On a recent evening, I watched a long television advertisement unfold, the underlying current of which sought the currency of adults with young children.
The item being offered for sale was a sturdy jungle gym for the back lawn, complete with ladders, a swinging rope bridge, a tunnel, a slide and swings.
It seemed important, according to the unseen salesman, that the colors blended so wonderfully with nature, adding to the splendor of the investment.
I stopped paying much attention, but a part of me is willing to bet it likely even came with a payment plan.
Would this have captivated us, I wonder?
There is surely no way of knowing, but I can tell you this: The best gifts of my childhood weren’t gifts at all, but games played on the stage of our imagination.
Each year, we awaited springtime with impatience, for the trips to the woods held enormous promise.
The ever-changing offerings of the deep woods were like an open gift box and were sure to grant even more fun than an entire winter of sled riding and ice skating.
I was drawn to an enormous den tree on the north side of the woods, the bark worn to nothing, the silvery-gray trunk smooth as silk in places.
It wasn’t until many years later, married to an avid coon hunter, I learned the elements of nature that created that individual tree.
As a little kid, I simply thought it was the best hiding tree for our big adventures, the trunk hollow enough for the smallest child to shinny inside of it when the invisible bad guys came riding through our woods.
We were aware of, even though we clearly did not understand, the changing gifts within that lovely woods, and the mysteries made it all the more exciting.
We would report a never-before-seen weed growing in abundance, and Dad might ask us to bring him a sample or two.
“It looks like this might be a good year for mushrooms,” he said one year after studying our sample harvest.
And it turned out, a few weeks later, he was right.
Another day, our plan in place to spend the entire stretch of daylight between milking time on a grand adventure, we carried a paper bag filled with saltine crackers and a chunk of cheese.
We had a strong hunch we were going to run into cowboys just itching for a fight, and we had all of the imaginary ammunition and medical supplies old Doc and the good-guy gunslingers might need at their fingertips.
As the months of springtime gave way to summer, we kept our eyes open for signs of berries.
Elderberries, growing wild on old fence that lined the edge of that ancient woods, proved to be our Dad’s favorite surprise, and we loved seeing his smile over such simple things.
There was no perfectly constructed play set in our back yard, but we had trees that had stood for a hundred years, and several great, entertaining hay mows for rainy days.
Looking back on it all, I feel like we were the luckiest gang of kids on the planet!
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