I want this to be a matter of public record, in case Marsha ever comes to finish me off after all these years... Just kidding, Marsha. Marsha, the girl next door, is responsible for some of my most vivid early childhood memories - and some of my direst childhood nightmares. Just how can I remember so vividly things that happened to me when I was merely 4 years old? When you are in a state of panic where your metabolism threatens to pop your eyes right out of your skull, the senses become heightened. The minutest details are recalled with crystal clarity. That was life with Marsha. She lived next door. Marsha was two years older than me, and never let me forget it. She ruled me by absolute holding-your-breath terror. She would never tattle every little thing to her mother, or worse, to my mother. Nawww... that's for sissies. If we lost the hammer, we knew that her father would find me directly, and cut off my ears.
"He cut one of my ears off once, you know. Look, you can see where it grew back..." Wide-eyed, heart in throat, I looked, and, sure enough, her ear was all grown back, just like she said. So, I didn't know if mine would grow back as well as Marsha's had -- I would take no chances. And, as if I needed further convincing, we went and asked her father about it. "Well, if you use a sharp enough knife, so it cuts real clean, then it would grow back" he stated matter-of-factly. He picked up a knife from his work bench and looked at it absently. They must have had a secret signal - he'd collaborate anything she was trying to pull off. Later on, a person could observe that a wry sense of humor is inherited, but, at the time, I knew one thing: I never wanted to cross any of Marsha's rules, and i *never* wanted to meet her father in a closed room without a ready escape route.
We lived in a new neighborhood on the edge of town. Marsha's house had been there before mine was built, and she'd reminisce about when it used to be a farm, and they had horses, cows and a lion. We could venture out of town just by going beyond the end of the back yard. It was a wild and wonderful wild place, singing with frogs, birds and fireflies, and fragrant with milkweeds, grass, and wildflowers. I remember when Marsha took me on a botanical tour of the untamed wilderness. She showed me how to open a milkweed pod, but you had to be careful, because they could slam back shut and take off your fingertip. We walked through some golden-rod "And these are the Ickle Ockle bushes - they move around when you're not watching - LOOK" And I looked behind me, and, sure enough one had already moved behind me, about to close in, and do - what? Close call. I was amazed that she knew the names of all the wild plants. Pointing to the rag-weed - These are so poisonous, if you just touch them, you'll get lockjaw, and you won't be able to talk, to tell anybody what's wrong with you, so they'll just take you to the hospital and give you shots, and maybe you'll die"
And we came upon some beautiful orange tiger-lilies. I thought we should pick some and take them back to our parents. "I tried that once", she said casually, "...but a whole swarm of bees started following me, and I had to drop the flowers so i could run faster." I was so grateful that she had saved me from being stung to death.
So many other dangers lurked in our dangerous neighborhood on the edge of Watertown. I would not have survived without Marsha there to warn me of seemingly innocent things that were truly deadly. "Gypsies - " she whispered - "they *STEAL* people". They drove around in those trucks with the wicker furniture in back that turned back to snakes if it got wet. And, overhead, flying so high you could hardly see them, but they were there - eagles. Eagles could swoop down silently, grab you by the shoulders and carry you away. By that time, I had seen the Wizard of Oz, and I knew for a fact that fear of being carried away was a legitimate concern.
Then, one day, Marsha outgrew me. She was busy with Nancy Sanquist from across the street, because now, at the age of 11, they were grownups, doing girl stuff, and I was still a kid, and a boy to boot. So, I started hanging around with Tommy Rutlin, and Lee Schumacher. We built tree houses, and paved endless secret paths through the tall grass.
But, after a few years, when we were both teenagers, Marcia and I would still visit, but by then we were at the age where we tried to act older than we really were. Marcia's piano playing inspired me to take up music. She introduced me to the Beatles - I first heard "Hey, Jude" on her radio.
We grew up. We moved away. She's a social worker in Madison, now, and I'm an office manager and church organist in Milwaukee. We run into one another once in awhile at funerals. We both made it to adulthood, safe now from eagles, gypsies, and the threat of the Ickle Ockle bushes. I think of that on warm summer nights when the fireflies are out.
Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to twitter.com I'm @dimbulb52
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