My memories are skewed. I know that. I have so many memories floating around in my head, which are either completely wrong or kinda wrong. The knowledge that they may be wrong doesn’t tarnish them at all for me.
I grew up in Valley City. It was a tiny, insignificant town in North Dakota. I lived there between the ages of four and eight. And it was idyllic.
It was back in the time when we all still felt safe. Doors were kept unlocked, Halloween candy wasn’t x-rayed, and children were free to run around as they wanted without fear of being kidnapped.
I was first aware of 3 blocks. In my mind, that made up the entire town. It was a secluded little place with only the three blocks in it. People knew each other and cared for each other. We rode our bikes along each of the roads and ran through everyone’s yards, since there were no fences. We took our plastic three-wheelers to the back side of our block (we were on one end) to ride down the hill and then careen around the hairpin turn at the bottom.
As I grew, my view of the town also grew. Next, I was aware of the small farm which ran the length of the three blocks. They had a small store at the opposite end of the neighborhood, in which we could go to do some small shopping. In my young mind, it was a bewitching place. The inside was made of a dark wood and was not well lit. I’m pretty sure I remember some sort of magic potions on some of the shelves. The owners were older and scared me. While their corn field was just across the street from our house, I don’t recall ever having corn on the cob, which only proved their evil ways. Whenever my mom wanted to go inside the chilly store, I preferred to stay outside in the warm sunlight and play with the other kids.
I then realized that there were a few stores in the area – a Pamida, a bread store which always had cardboard cut-outs of the Snoopy characters, and a soda store. My parents would grab a plastic crate with low sides and load it with all sorts of glass bottles filled with differed colored sodas. When we brought the bottles back, we would save a little money on the next sodas we bought. In truth, the pop store and the bread store might have been the same, but I’d have to ask my mom about it.
I next understood that the schools were in our town. My brother and I could ride our bikes to school every day. Other kids from the neighborhood would sometimes ride with us. We put our bikes in the bike stand, not bothering to chain them up. When we were done with school, they always were there, waiting for us.
My kindergarten teacher had a section of the room which changed occasionally. My favorite change was when it became the medical area. The round, golden-hued medicine bottles were filled with candy. My first grade teacher was whispered to be a witch. While I didn’t necessarily believe that, I really hated that she used short chalk on the chalkboard. Her long nails would scrape on the green background, making that goosebump-inducing noise. My second grade teacher was pregnant when we had to move. I still wonder if she had a boy or a girl.
Our dad’s school was nearby. He taught at the college and he had computers on which he would let us play. I don’t remember what I played, but I remember feeling pretty special for being able to play on them. In the winter, when he drove us to school, he would pull into his parking lot, the entire thing covered in pristine, untouched snow. He would then drive fast and turn, making dark donuts in the white and making all of us in the back seat slide to one side and giggle hysterically.
I learned about the swamp one day. The boys would always take off and leave me, and I always wanted to go, curious about where they went and hurt that I wasn’t allowed. Finally, one day, they deemed me old enough. They took me into the swamp and told me to walk carefully where they did so I wouldn’t fall in. I don’t think it took very long before I was, indeed, soaking wet and muddy. I walked back home in shame, hoping my mom wouldn’t be too mad, knowing the boys would never take me again.
The final place of which I was aware was the trailer court. At that time, I really had no idea what it was. All I knew was that we weren’t allowed there, which of course, made it all the more welcoming. They had a playground which had a siren call on all of us who lived in my neighborhood. We didn’t live in the trailer court, so we weren’t allowed to play in the playground, until we met a boy who lived there. Being friends with him allowed us to play there any time we were with him. It was a pretty good deal for all of us – a new friend and a new place to play. And it gave him a status which he might not have had otherwise.
The summers were full of fun and play. We ran around like wild children, getting dirty, playing games like Kick the Can and Hide and Seek. When we bored of the normal games, we made up our own, making the rules up as we went. We drank from water hoses and rode our bikes without helmets. We got scraped knees and cuts in our fingers and we lived to talk about it. We never wore sunblock and let the sun bleach our hair.
One day, my brother and babysitter convinced me to eat grass. I did it to be cool like them, just to realize that they had tricked me. When I actually swallowed it, the both worried that I would get sick.
My babysitter was the coolest. I don’t remember what made her so cool, but I remember always looking forward to her coming over to play with us. I don’t remember how old she was, what she looked like, or even her name, but I remember it was always a good time. I remember a feeling, but no details. I do remember a garage sale which I attribute to her. I think her family was moving. From this sale, I got a ginormous, ugly, stuffed animal. Somewhere, during one of our moves, that creature was either lost or sold. I also attribute my first bad experience with bows and arrows to her, although I’m not sure she had anything to do with it. When I let go of the arrow, the feather cut my hand, leaving a negative mark on my mind for my ability with archery. Any following attempts at archery have had physical repercussions for me as well.
May Day was especially fun for me. We would take white styrofoam cups and fill them with small trinkets (candy, toys, flowers, etc.). We would make enough for each of our friends. We would then go to their houses, set their cups on the porch, ring the doorbell, and then run around the corner to watch them open the door and wonder who had left them. I don’t remember getting any, although I’m sure I did. I had more fun giving to my friends and feeling sly.
I had my first kiss in that small town. That’s right – I’m a hussy! I was barely in Kindergarten and I had my first boyfriend. I let Bobby Cruff kiss me in his sandbox with our brothers watching. As I look back, I think it might have been more for their benefit than for ours, but I still count it as my first kiss. (My first REAL kiss came quite a few years later.)
In the winters it snowed. Oh, how it snowed! My mother has told me the parent side of it, but I only saw the kid side. She said that there were some days when it was so cold that we weren’t able to go outside for fear it would literally freeze our skin. I don’t remember that at all. I remember snowball fights. The snow was so deep that we would dig snow out to make our little forts from which we would throw our snowballs. I remember a discussion about digging through the snow to surprise our opponents. While there was enough snow, we were afraid it wouldn’t be structurally sound (I’m pretty sure we didn’t use those words).
I remember a Halloween when a blizzard raged outside. We finally convinced our dad to take us trick-or-treating in the storm. Since we were the only ones stupid enough to be out in it, we got a ton of candy that year! In calmer years, we would be given homemade treats, which were extra special.
My brother and I spent most of our free time together. Looking back, I wonder how often my mother foisted me on him, and how much of the time he actually liked having me along. I remember one day, he was invited to go to his friend’s birthday party, but I was not invited. I don’t remember being especially hurt, but I do remember that the father of the birthday boy thought of me. He was afraid that my feelings would be hurt, so he bought me a book of nursery rhymes. I kept that book throughout my childhood and read the pages to my children when they were little. It meant a lot to me that he had thought about me and bought me the book so my feelings wouldn’t be hurt.
I very fondly look back at my years in Valley City. Granted, they were the happy, carefree years of my youth, but I think that place made that time even more magical for me. Someday, I would like to go back, just to see what it is like now.