The street I grew up on was U-shaped and quiet, half of it edged by salt marsh, cattails coming all the way to the street. Across from our house lived an elderly woman named Judy who resembled a kind, round apple doll. When we rang Judy’s doorbell, she would appear with a bag of marshmallows, and we’d say hello and stand there, polite and expectant. If my sister and and I came alone, without other neighborhood children, we’d usually receive two marshmallows each. We would say our thank-yous and skip off with our sweet squishy treats. This was a coveted ritual as we were’t allowed sugar and I had a terrible sweet tooth.
At the top of the street, close to my school bus stop, was Trudy and Ray’s house. Ray had turned their entire yard into a tall, thick, overgrown garden. He’d wear head-to-toe khaki and giant noise-canceling headphones and disappear like a groundhog into that garden. After getting off the school bus, we would knock on their back door and Trudy would invite us in and we’d sit at the small kitchen table, where she would chat and smoke cigarettes and offer us hard candy from a dish. I enjoyed talking to adults, but I was there for the hard candy.
Next door to Trudy and Ray lived a family from the Bronx. The mom, Lorraine, was brash and snarky and teased us whenever we wore dresses. Once my sister rode by on her bike and Lorraine yelled, “Hey, Kate, ya gettin’ tits?” Lorraine had boys (and eventually a girl) and must have found us reserved and kempt by comparison. Her boys would come to our house and dare each other to eat worms or the mushrooms growing around our maple tree, which resulted in more than one phone call to Poison Control.
Next door was my best friend, Thayer. It sounds made up, a best friend right next door. There’s a picture of us at age 4, naked in the middle of the street, dancing in the rain, jumping in puddles. I don’t remember whose idea it was, but looking back, all I can think is, it must have been the best day ever. We loved to run through all the neighbors’ backyards, make potions from flowers and swamp water, play dollhouse, and ride bikes endlessly up and down the street. Whenever one of us fell and skinned a knee, Thayer’s older brother would give us a piggy-back ride to one of our houses where one of our mothers would sit us on the closed toilet seat and squirt Bactine all over the wound. It was Thayer’s mom who cut holes in her brothers’ old baseball caps so our pigtails would fit through. We’d run across the street, up the big hill to Barb and Mart’s house and tramp around their backyard to the honeysuckle bushes, where we’d fill our baseball caps with flowers and then sit and suck the nectar out of each one.