Apology to the raccoon in my yard

animal-raccoon-whiskers-16605

You appear in my frame of vision as I glance out the back door
as I’m on the phone with a friend
talking about the hollow shell of our President,
and the crumbling ash of Lindsey Graham’s soul.

I interrupt my friend to tell her about you, and as I do,
you slow to a stop.
Then, cautiously step forward, and wait again
for several
long
beats.

It’s possible you heard me exclaim aloud at the sight of you –
the glass door thin; your senses keen.
It’s possible that my presence is as strange and exciting to you
as you are to me.

Or do I simply alarm you?

You look left, right, 
halfway over your shoulder, 
lower your head.
You begin walking again with what looks like trepidation, 
a hesitant skulk.
Or, is this the normal gait of a nocturnal creature 
inexplicably bathed in late afternoon sunlight?
Or, are you surveying the area for enemies?
Predators?
Am I them?

Which brings me to the issue at hand.
How sorry I am for how carelessly we treat the place we call home.
Forgive us for crowding you out,
For somehow deeming tract housing, strip malls, and traffic circles more important than your continued survival.
For leaving you with little more than patches of grass,
spindly new saplings in place of old-growth trees now leveled,
whose limbs stretched out and up
to support, sustain, shelter.
Now.
Gone.

I try to memorize you as you walk slowly and carefully through the side yard.
The bandit mask of fur around your eyes flecked with gray, gold, and brown
The light gray fur of your body dotted white, charcoal, and umber.

But it’s your tiny hands, gloved black
that seem somehow miraculous.
I imagine you using them to pop off the garbage can lid
in the deepest part of the night,
eager to dig into my leftover spaghetti,
and upon finishing,
upending the can and its remaining pungent, oozing contents
and leaving it
a ripe example of our carelessness,
reckless excess and wastefulness,
a mess we really ought to clean up.

I watch as you disappear into the drainage ditch,
in which lazy, passing drivers throw candy wrappers, beer cans, 
and once,
an entire Styrofoam cooler.
You deserve better than us.

Sometimes I think we should all die under the weight of all the waste 
we’ve ever created.
Look for me beneath 
a turquoise Frankie Goes To Hollywood t-shirt,
cassette tapes,
pounds of dirty napkins,
31 years of tampons,
and whole forests of paper.

Seem dramatic?
No more dramatic, I’d say, 
than forcing you out of your home
into the late afternoon sun,
seeking a safer place to snooze
until night falls,
and I finally say, I’m sorry.

Make Welcome The Wild

boneyard sunrise

A while back we had the incredible opportunity to reimagine the branding and website for our friends at Coastal Expeditions. Our first meeting with husband-and-wife owners Chris and Kari Crolley was full of all the energy and excitement we hope for and seek out in clients. A few days after that initial meeting, Kari stopped by our office with a box . Inside it was a universe of things: sharks’ teeth, shells, dried plants and sea life, maps, animal skulls, postcards, and ephemera of all kinds. It was like a museum exhibit out from behind the glass, a work of art, and a deep look inside Kari and Chris’s hearts, minds, and souls. As we stood in amazement, pulling things out of the box, and naming them, Kari smiled and said, “I want you to make our website out of this box.”

I will always remember the power of those words and that gift.

In the work we do, we sometimes forget about the immense trust people put in us — to tell their stories, to rethink and reshape their brand, marketing, and businesses. When Kari gave us that box, to me she was saying, “Here is our livelihood, our passion, our family: please take them and us where we need to go.”

What an honor.

As I often do, I wrote a manifesto for Kari, Chris, and their incredible team: a story that speaks to more than just what and how they do what they do, but why it matters.

We study Lowcountry tides, flora, fauna, and history. We explore. Make maps and routes. Care for our guests. Refine our skills. Nurture our fleet. Feed our curiosity and sense of adventure. And work always in service of the natural, the mystical, and the magical.

We can’t summon the sunrise or sunset. And while we can’t beckon the blue heron, the osprey, or the dolphin, by virtue of our lifelong fascination and love for them, we find the route to be in their company, again and again. Which makes us devoted students of a particular discipline. Practitioners attuned to a particular frequency. Guides on a particular journey. Called to safely and securely put people in the path of beauty; then, step back, and witness what unfolds.

