Once upon a time there was a little girl with lots of homes. The little girl and her mother moved around from cottages to lake houses to farm houses and back, lugging a piano and bookshelves to each and every one. Each home was loved and part of the family, but there was one in particular, a home they didn’t actually live in: that was where the little girl truly grew up.
A small engine repair shop is maybe not an ideal playground for a five year old, and yet–the little girl, and her family, made it work.
They built her a tree house in the lilac bush near the parking lot. When the little girl was busy being Harriet in a raincoat and dark glasses, she crouched behind lilacs and wrote down license plate numbers. These lists were then carefully stored in a filing cabinet in the office, appropriately and subtly labeled “Spy File”.
When she needed a place to read, they let her sit at the counter, The Hobbit propped up in front of her face. They didn’t make her move or speak to customers, they worked around her and made excuses for her when her eyes refused to look up from the pages, even when someone (rudely) flicked her book to get her attention. “She’s a reader,” they said. “There’s no distracting her!” they assured. “She’s gets it from her English teacher grandmother,” they explained fondly.
When she wrote stories and poems, they listened patiently, nodding along and assuring her they were good (they were not). They supplied her with paper and pencils and clipboards to take outside and keep on writing. They explained words she didn’t know and helped her come up with names of countries and cities she’d never heard of before. They gave her maps to color and relabel, they let her put on puppet shows and perform dance routines–and they applauded when she was done.
All summer, every summer, the little girl found ways to play among the boats and tractors and ATVs. The pole barn, used for boat storage in the winter, sat mostly empty all summer long. So the little girl made the dirt floored metal barn another playroom, constructing time machines out of sawhorses and conjuring monsters out of dark corners. She picked blackberries from behind the barn, eating more than went into her bucket that she’d bring back to her family. She dug clay out of the pond and created small pots that would dry in the sun and be stained later with blackberry juices and seeds.
She traveled through the hay field and jumped in the creek. She ran in the sun and lay in the shade of the trees, often accompanied by a dog or a cat. She rescued stray creatures and brought them home and was allowed to keep almost all of them. She helped haul cardboard for the bonfire pit and collected lunch orders on Saturdays. She rode along on service calls and held small yard sales by the front door.
Her hand prints sit at two different sizes, two different years, in the cement outside the garage. Her pictures are under the glass on the counter–newspaper articles and old family photos of her riding on snowmobiles and lawnmowers. Her handwriting endures on files she labeled, and the Spy File is probably still safely tucked away in there.
It isn’t a home of hers anymore. She has grown up and moved on, and her family has, too. She has loved all her homes, all the settings that featured her story growing up, but it is this particular home that endures in her memory as the place she grew the most. And it was her family, ever encouraging and urging her forward, that truly made it special.