By Mary Zachmeyer
One windless day, about 1949, the July sun feels unusually hot. When grandmother tells me I need to buy bread, I wish I did not have to go on the four-mile walk. But these are the days when a child doesn’t even think to complain. Sack in hand, 15 cents in my pocket, I head for Sweetheart Bakery in downtown Burlington. My grandparents live on very little money. This is one of grandmother’s favorite ways to save: Day-old bread.
I clip-clop through the s-shaped alley, over to Central Avenue hill, one of those hills that everyone avoids in winter. As I pass the neighbor’s apple trees, I so want to pick one.
The sun beats down. I use the sack for a fan as I climb the north side of the hill. Beautiful houses line the west side of the street. My favorite has too many windows to count. At age 8, I am sure a princess lives there. On my tiptoes, I can only see the upper part of the mansion, but that is enough to spark my imagination.
I hurry along to the bread store. “No time for dreaming now,” I sigh. Going down the hill on the south side is like a rolling snowball: I walk funny, sort of flat-footed, so I won’t end up tumbling all the way down.
Past the old mechanics shop, Van’s Lunch Box (hamburger specials), Murray Iron Works and the Bright Spot (my uncle’s first restaurant) and I am two blocks from the bakery. The smell of baking bread lures me on like the Pied Piper. Down to the corner and I waltz into the bakery.
Inside, the shelves overflow with sweets and breads. I drool over a few, then buy the three small loaves of white bread grandmother wants, and out I skip.
The sun feels like Grand Aunt Clara’s oil heater by the time I reach Central Avenue hill again. No breeze. Halfway up the hill, I turn around to walk backwards a few steps to give the soreness in my legs a rest.
At the top of the hill, I decide to sit for a moment on the stonewall in the shade of an Elm. My favorite mansion and its long protective wall catch my eye. I gaze. I can’t imagine anyone having such a house. Suddenly, I see an opening in the bushes. I am neither an adventurous nor disobedient child, but this one time, I cannot resist investigating. I look up and down the street. No one in sight. I dart across the street and slither into the opening.
The architecture of the old brick mansion is beyond words to my young eyes. The wall lining the street cries out: “Stay Away!” But there I am, INSIDE. My young mind and love of fairy tales take over.
I can see everything now and it seems more foreboding and more mysterious than ever. No life...no automobile...nothing but a hundred rose bushes, trees and a path around the left side.
I run like a fawn down the path hoping no one will see me. Soon I am in a garden of peonies in wine, white and pink. Painted daisies seem to smile and orange lilies surround me as if I were inside a rainbow.
I amble on until trellises of red, yellow and white velvety roses cover me like one of grandmother’s quilts. Their fragrance entrances. Imagining myself in a lace-covered satin gown,
I tiptoe to the gazebo and await my prince. I cradle a rose still on the vine and inhale its beauty. Then another rose and another. I curtsy and spread my imaginary full skirt, and sit in the gazebo for a moment of eternity.
Out of nowhere, a horn honks, bringing me back to reality. As I force one foot in front of the other, I look back at my secret garden. I blow a kiss and duck into the opening. I never returned and never told anyone about my secret garden.
The 1940’s were the days of dresses and home-perms, bus tokens and hat shops. An 8-year-old would not wander off from her duties. I believe it was a gift for a bashful, little girl who needed a beautiful dream. Grandmother gave me a garden of dreams, thanks to her frugality and all that she was.
Until next time, tell a child your favorite childhood memory.
Additional Column Posts (1 - 5 of 5)
Apr 03By MARY ZACHMEYER Does anyone iron out there in humanland anymore? When I told my daughter that I was writing an article on ironing, she suggested ...
Mar 13By MARY ZACHMEYER Tappity-tap, tappity-tap. The writer next to me types away on her laptop as the author educates at the writing conference. Or ...
Feb 06Worried sick about what my teacher said and how she looked, I run all the way home, leap up unto my grandparents’ porch and stare at the familiar ...
Mar 27By MARY ZACHMEYER It’s all Grandmother’s fault! If there’s homemade soup, it’s CLEAN OUT THE ICEBOX time. (Grandmother never used the word ...
Feb 20Editor’s note: This is the final column in a two-part series that chronicles one of the author’s favorite days as a mother. By MARY ZACHMEYER ...