What moves you? When, or how will it manifest, we can’t predict. Is it sunlight shimmering along the water’s surface? Paddling toward your own strength? An ancient shark’s tooth in the palm of your hand whispering of millennia? The rush of air through a pelican’s wings as it takes flight?

Only you may know in that instant – when you move outside yourself – and into the wideness of the universe. On a soulful journey to become more than just aware of the beauty around you, but part of it. So that seeing a dolphin rise in the water beside you is no longer just a personal, glorious sight, it’s an exchange between another life and yours, a story to share, a feeling you can’t quite name. We believe that’s the exact place where want and wish fall away – and awe and wonder are revealed.

To us, that’s the connection we’re born for – the stimulation we long for. It’s the stuff of earth and sea and stars. Of people and animals and plants. Of natural and human history entwined. The understanding of our precious smallness in the largeness of the world and the rhythm we do not make, but are made of.

That’s the gift, and it belongs to all of us.

Coastal Expeditions
make welcome the wild

The Way Out There / Episode 5: Sara Clow

sara gf

Subscribe to the Way Out There podcast here.

Sara Clow is a native of the Garden State, and one of my very best friends. We grew up together in the New Jersey suburbs, playing soccer and spending days exploring our extended outdoor “neighborhood.”

Sara is also General Manager of Growfood Carolina, a food hub based here in Charleston, SC. Since being recruited by the Coastal Conservation League to Charleston in 2011 to start-up and lead GrowFood, Sara and her dedicated team have built relationships with more 80 local producers and 250 wholesalers. To-date GrowFood has returned nearly $5 million to South Carolina farmers and helped ensure that rural working lands continue to flourish. We talked with Sara at the GrowFood Carolina warehouse about her passion for food, farming, and the outdoors.

I’ve outlined a few “chapters” below for your listening pleasure. Simply jump to the time stamp in the podcast. Happy listening!

2:15 Berkeley Heights, Gardens, Soccer, & Trespassing at Bell Labs

7:25 Telluride, Colorado

9:45 The Love of Feeling Small

20:56 Meet Me In San Francisco

23:40 Rock & Fred Tackle The Hedge Fund World

30:30 How We Almost Lost Sara To New Zealand

45:30 Career Angst

56:30 GrowFood Carolina (code word: Blue Indigo)

GrowFood Carolina team

GrowFood Carolina warehouse

South Carolina radishes

CCL team

Show Notes:
Guest – Sara Clow
Host – Jenny Badman
Music / Audio Production – Nic Lauretano
Editing – Nic Lauretano
Location – GrowFood Carolina Warehouse, Charleston, SC

Giving Thanks

It’s been nearly two years since I was diagnosed with aggressive, fast-growing breast cancer, and nearly a year since I completed “active” treatment. In my case, “active” treatment included four months of chemotherapy (1 drug for a year), a lumpectomy, and 33 radiation treatments. As of my last mammogram and check up a few weeks ago, I’m still cancer-free.

I’m incredibly lucky.

Four people I know died from cancer this year. I’ve had a difficult time making sense of their losses.

I’m so grateful to be here, even if I don’t understand why.

That’s what I want to write about.

When you survive cancer, everyone who knows and loves you is overjoyed and relieved. Collective deep exhale.

I’ve been somewhat reluctant to write about my cancer overmuch. Does the world need more cancer stories? We made it through so why, on some level, relive it?

Maybe because to fully understand my gratitude you need to understand the context in which I was given so much.

A week after my diagnosis, I had surgery to remove a cancerous lymph node(s) and to implant a port in my chest. The port, a quarter-sized catheter, was positioned just under my clavicle. Under my skin, the port had a septum through which my chemotherapy drugs would be injected directly into my jugular vein. Easy access for my medical team and no chance of collapsing arm veins for me.

I woke up from that surgery crying and saying, “It hurts.” And while I don’t remember that exact moment, I remember that for days afterward, I felt like I’d been kicked repeatedly in the chest.

