The backyard of my daughter’s new home is about the size of her welcome mat out front. Today’s backyards can’t compare with those of my home town of San Lorenzo. Ours was a mass of dirt and weeds, but to five spirited children, it was whatever our imaginations willed it to become — a battleground for toy soldiers, Wyatt Earp’s O.K. Corral, and sometimes, a ball park with the bases loaded.
Back then, every backyard had an incinerator for burning trash. Our 50-gallon metal drum stood by the back fence, a safe distance from the house. With four mischievous boys in the family, it was inevitable that the fence would soon end up as firewood.
The yard also boasted a metal swing set, which, when new, sported a shiny slide and swings. By the time my older brothers had outgrown it, the slide and swings were history, its bent framework being held together by rust – but I didn’t care. I would sit for hours on the crossbars of that forlorn swing set, watching as small bi-planes flew overhead from the nearby airport.
Years later, while readying the house for sale, we began the task of clearing the backyard. Beneath the overgrown shrubbery, evidence of our childhood could still be found. Discovered buried under the debris were the discarded toy soldiers, rusted cap guns, glass marbles, and even a few stray baseballs that had escaped being hit over the neighbor’s fence.
My grandchildren have a backyard the size of a welcome mat. They don’t draw circles in the dirt to play marbles, pile up mounds of earth to form blockades for toy army men, and will probably never know the joy of sitting on a rusted swing set watching a bi-plane fly overhead.