Nancy was a precocious child. She was born in the winter of 1944, while the world raged around her. Her mother, Lily, saw a depth in her eyes that could not be explained. Nancy seemed to know and understand the world around her. Lily’s husband, Pierce, was an educator. He loved to joke that Nancy was his star pupil. She always seemed to understand him.
The years would pass and the pain of the Great War would be partially forgotten. The conflict in Korea didn’t touch her family and her mother had learned how to shelter her from those agonies. But for Nancy, there was a new war on the horizon. At almost ten years old, in the summer of ’54, Nancy would discover a magical thing.
Nancy’s parents had a small home near Milton, Florida. It was ramshackle, but clean. They were poor, but wealthy. Lily tended the home like a master curator. Outside, she had planted a wild garden. It was chaos. Fruit trees, herbs, vines, Muscadines, and more. To a casual observer, it may appear to be overgrown, but Lily had intentionally planted it to seem wild. There were no weeds, but one could easily get lost in the acre of rampant growth.
This was Nancy’s world. She lived for the Garden. Each secret pass and path was known to her. Her small size allowed her to venture into places that Lily didn’t know existed. Over time, her tiny feet stamped a new trail into the deepest growth. In its midst, she found a hollow. After much toil, Nancy eventually cleared away the briars and brush to clear this place. Above her head, the canopy was thick enough to stop all but the heaviest rain. It was her hideaway, her castle, and her playground.
One of Nancy’s favorite pastimes was to follow the butterflies and see what mischief they made. In her mind, which churned with vivid ideas, she had crafted a narrative to explain the strange things she had seen from those beautiful insects. Many she recognized for the pattern of their wings. For those, she made names and stories. Butterfly errands took on a new life for her. She imagined the largest Tiger Tail going to work each day. His job was to find the sweetest nectar for his children. In the evening, once the day’s work was done, he would come home with an extravagant dinner for his family.
“That’s how a family should be,” Nancy thought.
Those moments of personal reflection were few and fleeting. She would lose herself again amidst the trees and vines, ever chasing her butterfly friends.
That summer, specifically the 8th of July, 1954, Nancy had a most unusual experience. The day was long and she had played and adventured furiously. Seated in her den, she fell into peaceful sleep, borne of childhood’s exhaustion. She dreamed pleasant things and didn’t stir for some time.
“Nancy, please awaken…,” said an echoing voice.
The intrusion broke her slumber. She sat upright and shook off the nap’s fog. Looking around in puzzlement, she saw no one. No adult could crawl into her den, as the passage was too small. Suddenly alert, she recalled her parents’ warnings of strangers. She hadn’t recognized the voice. Nancy’s den was in the rear of the property, so her mother would not hear her call. If she screamed, perhaps mother would hear, but she hadn’t gathered that much fear yet.
Those internal thoughts flickered by and she heard her mother’s voice, just outside the den.
“Nancy, it’s time for dinner! Come out of there, lil’ wild one.”
Nancy panicked. The stranger was outside the den with her mother. She started to yell, but her father’s voice cut her off.
“Child, do you have my shears in that hole? Come on out and bring all my tools with you.”
Nancy complied and crawled through her den’s tunnel. The dusky garden seemed as calm as ever. Her parents milled about doing normal tasks. They shooed her on, toward the house, where she could smell her mother’s best meal cooking.
© All rights reserved, 2017.
Note: This is a story from my mother, Nancy. It’s my interpretation of childhood stories that she often spoke of. She passed in 1988, so much of her lore was lost to the ages. Shortly after her passing, I promised myself that I would write this story for her. Here it is…
Rest in peace, mother.