When I had my first chemotherapy treatment a few days later (December 22), my girlfriend at the time, and a few dear friends, were with me. I had already been to “chemo class” as I called it, so I knew what the process looked like, and I had a notebook full of information, including three pages of side effects for each drug I’d receive through my port.

The nurse repeated the process to me and asked if I wanted the “cold spray” when she put my IV in. The “cold spray” temporarily numbs the skin. I said yes. Yes, please.

Needles have never really bothered me. I’m fine to have my blood drawn. But before the nurse put my IV in, I instinctively grabbed my girlfriend’s hand. In that moment, I think I needed grounding and connection and physical reassurance that I could endure everything that lay ahead. I think somehow I knew that once that IV went in, my life would change forever.

The nurse smiled, looked me in the eyes and said, “Take a deep breath for me.” I did and watched her arm draw back. She inserted the needle with the force necessary to penetrate the rubber pad beneath my skin. The sound it made going in was a deep, toneless “womp,” not unlike the sound a ripe melon makes when you thump it, which is actually the sound of your own body giving way to force, to intrusion. As she stepped near me to adjust the IV, I felt a wave of nausea wash over me, more from the sound than anything. I felt that sound deep within me, and I couldn’t believe how incredibly strange it was to have someone inside this most vulnerable part of my body.

In subsequent treatments, that wave of nausea was no longer an issue, but the strangeness of the experience itself remained. I realized later that whomever held my hand in those moments (a must for every treatment), always inhaled with me. We took that breath in tandem, I think, because on some level, we were all getting hit in the jugular.

Over the next four months, once my IV was in, we were in for a four to six hour-long process during which I received four drugs: Herceptin, Perjeta, Taxotere, and Carboplatin. Plus, we began with Benadryl to prevent any allergic reactions and a cocktail of anti-nausea meds.

While I was never able to tolerate Benadryl orally, it mostly just rendered me sleepy and slightly stoned intravenously. I got to know when it was kicking in. I’d feel like a veil was being drawn over me, some sort of strange Instagram-style cancer filter. My motor skills slowed; my speech slurred.

That was Day 1 of treatment.

I am so grateful to so many people, for so much.

When I see the people who were so present during my treatment now, they beam at me, hug me extra hard, sometimes with eyes glassy from joy. And I know we are all standing there thinking: “Can you fucking believe we made it?”

I just want everyone, everyone, to know how grateful I am for every moment, every email, every Tupperware of soup, every time you held my hand, or sent me good energy. Because here’s the thing: my gratitude hasn’t diminished. It continues to expand and grow.

It survives.

It endures.

Eight Stops

I look up as we pause between stations.

Into her eyes, slate flecked with flame.

Seven seats between us.

Also acres, miles, millennia.

As one does when one locks eyes with a stranger, I pretend I didn’t.

I let my gaze drift to those beside her.

And then, long beat, to her.

I watch her expressions shift.

Smiling, not.

Brow knit, not.

Flashes of light through trees, shadows play across her face.

Patterned light then dark.

Like a hundred dreams I’ve never had.

Her hands fold, unfold.

Her eyes fixed on mine.

I forget transit etiquette.

I don’t look away.

I feel the question inside her,

Have we met?

No one speaks.

Molecules move.

Internal circuits flicker off, on.

Time collapses against a backdrop of bakeries, bookstores, cafes, trees, blurred city.

She rises as we reach the next stop, her gaze still on mine.

She steps through the doors, looks back as they slide shut.

I smile, watch as she ascends stone stairs, into a crowd, into honeyed light.

The train moves toward Central.

The W-L Club

I write about my childhood quite a bit. Perhaps because my memories are so vivid, I feel compelled to write them down. Perhaps if I understand who I was a child, I’ll better understand who I am now.

The other day, I got an email from a dear childhood friend. She was one of the original stomp girls about whom I’ve written. We who sang Joan Jett’s I Love Rock ‘N Roll at the top of our lungs at recess.

