone was the second oldest, same age as I was and he was the cute, sweet one. He liked the Pittsburg Steelers and everyone liked him. They had two younger siblings but I didn’t really know much of them.
An older, married childless couple lived next to them. We hardly ever saw them, except when he would come out to mow and trim their yard. Looking back, I think she must have been a recluse. Then, we used to imagine that they were in the witness protection program or that they were criminals on the lamb.
Next to them lived the Scotts’ and they were the rich neighbors. They had the biggest house and yard and they always drove brand new cars. They had two daughters, Sandy and April. Sandy was a year older and April was a year younger than me. Sandy and I were friends, as long as no one else was around. Sometimes, she would invite me over to play in her room and I would spend hours with her and her sister, playing in their rooms. Sandy’s father was a builder and he built the house they lived in. He made Sandy a secret room for her in her room. It had a door that was near the bottom of the wall that you had to crawl through. It was fabulous! She had a black light with posters plastered all over the walls and ceiling. Her mom would make us snacks of cookies and cool aide that we would eat in there. We would play records and games and laugh about stupid things in our life. When they would go on vacations, they would have me come over to feed their animals and to play with them. I loved going over there when no one else was around, wondering thru the different parts of their house. I imagined what my room would look like and how it would be filled with stereos and speakers and records and have a closet full of store bought clothes. Being there alone also allowed me to go into their food cabinets and eat things I was never allowed to have at home. They always had bags and canisters filled with cookies, candy, and gum. They had Twinkies, Ho-Ho’s and ice cream and a real sugar bowl that sat on their counter. I think they must have noticed how low their sugar supplies were once they came home, because they stopped asking me to watch their home after a few years.
Football was big in our neck of the woods and we played it every chance we got. Once school started, we were relegated to evenings or weekends. We would all be scrambling to finish our homework so that we could play for an hour before it got dark. The one and only football game I ever got to go to was a Redskins game. We watched them play at RFK stadium and I remember that it was so cold in the open air and the noise was deafening. We were so high up in the bleachers that it was hard to see what was going on and so we watched it on the big screens. It was so exciting to be surrounded by so many screaming Washington Redskins fans and to eat hotdogs and drink hot chocolate. I will never forget how happy I was that night.
Every day during the summer, all the kids in the neighborhood would come out to play football. Todd, the cowboys fan, would always play quarterback and he basically told everyone else what to do. I was brought up to be a Washington football fan and so I was his arch rival. He thought I was weird anyway and being a skins fan only furthered his disdain for me. I was always the last one to be picked and if we had enough players for two teams, I was always told to get lost. I didn’t care and I would stick around until one of the younger kids would quit so that I could take their place. I loved playing the game even though I stank at it. I was always the slowest and the clumsiest and they would always pile on top of me once I was tackled. I didn’t mind as long as I was allowed to play. I would pretend that Todd was Roger Staughbach,(the cowboys quarterback), and that I was a skins tackler. I would picture myself barreling thru his blockers, tossing them aside until I reached him, throwing him face first into the grass. I lived for those moments. It didn’t happen very often, but every once in a while, I would tackle him or intercept one of his passes and I would dance like crazy every time I did.
For the first few years after we moved into the neighborhood, we would have block parties for the fourth of July. Everyone would be out, barbecuing and visiting each other. We kids would play tag and hide and seek, using everyone’s yards. We would climb the pine trees in the back of the Berdine’s yard, smearing sap over our clothes and skin. Our mother’s would have to take turpentine to our skin and hair later on, but we didn’t care. We would race between the houses, stopping only long enough to drink some cool aid and grab some snacks. The Zimmermans, Berdines, and Scotts always had the good snacks. Cookies, cool aid, and ice cream could always be found there. Nobody wanted to go to my house for snacks because my mom would make kool aid without any sugar and she offered things like apples and oranges. Very little sugar was to be found in our house and what little there was of it was locked in the pantry. I was allowed one teaspoon of sugar in the mornings to put on my cereal and grapefruit. Not the sort of snack shack we all craved for then!
Every year, on the fourth of July, my Granddaddy Cliff would drive down from his house near Maryland and he would drive up with the trunk of his car filled with fire works. Every sort of imaginable firework was in there and all us kids would gather around to watch him empty his trunk. He would pass out fire crackers, smoke worms, and caps to all of us as we ran around screaming. Everyone liked me then because he was my grandpa. Once it started getting dark, he would hand me the sparklers and I would pass them out to everyone. I always got the first and last ones. All the parents and relatives would gather in our yard, spreading out chairs and blankets for everyone as Granddaddy prepared the evening’s fire show. He was always telling us to stand back so that we wouldn’t get hurt, but, as he would step back from lighting the fireworks, he would walk to me and put his arms around me. I loved standing with his arms draped over my shoulders, brushing back my bangs as we stared at the bursting lights. It was the best place to be in the whole wide world and I knew I was safe with him.
Growing up in Nokesville was complicated. It was a very small town and so of course everyone knew everyone else’s business. When we would play outside, us kids would sneak up to the doors and windows of our parent’s houses and listen to their conversations. We knew who the drunks were, who beat their wives and kids, who had been arrested, and who went to Church, or not. One time, we were listening to Todd and Tyrone’s parents talking and they started talking about my family.
“I don’t know, Honey, Mrs. Berdine was saying. I just don’t trust that man. He makes me nervous and I don’t want the kids around him”.
“Well, what do you want me to do about it? I’m at work all day so you have to be the one to make sure the kids don’t go over there”, said Mr. Berdine.
“At least tell the kids that you don’t want them over there playing with that girl. Tell them that if they want to play with Alicia, she has to come over to our yard. I know it’s not her fault that her Father is the way he is, but she’s like him too; strange. At least the boys will listen to you. If I tell them, they just ignore me.”
I didn’t wait around to hear anymore. My face burning, I pushed away from the other kids and started running. The kids were laughing, and the Berdines were yelling at us to get away from the window. I ran to the woods down the hill and I hid out until it started getting dark. I never mentioned it to my parents because I knew that it was all true and they would just get mad at me for spying. The kids never let me live it down.