I was thinking yesterday of all the ways I used my imagination as a child. My favorite fantasy, as I’ve often mentioned here, was being an Indian. I surrounded myself with a whole (invisible) tribe, and often switched from one role to another... from chief to medicine man to squaw with a papoose on her back. I recall around the time I was eleven when we lived on Glen Wyant’s farm, I was wandering around in the woods when it occurred to me that an Indian living in the woods would surely have a campfire. So I went to the house, got some matches, and returned to the woods. I found a nice, secluded, low spot sheltered from the wind, gathered dry leaves and sticks, and made myself a lovely fire. Looking back, it’s a wonder I didn’t catch the woods on fire. Something about the smell of a campfire burning enhanced the whole experience. Several years ago when I had my cabin in the woods here, it occurred to me I might be trying to replicate my happy childhood experiences of playing Indian.
One time at the one-room country school in Iowa, probably when I was five or six, we’d had a big snow. At recess, we children went out to play. Another little girl and I decided to burrow a cave into the tall drift, and I guess I kept saying, “Let’s play like we are cowboys”, or “Let’s play like this is our house.” Apparently I was using the term a little too often, because I recall the little girl saying in a sarcastic way, “Play like. Play like. That’s all you ever say.”
Isn’t it strange, although I don’t remember the girl’s name, that I still feel humiliated when I think of this? Anyhow, I believe I stopped using the words “Play like” from then on. This may have been the same little girl who had a birthday party the following spring: There were hollyhocks growing along the lane to her house, so we decided to make hollyhock dolls: This may have been the day I realized what a loudmouth I am, because as we fashioned our dolls, we chattered away; the birthday girl said, “You are talking so loud I can’t hear myself think!” So I stopped conversing and kept my mouth shut for the rest of the party.
I never could take constructive criticism very well. Just ask Cliff.
I would spend a week at Grandma’s house every summer. Her front yard had a steep bank slanting steeply down to the road. One day I saw an airplane flying overhead and got thinking what a wonderful thing it would be to fly. I ran several yards back from that bank, turned, and ran as fast as I could toward the road, then jumped off the bank in hopes it would feel like flying. It didn’t, not at all (after all, I only had about one or two seconds in the air), but I tried several times more to catch the feeling of flying by jumping from the top of that incline.
I often imagined I was riding a horse when I was walking down the road alone at Grandma’s. I’d sort of jog down the gravel road, trying to get the feel of a horse trotting, my right hand posed in front of me as though holding reins. I could almost feel like I was riding a horse. I wandered in the woods at Grandma’s and of course, at Glen Wyant’s farm when we lived there. When it was just me, I did a lot of making believe.
At some point when we lived in Eagleville, I read a book about the circus, and for a few months I was fascinated with the idea of “running away to join the circus”. That’s when I invented one of my most “real” pretend games. I gathered cardboard boxes and cut “bars” in the sides to make cages. I caught one of Mother’s laying hens and put her in one cage, pronouncing her an ostrich. I put the cat in another cage and turned her magically into a lion (the lion kept escaping). I had a pet pigeon Daddy’s Uncle Bill had given me to raise, so I made a cage for him. I let him remain a pigeon, as I recall.
We moved to Kansas City when I was in the middle of sixth grade. I was devastated, leaving the Wyant farm. I guess that’s when I stopped pretending so much, since there were people around all the time. The only place I found solitude was on the river side of the levee, which was right across the street from our first apartment in Harlem. If I wanted to be alone, it was the perfect place, and there were plenty of big rocks to sit on and dream.
That’s it for today.