See, I had forgotten what started us in the first place. Until my friend Laura faxed me the gem below:

Screen Shot 2014-03-04 at 8.07.24 PMIt reads (with typos and misspellings included):

W-L Club

Women have rights. But how come their not equal? Some say that women are weak or to fragile to do a man’s job. For instance men think that women will never play football or baseball because we might break a fingernail. They don’t know about women inside. So I’ve started a club called W-L (Women’s Lib.) It will be at recess. You may ask questions and we’ll think about what to do to make a woman’s life better. We will work as a team. Why do some men act this way? Well they want to be A#1 of course they have to be better and stronger than women. Can we fight this for equal rights? I have know idea. Alot of women feel the same way we do. For more information, call Laura or Jenny.

Thank-you.

P.S. Keep this club private.

When I stopped laughing at how totally awesome and hilarious this little manifesto is, I felt that old feeling. I remember when the boys stopped letting us play football with them. I remember how some friendships vanished because we had reached the age when differences started creating distance. And, I remember how mad we were about it. Because all of a sudden, we weren’t just uninvited, we were no longer equal. Holy junior feminists, Batman! I get it. Now I remember the source of the stomping. If we were no longer invited, we would make our own party. We would sing loud. We would raise our fists. We would stomp. We would raise our fists. And one day, we would be equal.

Aaron and His Dad

Aaron Draplin is an incredibly talented and prolific graphic designer, and I’m a huge fan. I had the pleasure of hearing him speak a few years back. Even got to shake his hand (solid, warm grip), get a signed South Cackalackee Draplin poster, and grab a photo with him. He was as great in person as I had imagined him to be. Who lives up to that? Awesome.

I follow Aaron’s blog and work, and like all of his friends and fans, I was shocked and saddened to hear the news of his Dad’s sudden passing last October.

If you’ve been on this site before, you know I did a lot of writing about my Dad after he died in 2009. I did a lot of reading, too. All, I suppose, in an attempt to make sense of his death, his life, my feelings, and who in the world I was supposed to be without him. And, I suppose, to keep him “alive” even after he was gone.

Aaron wrote about his Dad, too. His 30 Day Sad For Dad series is full of heartbreaking, funny, warm, and honest moments of grief and memory. And I couldn’t be more grateful that he wrote his way through them. Some men speak kindly about their Fathers. Some men revere them.

Meet Aaron’s Dad:

