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.
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