the back concrete step
“Go get the stink blown off of you,” Mom said, and Jeff, my younger brother, and I high-tailed it out the backdoor. We jumped out the door onto a black rubber mat. The goal was to boing off of the mat and onto the concrete lip of the remains of an old building. The storm door banged in our wake.
I do not remember arguing with Mom about going outside and getting some fresh air. I do remember walking around the remains of an old foundation. There were old rusty bolts popping straight up out of the concrete. Barefooted they were to be avoided; in gym shoes, I liked to press my sole against them, arching my foot and wondering what it might be like to be a ballerina. In winter boots I stomped where they might be, cushioning snow around them in order to make a snow throne with the piles. There were always piles of snow.
Jeff and I walked around and around the foundation, bouncing up on the concrete tiers of an old well pit and pulling the pump handle of an ancient water spigot. The water tasted rusty; it was my favorite place for a summer drink.
The back step was a good place to sit. We played with kittens, and we played with frogs while sitting on the back step. We brushed our dog, and we whittled with our pocket knives while sitting on the back step. We told stories, and we shared dreams while sitting on the back step.
And sometimes we just sat. It was a high step and the concrete was not smooth. It was bumpy, rocky and grey. The sidewalk was cracked leading up to the step. It was uneven. Just sitting on the back step dimpled your palms from pressing into the concrete.
I remember the smell of summer: Marigolds. The smell of the woods warming and the ferns fanning as the sun rose in the sky. The smell of adventure and made-up stories. The smell of an old quilt being shook out in shade of the huge Oak tree. The smell of the pages turning in the library-borrowed mystery I was reading.
It was an old concrete step on the back of an old farm house, but I don’t remember thinking of it as old. It was the place the propelled me into one adventure after another, especially when I could get a solid boing off of the black rubber mat.
Looking back, I realize it wasn’t so much the way I landed on the mat that propelled me into an adventure, it was the things that happened inside of the house. It was dinner around the table every night and the reminder that we could grow up to be anything we wanted to be. It was a safe hug at bedtime and a stack of books with time and space to read. It was encouragement to dream and the insistence that we take some time to go and get the stink blown off of us.
I’m grateful for the old concrete back step that was sturdy enough to let me into home and propel me into adventure.
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The imagination of youth takes you places when you are young, but then as you age the memories rise up and become the hug of your youth. I loved the paragraph of the smells of summer.
Thank you! I was satisfied with the combinations of smells. I love it when authors add abstract smells alongside concrete ones.
Wait, what? I grew up with those concrete steps, too! My mother hated them—my Dad was a contractor, and she spent two decades furious that he wouldn’t build her “real steps.”
The dimples on the palm! The old-that-didn’t-seem-old! Getting the stink blown off!
Oh, goodness… What wonderful images are found in your writing.
The line “It was the place the propelled me into one adventure after another, especially when I could get a solid boing off of the black rubber mat” offered me exactly what I needed as a reader. I felt the movement – the emotional movement of reflection. <3
The voice and imagery here are gorgeous. I absolutely love the opening, when you and Jeff high-tailed it out. You write memoir so well.
The textures and smells, the details and actions – you remember so much and write well for the reader to be there with you.
I was teary remembering with you and remembering my own memories.
It’s such fun to read about your memories, Ruth, & know that I look back, too, have one picture I cherish of me with one grandpa, sitting on the back stoop. You’re descriptions don’t need photos!
Old memories are the best. I enjoyed reading about your childhood, something you haven’t written about much, I think. It’s good for the soul. I wish we could remember more of our childhood to figure out who we became because of our early influences, not counting what is within us. “A safe hug at bedtime” and “a stack of books” really help us to get off the ground to other adventures, too. Thanks, Ruth, for sending me back to my own childhood senses.