http://www.draplin.com/2013/10/james_patrick_draplin_19432013.html

http://www.draplin.com/2013/10/dads_obituary.html

http://www.draplin.com/2013/10/sad_for_dad_day_03_of_30.html

http://www.draplin.com/2013/10/sad_for_dad_day_04_of_30.html

http://www.draplin.com/2013/10/sad_for_dad_day_05_of_30.html

http://www.draplin.com/2013/10/sad_for_dad_day_6_of_30.html

http://www.draplin.com/2013/10/sad_for_dad_day_7_of_30.html

http://www.draplin.com/2013/10/sad_for_dad_day_08_of_30.html

http://www.draplin.com/2013/10/sad_for_dad_day_09_of_30.html

http://www.draplin.com/2013/10/sad_for_dad_day_10_of_30.html

http://www.draplin.com/2013/10/sad_for_dad_day_11_of_30.html

http://www.draplin.com/2013/10/sad_for_dad_day_12_of_30.html

http://www.draplin.com/2013/10/sad_for_dad_day_13_of_30.html

http://www.draplin.com/2013/10/sad_for_dad_day_14_of_30.html

http://www.draplin.com/2013/10/sad_for_dad_day_15_of_30.html

http://www.draplin.com/2013/10/sad_for_dad_day_16_of_30.html

http://www.draplin.com/2013/10/sad_for_dad_day_17_of_30.html

http://www.draplin.com/2013/10/sad_for_dad_day_18_of_30.html

http://www.draplin.com/2013/11/sad_for_dad_day_19_of_30.html

http://www.draplin.com/2013/11/sad_for_dad_day_20_of_30.html

http://www.draplin.com/2013/11/sad_for_dad_day_21_of_30.html

http://www.draplin.com/2013/11/sad_for_dad_day_22_of_30.html

http://www.draplin.com/2013/11/sad_for_dad_day_23_of_30.html

http://www.draplin.com/2013/11/sad_for_dad_day_24_of_30.html

http://www.draplin.com/2013/11/sad_for_dad_day_25_of_30.html

http://www.draplin.com/2013/11/sad_for_dad_day_26_of_30.html

http://www.draplin.com/2013/11/sad_for_dad_day_27_of_30.html

http://www.draplin.com/2013/11/sad_for_dad_day_28_of_30.html

http://www.draplin.com/2013/11/sad_for_dad_day_29_of_30.html

http://www.draplin.com/2013/11/sad_for_dad_day_30_of_30.html

http://www.draplin.com/2013/11/post_1083.html

http://www.draplin.com/2013/12/one_day_in_2013_was_the_worst_day_of_my_life.html

http://www.draplin.com/2014/01/2014_kicks_in_and_missing_dad.html

And meet my Dad, if you haven’t already.

https://jennybadman.com/2012/03/08/day-30-like-milk-in-the-fridge/

https://jennybadman.com/2011/10/07/moonlit-ride/

https://jennybadman.com/2010/03/18/eight-months/

https://jennybadman.com/2011/02/03/sighting/

https://jennybadman.com/2010/08/23/moment/

jennybadman.com/2010/05/26/all-the-way-back-to-ohio/

jennybadman.com/2012/08/15/late-summer-love-letter/

jennybadman.com/2011/07/18/july-18-2011/

jennybadman.com/2012/03/29/store-bought-baked-goods-lukewarm-coffee/

jennybadman.com/2010/09/30/pals/

jennybadman.com/2012/03/06/day-28-golf-lessons/

jennybadman.com/2010/04/16/peanut-butter-john/

jennybadman.com/2011/06/17/the-words-of-my-father/

jennybadman.com/2011/09/07/driving-home/

jennybadman.com/2013/03/07/hey-fella/

jennybadman.com/2013/01/30/a-portrait-of-the-loud-laugher-as-a-young-girl/

jennybadman.com/2012/10/24/songbird/

jennybadman.com/2010/09/01/when-youre-here-youre-family/

jennybadman.com/2011/01/14/a-funeral-story/

jennybadman.com/2010/03/29/happy-birthday-dad/

jennybadman.com/2011/03/08/a-note-about-dad/

jennybadman.com/2010/08/14/dolphin-shoe-dad/

jennybadman.com/2010/01/18/dear-dad/

https://jennybadman.com/2012/06/18/on-our-dads/

It’s strange. When Dad died, I learned that the fathers of two friends from high school had died around the same time. In those early days when my grief was at its most raw, I thought of my friends and imagined what they were going through. Sometimes they commented on posts I wrote about Dad, and I think somehow it all helped us feel a little less alone.

Reading Aaron’s posts about his Dad made me remember those feelings, even now, 4 1/2 years later, and again, I feel less alone.

Thanks to Aaron for writing down the things we’re often afraid to even say. And, for sharing his Dad with us. I wish I could’ve met him. And I wish he’d met mine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Are Family

Last week, a 14 year old girl and her Mom; a Southern-born, Indian-bred self proclaimed “fat, hairy, brown femme-trans-masculine queer bodied magic pony;” an engineer/activist transgender woman; and a critically acclaimed actress, African American transgender woman made me cry and made me proud all in one night.

Sera, the 14 year old, was born Seth. Every night, starting at age three, she asked her Mom, Amy, “When is God going to make me a girl?”

Over the course of several years, Seth began being Sera…at home. By the time Seth was in fourth grade, he began transitioning at school, growing out his hair, dressing more femininely. By sixth grade, Sera was fully transitioned at school.

That transition, as you might imagine, was not always readily accepted. Sera was and is bullied…by kids and even parents.

Her Mom always told her, “You are an individual.”

And she is. She’s a bubbly 14 year old girl, talking excitedly with her hands in front of 500 people. She and her Mom both seem nervous, and utterly brave.

