Washington Evening Journal
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Neighbors Growing Together | Apr 25, 2014

Black Feather

By Curt Swarm | Aug 29, 2012

One of the towns I lived in while growing up was Prairie City. For a couple of years, we lived in an apartment above the grocery store, overlooking the town square. The town square was my front yard. Even though it was surrounded on all four sides by streets and buildings, I found privacy and enchantment in the town square. There was a bandstand to jump from, trees to climb, and a huge old lilac bush that was hollowed out in the middle. This was my secret hideaway, my clubhouse, a place I could live. Peering out between the gnarled branches, I could see the town folk going about their business, the hustle and bustle of a 1950s farming community—the feed store, locker, Terlouw’s Ford Garage. In the showroom of Terlouw’s was a brand new red and white, 1957 Ford convertible, with one of those convertible tops that retracted into the trunk—a gem of post-war, industrial America.

Merlin Terlouw, my classmate and buddy from the second grade, would come and visit me. We would play in the park, and I would invite him into my secret hiding place. We played with sticks and dirt, an old pocket knife with a broken blade, a rusty toy truck and road grader. We built roads and bridges. We had one cap gun, and were robbers, hiding from the sheriff, giving to the poor.

Fast forward to present day. I’m 64, going on 65. I have a comfortable home and life, and all I could really ask for. One corner of my back yard is overgrown with an old shade tree, thick bush, and even an arbor bench to sit on. The spot is in the shade all day long. If I were young, I would climb that tree, play in the dirt under the bush, maybe even have a clubhouse. If I were young.

I noticed the neighbor kids mulling about. They’re good kids—Lindsey, Kyle, Cooper, and Emma. On the spur of the moment, I hollered at them and showed them the overgrown backyard spot. “This is yours,” I told them. “Do whatever you want.”

Then I left them alone. In a matter of minutes, they had the useless corner transformed into a clubhouse. They had built a little shelter, decorated the bench and hauled in rocks for a fire ring. My heart leaped with joy. They were doing what kids are supposed to do. Cooper and Kyle were up in the tree, telling Emma how to navigate the first branch. From inside my house, through the open window, I overheard plans for an overnight stay, roasting weenies, and making smores. This was the best use of that corner of the backyard since I had lived there. A hole in the tree was a mailbox. They had found a black feather from a starling or crow, and stuck it in a knot of the tree. This was Black Feather Clubhouse.

I was reminded of a song from the ‘60s sang by Burl Ives, and other artists. It's called “This is All I Ask.” Some of the lyrics go like this: “Children everywhere, when you shoot at bad men, shoot at me.”

With school fast approaching, I suggested to the kids that, if they wanted to spend the night at Black Feather, they’d probably better get it done before the nights get too cold. They took me up on it. With parents Jeff and Andria in close attendance, they roasted weenies on sticks, made smores, chased fire flies, and collected locust shells. After dark, and the fire had dwindled down, they threw down sleeping bags. Long into the night, through the open window, I heard talking and giggling and saw flashlights popping on and off, some inside of cheeks, followed by shrieks and laughter.

Burl Ives had it right, “Take me to that strange, enchanted land grownups seldom understand. .. I will stay younger than spring.”

Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him curtswarm@yahoo.com, or visit his Web site at www.empty-nest-words-photos-and-frames.com.

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