Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Curious Orchard

Going back to that park on Herlwyn Avenue, Ruislip, in my previous post: One particular episode on our rambles has kept coming to mind over the years. Sometimes I wonder if it was an early dream that I had, but it really did happen. One day as my brother and I were exploring the boundary of trees around the park, we spied a man and a woman standing in their apple orchard on the other side of the boundary. We'd never noticed this place before, perhaps because there was nobody in the orchard to draw our attention as we passed by. The couple seemed to be finishing up business soon after we spied them, and they retreated from the orchard to some unseen location. We found a gap through the tree line and entered the orchard. As we proceeded up the path under the apple trees, we became aware of tiny little sheds scattered about the orchard. Made of unpainted weather-beaten wood, they would have come up to between knee and waist height to an adult. They had peaked roofs and little latched doors and even a window in the side, just as though they had been built for use by gnomes or other wee folk. Through the tiny windows we could see in each shed two or three apples set on its floor. (I wonder if this is a detail added by my imagination later: The apples could have been resting on gingham cloth laid in the sheds.)

We easily could have helped ourselves to some apples, but I think we were held back by the strangeness of the situation. The popular books for British children at the time were full of fairy folk living in miniature structures deep in the woods, and here we were looking at little barns or sheds built to proportion for just such beings. The apples also looked so strange sitting behind their little windows as if they needed shelter like the little folk. We soon noticed that we were getting closer to the house of the orchard's owners and in sight of their own windows, so we returned down the path and back into the park.

I since have learned that apples need to be stored somewhere after they come off the trees, and perhaps the miniature sheds were a common method at one time in Europe or the British Isles. In all my years, though, I've never come across that particular storage method again.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Grand Park

Our little bungalow in Ruislip was situated so that you could see Sacred Heart School over the fence of the back yard (or should we call it the back garden?). We were a few doors away from the curve on Herlwyn Avenue that passed by the park, where my brother and I would spend many weekend afternoons. This was between 1965 and '67, and I would have been 5 years old in '65. My brother was a little over a year younger. The little unpaved path that connected from Herlwyn through a band of trees would give little notion of the wide space beyond. It was mostly meadow bordered by trees. We usually began our ramble by heading for a line of oaks in the center of the main meadow. Each oak was a station where we stopped to play on that tree's particular features. One had a trunk contorted in a way that made it easy to climb half way up and literally slide back down a section worn and polished smooth probably from years of children playing on it. Another was practically hollow and open on one side, leaning at a convenient angle that allowed us to scramble up and sit in a chamber close to the crown.

On one side of the park was a curious hill overlooking the railway, and the train station was just in view, I recall. Here there was a fence preventing us from venturing close to the tracks, but the hill provided enough diversion. There were two ways up and down: a steep exposed rocky slope and a more gentle slope through a tunnel of trees or shrubs. At the top we would pause to watch the trains.

Through another line of trees was an extension of the meadow, and at some points around the border we could peer through a fence at the now empty playground of Sacred Heart, where we would be on other days of the week. The rest of our ramble usually turned into an exploration along the tree border, and little episodes will come bubbling up in my mind from time to time when I think about this park. Sometimes we would meet grown-ups out with their dogs, or we would cross paths with other children on their rambles. It seems now that even if we didn't know each other some automatic temporary bonding drew us into play.

The meadow was allowed to stay wild and unmown, I recall, and was sometimes a sea of buttercups. I have hunted this park down on Google Earth and recognized its configuration from above once found. The hill and the ancient oaks are still there. The meadow appears to have been adapted for athletic use, but otherwise the town has preserved this green space for further adventures.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

My 50th Birthday...

...is coming up this month -- March 20 to be exact. I read somewhere that there are no such things as coincidences, but the fact of my 50th was not foremost in my mind when I conceived this blog of memoirs. Forty-five years ago, I was living on Herlwyn Avenue in Ruislip, England ("rice lip"). We were an American military family -- United States Air Force -- and our father, the one enlisted in the USAF, had met our mother when he was stationed at Chicksands in Bedfordshire. Mom was a local girl from one of the nearby villages, Clifton, and she had a job on the base. So Herlwyn Avenue wasn't my first home, but it's where I began school and where some of my first vivid childhood memories originate. I hope to tell some stories here from my military brat childhood. Not all of them will be set on Herlwyn Avenue -- I also like the sound of that name over the many other streets where we lived -- and chronological order will not be the rule as I enter posts.

As I proceed, I recognize that nostalgia can be dangerous. Whether an individual or an entire generation is recalling the good old days, we tend to screen out the negative aspects of bygone times. To be sure, some things really were better back then, but other things are even better now.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Herlwyn Avenue is My Memory Lane

This is an experiment I'm trying, a place to post when I'm in a nostalgic mood. More about nostalgia later.