At the end of their tag teamed speech, Sera addressed us as if we were all going through what she has been going through, as if our mere presence in that auditorium meant that we understood, as if we were all still 14. And I realized that we all do understand, because no matter how old we are, if we think back, we can tap into that feeling of insecurity and uncertainty that comes with being a teenager, that overwhelming desire to belong, that unbelievable angst and longing for something you cannot name.

Anne Lamott wrote, “This is a difficult country to look different in…and if you are too skinny or too tall or dark or weird or short or frizzy or homely or poor or nearsighted, you get crucified. I did.”

Whether you think back to your teenage years and acknowledge that you were the bully, the target, the popular kid, the fringe kid, or the invisible kid, you know now (at least I hope with all of my bleeding heart that you do) that we are all much more alike than we are different.

After the speeches and the candlelight vigil, there was an after party where the keynote speaker and Orange Is The New Black star, Laverne Cox graciously posed for photographs with party-goers. And when the music got started (courtesy of Megan Jean and The KFB), the kids from We Are Family started dancing. Laverne quickly joined them, and everything, the room, the air, the light, just got brighter and lighter and together and better. And I thought to myself, “God, we all need to dance more,” because remember what it feels like to be in your body and move and feel free? It was music and dancing and laughter and people being exactly who they are.

WAF

And it was miraculous.

Screen Shot 2013-10-22 at 6.28.59 PM

Sera and her Mom weren’t at the after party, because after all, she’s only 14, but this is what she left us, her fellow, forever 14 year olds, with:

“People are going to say to you that ‘it gets better’ and you’re not going to believe them. And the truth is, it hasn’t gotten better for me yet, but I promise to come back and tell you guys when it does.”

Of Moms, daughters and showtunes

58053_478240036596_4588631_nThankfully, my Mom was never one of those Moms who commented on weight or personal appearance, other than to say things like, “Stop slouching. Stand up straight.” Or, “Are you sure there’s enough room in the crotch?”

I count myself lucky for that.

Both my Mom and Dad taught us from an early age that the world was not fair, that it didn’t owe us anything: a job, a car, or even love. It was, after all, up to us to learn everything we could; to be good people, good friends, good citizens in order to secure these things. As a result, my childhood was often like an ongoing lecture series in self-sufficiency, entitled: Here’s How, starring my mother.

“Here’s how to hold the potato when you peel it…”

“This is how to make a hospital corner…”

“How on earth have you gotten through life this far without knowing how to ____?”

“Ask the doctor questions. It’s your body.”

“Look it up.”

When my sister and I were young, Mom kept our hair short.

famShe says she kept it short because we screamed whenever she touched our hair, although I have no recollection of this. I do, however, remember her scorching the tips of our ears with the curling iron as she curled our short, Dorothy Hamill hairdos under.

Me, screeching: “You’re burning me! You’re burning me!”

Mom, flatly: “Don’t be silly. That’s just my finger.”

Really?

Because I had short hair and dressed in jeans and t-shirts, I was often mistaken for a boy.

This pained Mom to no end.

One might think a nifty solution to this problem might be say…grow the child’s hair out. Put it in pigtails. With ribbons even.

But if you did that, you’d miss the magic that is my Mother.

Rather than let my hair grow out, she decided it was a better idea to sew white eyelet lace around the back panel of my jean jacket.

My jean jacket.

It looked as horrific as you are imagining.

Even at six, I knew it was awful.

I refused to wear the jacket.

I joke with her now and again that white eyelet lace is the reason I’m gay.

She laughs. Most of the time.

Actually, she and I were folding underwear in her bedroom when I came out to her.

I chose neither the venue nor the timing of this discussion, but when she specifically asks me if the bar where I’m going that evening is a gay bar, I say yes.

I wait.

She says nothing.

I fold and refold a pair of Dad’s underwear three times and realize this is the moment.

I say, “Is there anything else you want to ask me?”

She says no, and I am certain she means it.

Something inside me clenches with fear so fiercely that rather than come out, I tiptoe forward.

I say, “Well, I’m pretty sure that I’m gay.”

She stops folding and says, “I’ll go get your Father.”

Also not in the plan.

