The summer before I started first grade was marked by moving to a new house on Woodlawn Avenue that came with a barn and a field that adjoined the property of a new elementary school being built. My school. King School.
My older brother, me and a loosely formed gaggle gang of neighbourhood kids spent August swimming, riding our bikes around and spying on the construction workers finishing up the school. Our recon missions weren’t un-noticed and as the workers unpacked desks and furniture they chatted with us and let us drag the large cardboard boxes across the school yard to the field behind my house.
Each of us got own box and working like a team of ants we wrestled them into place in the field. From there we each decorated our cardboard box forts as our own drawing in crayon and cutting out windows as we set up our little village. KEEP OUT! signs on the forts of the older kids, and colourful scribbles on the rest.
The big kids, those 8 year olds, got the prime fort placements away from the spiders’ nests and dips in the field and soon social networks were established within the fort village. I had to share my fort with my 4-year-old sister who most times was more of a pest than a compatriot. When one of the big boys invited us into his fort and asked her to lift up her shirt and he would let us stay, she started to pull up her t-shirt and I said “no” and we ran away not sure of what was wrong but feeling like something was.
Steve, the next door neighbour kid who came with the story that he was in an accident when he was little and had to wear a tight belt around his middle or his “guts and gizzards would fall down and he would die”. Something I’ll never know.
The kid who lived catty corner to us who was from Pakistan and gave me a little brass camel that I still have. How did he end up in Oregon City with his family from so far away? Something I’ll never know.
The old man two houses away who never trimmed his hedge giving the yard the ominous look we needed to spin stories about him being scary. Every Halloween he dressed up in a floppy green rubber Godzilla suit and became over six feet of stumbling lizard terrifying us all. He also gave out the best candy. What did he do when he wasn’t Godzilla? Something I’ll never know.
I started first grade without first going to kindergarten. My brother went to kindergarten. Why didn’t I? My parents never told me and it’s something I’ll never know now.
The answers and explanations to many childhood memories disintegrate into time like the cardboard box forts becoming soggy, folding in on themselves and tearing apart with the fall rains. Who cleaned up our cardboard box forts after we left our village in the field and stepped into the school year? Something I’ll never know.