In the early 1970's, little did the residents of Robertsdale, Alabama know there was a land of magic in their midst...a mystical place where children could dream and soak up enough memories to last a lifetime. This splendid sanctuary of frolic and fun was the backyard of my grandparents' home.
Back in those days, the sleepy little town of Robertsdale was nothing more than the place where travelers would stop at the local Taste-T-Freeze on their way down to the beach. Just a few blocks off the main highway was a short tree-lined street containing a neat little row of houses. One of the houses was not much more than a box. Only 750 square feet in size, it was a mansion to my sister and I. The rounded front steps and wrought iron bannister gave the little house a sense of granduer...not to mention a perfect spot for 2 young girls to perform shows for an always patient audience.
Although there was something quite special about the facade of the house and its oyster-shell driveway, it was the backyard and single car garage that always seemed to draw us in as children. Covered with larger-than-life magnolia trees whose roots were bursting through the earth, the shady expanse served as the ideal stage for our imaginary world. Dumping out boxes of miniature-sized cars, trucks and play "people," we would use the tree roots as our roads and highways. My sister and I would spend hours in this pretend world and I consider this one of my fondest childhood memories.
Also in the back there was a garage that smelled of oil and dirt and mystery. To a small child, this was a haven of exploration... every Alabama license tag ever issued (at least since my grandfather had been driving) was hung neatly on the back wall alongside an almost spooky addition to the mix--rows of dried out gourds he collected. The odd shapes and curvatures of these hollowed shells would take on a life of their own as the late afternoon sun cast slanted shadows onto the wall. It was a place of intrigue in my young, curious eyes.
There are many other details about the place that I remember fondly...the vegetable garden carefully tended my by grandfather, the row of fig trees from which my grandmother would make her delectable fig preserves, and the icebox in the garage that always contained a flat of those colored juice drinks with the aluminum foil cap. Then there was the screened porch on the back of the house with its Victrola-style record player and the way the sound of the Lawrence Welk show poured forth from the living room television. Even the smell of moth balls in the guest room cedar closet makes for a pleasant memory because it is interlaced with the sounds of my grandmother singing me to sleep with "Delta Dawn" as she rubbed my back in slow, circular patterns.
Many memories dance around in this sometimes-scattered head of mine. But few compare to the magic, the mystery and the freedom I felt as I played and imagined, dreamed and explored in that little backyard under the magnolia trees.