This is a guest post by Ginger Gough, a teacher and writer living in Medford, Oregon.
It wasn’t so much the climb up the ancient oak, as the upright walk across its thick parallel branch that gave me the jitters. I wasn’t, however, about to show it. The boys on the ground looked puny, and very far away. They threw the rope with one hand, slinging it as hard as they could in my direction. I grabbed for it and missed, which caused me to totter forward and rise up on my toes. After that, I couldn’t hear their yells, only the pounding of my own heart. On the second toss, I caught the top knot and jumped onto the bottom knot as I had been instructed. The rapid drop and subsequent shot skyward was a stomach dropper: it was the summer I found my power and I was loving the flight.
These were the rough-and-tumble Bennett Boys who lived in my dad’s neighborhood. I quickly learned their activities were a lot more fun than curling my hair in plastic rollers. When I proved I could handle the rope swing and run barefoot across the gravel, they gradually allowed me to start playing street ball with them. It wasn’t long before I was fielding most of their grounders and smacking fly balls over their heads long out of their reach.
Playing ball of course, required a mitt and I discovered I could get one with S&H Green Stamps. I diligently and methodically collected ten books of stamps from my mother and her friends and the day I walked out of the Green Stamp store with my new glove, was one of the happiest days in my life. At night, I oiled it with a petroleum-based grease borrowed from my step-dad’s sawmill, shaped it to fit my hand, slapped a softball into the sweet spot, and wrapped a thick rubber band around the whole thing so it would stay that way all night. I would have slept with it, but Mom didn’t like getting smelly oil stains on her pillow cases.
At Mom’s house, I read and dreamed of traveling. I scoured maps and envisioned myself exploring the world, being interviewed by reporters who were eager to hear about my adventures. Next door, there was an oak tree in Grandad’s front yard, perfect for climbing. Mornings meant hopping into ragged cut-off jeans, throwing the latest book into a grocery sack and running over to his house for breakfast. Daily he presented me with a feast of hot buckwheat pancakes, ruby-red grapefruit and stove-top percolated coffee. He sliced the grapefruit in half with a special knife and cut around the inside, so all I had to do was scoop out each juicy triangle. He let me sweeten my grapefruit and mix my own coffee with cream and sugar. I didn’t have the courage to tell him I didn’t like the canned evaporated milk he offered me each morning, because he treated me like a grownup.
After pancakes, I would climb the tree, barefoot again, because this was the summer I didn’t wear shoes. The easiest branch to climb was the one that veered to the right. It fanned out over Granddad’s front yard, and faced the street. After two wide steps up, there was a sturdy forked limb that created a perfect saddle seat. I could hang my plastic bag on one of the twigs, lean back in the arms of this beloved tree, and read The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck, one more time. It was the story of a Chinese man who had a family and a concubine, and suffered through a debilitating famine. I cried for his poor wife who delivered her babies in the rice fields, and then had to kill them if they were girls. Sometimes I would quickly and quietly say “Hi” to the people walking down the street below, then laugh to myself as they spun around, wondering where the voice came from. Most of the time, I would take my worn out paper-back atlas up the tree with me and from that wooden perch, penned the name that would make me famous, “Sally Rand-McNally, Travel Writer.”
Now I wear shoes. I haven’t played baseball in years nor has a reporter phoned to ask me about my travels. The baseball glove has been replaced by a make-up case, and my cut-offs by practical work pants. Thoughts of Sally though, give me strength. During down times when I’m checking off my weaknesses like an accountant a penny short of a roll, I think of her. She was tough, adventurous, and undeterred by the opinions of others. She was genuine, and she was me.
My wish for every girl is that at some time in her life, she gets to run barefoot without barriers, hit a softball like a champion, and feel the joy of a new leather glove that fits only her hand. My hope is that she will be treated as a grown-up by at least one person, and will get to fly as high as a rope swing will take her. My dream for all girls is that they get to be a “Sally,” so when they become women, they will know who they are.