|Walkway at Mary Washington |
When I was a young child, I had no idea how important childhood would be for the rest of my life. I just wanted to hurry through it, so I could be in control. Now, I am grateful for the religious background my mother gave to me. I am glad she put me on the church cradle role. I appreciate the big words that she used with me when I was a toddler and that she took me with her everywhere. That background has enriched my career as a writer.
Growing up in an historic city was an advantage, I think. There were museums and antique buildings everywhere. At the time, I didn’t appreciate playing on the grounds of Kenmore, but being there and listening to the guides describe the ceilings and the walls of the old mansion and tell about its history was an amazing gift. I lingered in the separate building that served as the colonial kitchen and watched the maids make gingerbread.
We lived for a few years in a house just below Sunken Road. That historic road was where a terrible battle was fought during the Civil War and thousands of lives were lost, mostly those of Union soldiers. When walking along that black tar-surfaced street, you struggled with a heavy heart in the darkness left by those bloody times. Somehow, I mostly avoided playing near that street.
Even the floors of the school I attended, located on the banks of the Rappahannock River, possessed dark memories of tragic times. Used as a hospital during the war, the blood stains were still there, embedded in the wooden floors of the elementary school classrooms. It was a dingy old building, located 12 blocks from my home—a long walk for a young child.
Living just beyond the entrance gate to Mary Washington College had its advantages. Many of the college professors were our neighbors, and most of my friends were their children. I loved spending my days playing in their yards and learning from them. A music professor lived nearby, and I remember watching, through an open door, college students practicing on the beautiful golden concert harp he had in his home.
My uncle owned the horse stables used by the college. Sometimes when I visited my cousin, we would walk to the stables and watch the handsome thoroughbreds train.
In late childhood, when my family moved away from the city to a small town, located on three rivers, it was difficult for me. I missed my friends, the horses, and all the historic places. For a long time, I corresponded weekly with my best friend, the daughter of a chemistry professor at the college.
Mine was the tale of two childhoods—one very different from the other.