Squawking birds. Hissing snakes. Growling felines. The sounds of the jungle met our ears as we swung from tree to tree in an effort to avoid the labyrinth below us. As I was reaching for another vine, I heard a shout from below. I looked behind me and saw that my comrade had slipped and landed in a pile of leaves on the floor of the jungle. Suddenly, the leaves gave way with the addition of his weight and he began to sink into a pool of quicksand. I yelled to him to keep calm as he tried to pull himself out with the root of a neighboring tree. All of a sudden, I heard a growl and, seemingly out of nowhere, a panther started stalking towards my companion, intending to make him its dinner. I tried to move quickly, attempting to make it to my friend before the jungle cat did, but I couldn’t move fast enough. As I was repelling down the vine, the panther was crouched low, ready to pounce. My friend was a goner. In an instant, he let out one final snarl and pounced and—“Noelle! James! Lunch time!”
At the sound of the intruding voice, the scene started to disappear. The trees shrank to nothing. The foliage faded away. The panther transformed into a squirrel perched on a nearby birdfeeder. My vine dropped me back onto the freshly manicured grass, and the lake of quicksand released my brother, and he was left sitting in an empty kiddy pool. We stood up and looked around at what used to be our jungle. What met our eyes was the spacious backyard of our grandmother’s house. If you give an imaginative child enough blank space, she can transform it into anything.
If you drove up to 1491 Mill Plain Road, you would see a two-story white house with blue shutters. You wouldn’t have any idea that the backyard was transformed weekly into a scene taken straight from a storybook. When I was younger, Lou’s backyard provided my brother and me hours of endless entertainment. The yard, approximately one acre, held enough space to allow us to imagine anything our hearts desired.
There were many elements that contributed to the magic of the backyard, but there were none as important as the shed. The shed was sandwiched between the garage and a small plastic playhouse and held everything my brother and I could possibly need. If the backyard was the canvas, the shed would hold the paint and paintbrushes my brother and I would need to paint the scenery of whatever game we wanted to play that day. Hula-hoops, baseball bats, and soccer balls were all kept in the shed. But the most important feature of the shed was the white Christmas lights that ran along the ceiling. The lights were turned on as soon as the sun set, when James and I had no intention of going inside for the night. We never wanted to be the last ones to turn off the lights for fear of the darkness of the backyard. Bets were always taken. The stakes? The loser had to turn the shed lights off at the end of the night. We never played harder than when being the one to turn off the lights was on the line. If you were the one to win, you’d rush inside, leaving the loser to make his way through the dark backyard by himself. The key to being the one to turn off the lights was to move as quickly as possible. With the enormity of the backyard, it could have been home to any number of scary creatures—vampires, werewolves, or zombies.
In the back right corner of the yard, where the trees that ran along the back of the yard met in a perfect corner with the trees that ran along the side of the yard, was a bush. The blackberry bush was set forward enough to allow the perfect cover of a hiding space that offered us the seclusion and privacy that was near impossible to find in the rest of the backyard. Lou didn’t like us to hang out in the garage because of her gardening things and, during the summer, the shed became home to bees. The blackberry bush in the back was perfect if you needed to take a minute to yourself, especially if the game you were playing wasn’t going your way. It was multifunctional—first base for baseball, a free zone for playing tag, and a hiding spot if we were bored enough to play hide and seek. Throughout the year, when we weren’t hiding behind the bush, we were checking the progress of the growth of the berries. During the summer, the berries were ready to be picked and made into pie, but every year more were eaten then saved.
If you asked Lou what her favorite part of the backyard was, she would tell you one of her four different gardens. Her favorite hobby was gardening and she was neurotic when it came to things messing with her gardens—deer, rabbits, stray kick balls—if there was a single sprig of parsley missing, she’d have a conniption fit. A boxed-in plot of land adjacent to the shed, sealed in by 4x4s, held carrots, basil, parsley, peas, and tomatoes. When we were younger, being asked to water the garden wasn’t an issue. Carrying the watering cans almost as big as us to water the vegetables was somewhat enjoyable. As we grew, it became more of a chore than anything and Lou had to bribe us to help her with the watering. But helping Lou pick the fresh vegetables when they were ready was fun, especially when she let us snack on them—this was before we learned that they were nutritious and good for us and so the snacking soon stopped. The old, aboveground pool, which was set parallel to the house at the opposite end of the yard, was torn down when I was six years old and was replaced with—you guessed it—a flower garden for Lou. This was where she put in all of her gardening efforts and was totally off limits to us. We were told to stay as far away from the garden as we could. And although the backyard was big enough where we would have more than enough room to play without messing up the garden, James and I took Lou’s warning as permission to sabotage it whenever we could, just to get a rise out of her. We’d take the pebbles surrounding the flowers and scatter them throughout the yard. We’d cover incoming plants with stepping-stones. If she dug a hole to plant a new flower, we’d fill it up as soon as she’d walk away to grab the new addition to her garden. There was always some sort of satisfaction every time we’d hear her yell our first and middle names—the sure fire sign to knowing we were in trouble.
If you were to drive up to 1491 Mill Plain Road today, it’d be completely different from the house I spent all of my time in when I was a young girl. The house was knocked down and rebuilt. The white, cracked paint is now beige. The blue shutters are no longer there. A fence cases in the front of the house, not the short green bushes that used to adorn the front lawn. The tall trees that bordered the side of the house were taken down and replaced with a fence. However, through all of the cosmetic changes done to the house, the open space of the backyard has stayed. The blackberry bush is gone, as is the shed. The garage was the first to go and the gardens Lou worked so hard on were dug up. But the expansive backyard is still there.
Driving by 1491 Mill Plain Road, you will see a new, beautifully constructed house with a spacious backyard. Driving by 1491 Mill Plain Road now, I see the new house, but I also see the 4th of July picnics in the backyard and my uncles setting off illegal fireworks. I see my brother and me building a snow fort and having snowball fights. I see my younger self running barefoot through the grass, trying to catch fireflies. Although the house of my childhood has been altered, I will still look at the backyard and see a lone panther stalking through the grass, looking for a jungle explorer to pounce on.