Off Herford Road
As a child I found freedom in a mound of earth. A short walk into the woods around one of the many places I have lived was all it took to get there. Home then was a run-down trailer with an infestation of roaches and unpleasant encounters with an unpleasant man. Freedom was the greatest want.
My relationship with my siblings is an odd one, and it was the center of everything then. So many brothers and sisters fight and bicker amongst themselves. They argue because of jealousy, because they annoy one another, or simply because they feel like it. For my brother, my sister, and myself, we had a few brief quarrels, but there were more important matters between us. We lived in the shadow of divorce and the tyranny of a most distasteful and unusual man.
Jim, our stepfather, was a man whose presence in our lives can only be explained by my mother’s abundance of sympathy. Sympathy, however, is no grounds for a stable relationship. Jim possessed a learning disability and slight mental retardation that blocked literacy from him and gave him, then in his thirties, the thought process of a child. Ironically, for all his lack of intellect, he wanted nothing more than to be “the boss.” He was nothing short of impossible. Mom was hardly ever home. She was seeking a degree in education and this kept her away most of the week. On the weekends, when she was home, there was always an argument between her and her husband. During the week, when she was gone, it was Jim’s initiative to scold his stepchildren for their idleness while he lounged in his favorite chair. Jeremy, my older brother, was the closest thing I had to a role model, and Jeanell, my older sister, was the closest thing I had to a best friend (our younger brother, Jim’s son, was yet to be born). The three of us had only each other to confide in, and we sought every opportunity of escape. Jeremy found his comfort in books, locking himself in his room for long hours, but for Jeanell and I, it was the outdoors.
Blackberries grew wild on the side of the unpaved clay path called Herford Road. We often got cups or bowls from our cabinets, filled them to the brim and came home scratched up from the thorns in which the berries grew. Other days we grabbed our bikes and rode down the road a short way to find a large dip in the road. This provided loads of fun for us as we let gravity pull our bicycles down the clay slope with the wind on our faces. On one of our many ventures Jeanell and I decide to go a little deeper into the woods than we had before. We followed the tea-stained “Black Creek” that wound through the pine trees and found a place where the water split to circle a mound of turf with a single tree growing from it. We visited this place time and again while we lived in that trailer. Sometimes we together and other times alone. It was a place to sit and think or relieve the anger that was so often present under the reign of Jim.
Our other comfort was imagination. If we couldn’t get rid of our problem we could distract ourselves from it. We entertained fantasies of mysterious people living in the woods. Any trash we found*empty TV dinners, ice cream containers, coke cans and the countless other pieces of debris left by neighbors too lazy to drive to the dump (no trash service in our rural part of the world)*this was the remains of meals eaten by the hoboes of the forest. Ghost also frequented the premises, as well as innumerable imaginary friends; a new one was born everyday. The ghost were not to be feared for they were friendly. All this, in our minds, was a reality and the denizens of our forest provided friendship for introverted children like ourselves.
The “island,” as we called it, was the center of our fantasies, as well as a place to cry or be alone. Once, Jeanell decided that she was tired of it all and “ran away” from home. She was only gone for a few hours, and, although the rest of the family probably thought she had just taken a walk down Herford, I knew exactly where she had been. That small mound of clay was more our home than the place where we slept. It was the center of the friendship that I still share with her.
Most wouldn’t see the beauty in that simple place. Indeed, there was nothing truly significant about the “island” at all, but to us it was liberty, a vacation from the stress-machine that we called “home.” We, who sought freedom, could find it off Herford Road.
Off Herford Road-Process Memo
This essay was originally just a brief sketch on the prompt “the loveliest place you have ever know” and it was hardly longer than a page. I admit that I didn’t see much in it initially but my freshman composition instructor did. For my entire first semester in her class I wrote primarily about my childhood, a topic that I was not very enthusiastic about at first. I’ve since realized that it is healthy to reminisce on even painful memories. “Off Herford Road” represents the heart of that pain as well as a tremendous friendship with my older sister.
After my instructor expressed her interest in the topic, I have since expanded on it. I added details that I didn’t think about when I first wrote the sketch but that were essential to relaying the story. I had mentioned that home wasn’t a pleasant place at the time but I had failed to express what made it unpleasant. Also, the vivid imagination the I shared with my sister was missing. With these additions I feel that the essay has reached completion.