A Backyard as Wide as Childhood

My friend Candy never failed to contradict me when I argued that my backyard was bigger than hers. She didn't get excited about it, she just flatly stated her case, sure of herself and for the best of reasons. The broad slope behind her parents' home undulated expansively to a long section of wooded creek bank.

My own backyard, though fun to play in with its swing set, apple tree, and seasonal attractions - a summer wading pool, piles of red and gold leaves at the bottom of the slide, a little skating rink that my father framed out one winter and filled with hose-water ice - just didn't add up, areawise.

Skating on Candy's creek, I had to admit that her house looked pretty far away through the trees. I could see my mom through the kitchen window from my rink and see exactly what she was doing. I knew in my heart that Candy was right. Her backyard was much, much bigger than mine.

But with a child's perverse obstinacy I refused to admit this to her. With equal tenacity she challenged my absurd claim as often as I made it. Though it never really died, the issue also never seriously interfered with our childhood friendship.

We grew up, left our homes, and years passed with no contact between us. Recently, I learned that she now lives in a nearby city and has gone into real estate. I rang up her work number to announce, without first identifying myself, that I was looking for a house - one with a bigger backyard than hers.

Candy and I talked, long and happily.

Hearing that I now live on an 80-acre dairy farm, she acknowledged, almost with a gasp of relief, that yes, now my backyard was the bigger one. I could all but hear her innermost voice rejoicing that finally, this bone could be buried.

Our conversation started me wondering about my former obsession with the sizes of our girlhood domains. Possibly, it was born of that curious impulse that sometimes drives children - and adults - to butt their heads against bald facts, whether to feed a dream, bolster an illusion, or perk up a conversation.

But in this case, flying in the face of geometric realities also may have been my way of affirming that childhood was unfolding as richly and expansively for me as for anyone. Raw area was a concept I could grasp, use, and stand by, and Candy's backyard was an irresistible target.

Nowadays, Candy and I both know the difference between outer and inner spaces. We each have sons. We've moved, traveled, pursued careers, faded in and out of touch with old friends. We both regularly visit our first homes.

The old backyards haven't changed. Neither has our belief in their spaciousness.

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