My family rented a Townhouse in a middle class development in Northeast Philadelphia. Our neighborhood boasted a diverse community with a large population of Russian Jewish immigrants. The townhouses were made of oatmeal siding with terra cotta colored shutters and roofs, they were called twin houses because they were erected as pairs. The development was built on a hill and closest to the hill’s slope was what seemed like an endless row of these oatmeal and terra cotta twin homes . My brother Isaac and I would often cut across all of their yards to make it to the narrow, rocky dirt path down the hill past the adjoining apartment complex.
Just beyond the apartment buildings towards the east exit of the community was a green space. Flat and wide, as a child it seemed like this space sprawled on for acres. On the right side of the small park was a creek and then on the left was a wooden gazebo with chipped white paint. My brother and I grew up preoccupying our time with that creek. We spent hours figuring out how to cross it or by watching how the rocks we flung sunk into its low flowing waters. The tunnel was another point of adventure. I don’t think we went into it, but if anyone did, Isaac would. He was always more adventurous than I was . When we weren’t playing outside together he had a catalogue of friends around the neighborhood to visit. I on the other hand, only had a select few I liked to spend my time with. I’d much rather be curled up with a book. He was an eternal extrovert, who could be out of the house from sunup to sundown. So anytime we were able to spend together was treasured.
We would pass this mini park to exit our neighborhood and cross the street to the bus stop. Issac and I routinely walked home from the bus stop with our mom. During many of these walks home we would always ask to play at the park. On one of these days it was particularly sunny. Mom said yes and stood off to the side to watch us play. After about twenty minutes or so, she called us over to where she was standing. She reached inside of her purse and pulled out a clear bag of what looked like grains. She saw that our curiosity turned into confusion and she told us giddily that they were wildflower seeds. Mom declared that we were going to plant them. Maybe ten years old at the time, I was frozen. I was a pleaser, a rule follower. I didn’t want to get in trouble. I asked her if we had permission to plant these flowers. I asked her if we needed shovels. She looked at me and smiled with a mother’s understanding. I almost felt transparent under her knowing eyes and without her needing to say anything I calmed down. She said all I had to do was spread the seeds and the wildflowers would grow. I thought the idea was crazy. But I trusted my mom. My brother and I split the bag. We each claimed a section of the park and began spreading our seeds. I tried to make sure that I spread evenly wherever I went. So I took time grabbing equal handfuls of the seeds. My mind became crowded with questions: What if this area had more seeds than others? What if some of the seeds were dead? What if they blow away? Frustrated with myself, I began to take less exact handfuls. Then I spread the seeds in a less methodical way until I began jogging , then running through our magic valley, letting the wind spread the seeds for me. I noticed the sun was brighter and I felt the grass brush past my sandals, grazing my toes. I did something without permission, it felt dangerous and against the rules but an adult was in on it. That adult happened to be my mom and for that moment, she was the coolest thing walking.
We walked back home, me holding her hand and my brother running ahead of us. In our home I would be muddled with chores, I would try to meet what seemed like an ever moving target of perfection. I would feel unsettled and hardly enough. But in our magic valley I was able to just be. Even when I didn’t plant the seeds perfectly, even when I let the wind do my job, I was enough. Being a little girl running through the field was all I needed to be. My mom lead me to freedom. To adventure. This is a feeling that I have spent the rest of my life chasing.
Later that year we waited anxiously for Spring to arrive. When it did we were disappointed to see that nothing sprouted. We continued to be met with disappointment each time we checked after that, until one day we saw flowers of different colors sprought all around the field. Sparse in some areas and abundant in others, they looked like they’ve always belonged there.
Each time we commented on the wildflowers in our magic valley, mom’s face flashed with secret contentment.