What Do I See?

In Fond Remembrance of Chandler Heights.

Sara Etgen-Baker

© Copyright 2023 by Sara Etgen-Baker

Neighborhood gal friends.  Photo from the author.
Neighborhood gal friends.  Photo from the author.

Sunrises, like childhood, are viewed with wonder not because they are beautiful but because they are fleeting.” Richard Parul Evans

What do I see when I drive through my old neighborhood?

Not the familiar cookie cutter houses or the elementary school I attended with my friends. Instead…

I see my ten-year-old self clad in saddle oxford shoes running around, playing hide-and-go-seek with my brothers and friends.

I see us riding our bikes to the nearby park and swinging on the swing set for hours on end, unsupervised.

I see us playing kickball in the street and hopscotch on the hot summer sidewalk, our bodies soaking wet from sweating profusely from the Texas heat and humidity.

I see us on perfect summer days, shivering in our wet bathing suits from eating our popsicles after swimming in the city pool.

I see us on hot summer afternoons riding our bikes at white heat speed, jumping off them, and running towards Duck Creek, dipping our toes and feet in the clear, refreshing water.

I see us building makeshift forts out of cardboard boxes, making mud pies with Mother’s pans (without permission), choosing sides, and bombarding one another with them. May the best kid win!

I see us rushing to the backyard watching Dad dump a bag of charcoal in the barbecue grill, pour lighter fluid on it, and strike a match before tossing it in. We stand beside him, waiting anxiously for the coals to get hot enough to cook our hot dogs on wooden sticks over the open flames.

I see the adults in our neighborhood, just ordinary folk, living extraordinary lives, committed to raising a family, providing a living, and creating a tight-knit group that was our safe haven in good times and bad.

I see Mom toting laundry baskets full of wet clothes outside in all kinds of weather and hanging them on the clothesline to dry, never once complaining.

I see us awakening to the early morning sound of bacon being fried and to the aroma of stiff black coffee wafting through the air.

I see us chasing lightning bugs in the backyard, capturing them in our hands, placing them in one of Mother’s jelly jars, and creating night lights for our bedrooms.

I see us making snowballs in winter’s fading light and building a bastion out of snow and ice, then sitting silently, our breaths rising in white puffs to the grey snow-cloud above. "Snowball fight!" yells my younger brother. The pelting continues until way past dark.

I see an easy-going, safe neighborhood where neighbors (adult and children alike) share their struggles, their pantries, their pocketbooks, and their hearts helping one another on a daily basis.

I see us walking to school in September with our books in one hand and our metal lunchboxes in the other, promising to see one another for a sticker fight at recess.

I see Mother sitting at her sewing machine, its motor humming and the needle punching through the fabric with its steady, rhythmic chuka, chuka, chuka sound.

I see my best friends and me burying a cigar box of our favorite things in my backyard, only to dig it up years later when we were in high school.

I see us building blanket forts on rainy, fall days. At Fort Blanket we are masters of the universe slaying dragon chairs and rescuing teddy bears, dolls, and toys from the deep-blue sea.

I see us with Dad, his hands and arms steady on his rod and reel, sitting quietly in his flat bottom boat, our lungs filled with fresh air and our ears filled with the sounds of nature. The sun was our clock, keeping all the time we ever needed.

What do I see when I drive through my old neighborhood? I see unforgettable memories. I see my childhood.

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