In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt. ~Margaret Atwood
Last week, as I sat in the porch for the first time since October, I watched the neighbor kids splash through the puddles in the woods and listened to their giggling as they successfully crossed a big log in single file. It was one of those squishy March days that kids love and as I watched them play, I was suddenly transported back to my own March days of puddle splashing and marble trading during Mud Vacation. The fact that the school buses that brought the kids from the country couldn’t make it through the thick muck of unpaved roads for a week or so every Spring meant a break for all of us once the snow melted.
Our north end neighborhood back then was full to overflowing with kids who burst from doorways every March, feral and free. We could be found waiting to take turns on the rope swing that hung from the tree in the Erickson family’s backyard or riding our bikes from the top of Hospital Hill all the way to King School and back. We walked down the old railroad grade behind the high school and came too close to the river swollen with runoff more often than our parents knew. We played in the shoulder-tall grass behind the Kolu family’s house, constructing mazes until our moms called us in for supper, round burrs stuck to our socks. We started each day clean and ended it dirty, the way kids should. We scraped our knees on the Dead-end running for home base and slammed every back door in the neighborhood too loudly and stood in kitchens we knew as well as our own gulping down grape Kool-Aid that someone’s mother had made.
When my own two kids were young, I’d tell them stories about “mud vacation” and they’d look at me like I’d lost my marbles. They did their own growing up on paved city streets in a middle-sized town on the prairie. Their own, much windier, memories are happy ones even though the idea that school would be canceled due to mud and not blizzards is a foreign one. March blizzards or floods on the prairie, they understood. But mud having that much power over something as important as school? Really?
Yes, Really. Lovely, lovely mud.
Those neighbor kids I remember are scattered far and wide these days. A lot of them are grandparents now. Last week, one of them mentioned a game of marbles on her Facebook page which of course, got us ALL talking about marbles in the way that old friends who don’t see each other very often are prone to do when a topic like marbles comes up. We are grateful that while our marble bags have been missing for quite some time, that the “marbles” that matter are mostly all still there most days.
It just takes the smell of fresh mud, the happy sound of kids at play in March, or the mention of marbles between old friends who remember it all to remind us what we had before all the different roads we chose to travel in life were paved.