The other night I went to see a friend perform in a production of Oklahoma! She was amazing, and the bunch of us that attended were very proud. Also, we sat in the second row which is really not the best idea for a musical. The truth is, you need a little physical distance from people who burst into song every few moments.

At any rate, there’s a scene in which the “bad guy,” Jud, sings a song that turns into a monotone dirge about his own death. The line he sings is: “Poor Jud is dead. A candle lights his head.”

This is the very line my Mom would sing to us when she woke us when we were kids, or if she caught us dozing off somewhere, or if we were being overly dramatic teenagers who might “die” if we didn’t get to [insert the thing we wanted to do here]. So here I am at the play the other night, laughing uncontrollably at a scene which is decidedly not funny, all because my Mom sang that bit to me at least a thousand times.

I am certain that using that line to wake her slumbering babes was never part of her plan. I mean, at least I hope it wasn’t, because talk about dark…However, it is for just this reason and a thousand others that I love her, that I find her maddening and irreplaceable and funny and frustrating and perfectly mine. Happy Mother’s Day, Mama, there’s simply no one quite like you.

Love,

Jenny

Tales from the “way back”

This is for you, Steph.

I grew up in suburban New Jersey in the late seventies and eighties in a tight-knit neighborhood full of kids. In those days, my best friends and most everything I loved or needed was a short walk away.

We played outside for hours at a stretch – in the creek, trees, streets, backyards, and basements.

We lived by simple truths:

Older brothers and sisters were in charge.

Mr. Rosenberg made the best pancakes.

The O’Connors had the biggest kickball team (11).

But perhaps one of the greatest but forgotten places to be during my childhood were the far flung regions of my friend’s parents’ station wagon – what we called “the way back.”

1970-Kingswood-Wagon“Can we sit in the ‘way back’?” was our plaintive plea at the announcement of every road trip, grocery store run, or rainy day ride to school.

In literal terms, the “way back” was so physically far from the front seat it may has well been in a different universe, which I suppose, lent it its magic.

I remember crawling over the back seat to the “way back,” the scratchy feel of the avocado felt, like the fuzz of a new tennis ball, wiry enough to give you a rug burn, soft enough for hours of travel or adventure.

1976_Chevy_CapriceSometimes we leaned against the leather-covered sideboards. Sometimes we lay on our backs, heads close to the back door and watched the sky whisk by, thin clouds racing, sunlight and shadows making patterns across our faces. On long trips, we made beds out of sleeping bags and pillows in Stars Wars and Muppet Show pillowcases.

The “way back” was a safe zone. You were much less likely to get pinched or punched or kicked or glared at by an older sibling if you were there.

On some summer evenings, while our parents sat in lawn chairs, talked and smoked (it was the ‘70s) in the backyard, we kids hung out in the front yard and driveway – sometimes sitting in the parked “way back” with the door open, like a kind of club house.

What I didn’t realize when I started digging into my “way back” memories is that the station wagon was much more than fun for us kids. It was a literal vehicle of empowerment and independence during the ‘70s. It was a call to take to the open road.

Don’t think so?

Think of The Brady Brunch journeying to the Grand Canyon.

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Think of Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, the movie on which the sitcom “Alice” was based. Alice packed up everything she owned in her station wagon, and she and her young son set out on a journey to find a better life. The station wagon their transitional home, big enough to hold all or most of their possessions, big enough to sleep in if they had to.

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Think of One Day At A Time. Ann Romano as the quintessential ‘70s single Mom divorcee. She dumped her husband and packed up her girls and her life in their station wagon – and unpacked and remade them all in an apartment of their own, on their own.

bonniefranklinAnd, let we forget, perhaps the most memorable station wagon of all, from National Lampoon’s Vacation.

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I’m assuming the station wagon went out of fashion fast when the gas crisis hit, and when times got better, someone came up with the next generation: the minivan.

God, forgive us.

I guess the “way back” is gone forever. Children without seat belts romping around in the backs of fast-moving cars? Well, no.

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Oh, 1970s, we miss you and your cavalier attitude, your winged hair, your independence.

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But mostly, we miss the “way back.”