In the summer following my second birthday, like many families, mine moved, from New York, to the suburbs of New Jersey. My parents found us a split level home at the top of Demarest Road, in Teaneck. It was the model for the sub-division, and it stood at the entrance to the neighborhood where I grew up. The house remains, and my childhood memories live there.
Sandra Place crossed the bottom of the Demarest Road hill. It was the last part of the neighborhood to be constructed, and it remained heavily wooded for a very long time. Four houses sat on the cul-de-sac at Sandra Place, and between the two on the right, was an extra space. It was a dirt path that led out of the neighborhood to a very busy street called Fycke Lane. The path was strewn with twigs and litter, and the woods were thick on both sides. Through the trees on the left, were a run down farm house, a small barn and a rickety wire fence that caged four, ferociously, barking dogs.
When I started Kindergarten, I was the only five year old in the neighborhood to be assigned to the afternoon session. On cold or rainy days, my mother, who was just learning to drive, would flag down a city bus and ask the driver to drop me off at Hawthorne School. When the weather was comfortable, she sent me off to walk the whole way by myself. This involved the long walk to the bottom of the hill, turning left toward the cul-de-sac, taking the path to the main road, then heading far down Fycke Lane to the school.
Every day, I stood, terrified; at the edge of my neighborhood; the path stretching out, dark and endless in front of me. Hundreds of trees whispered in the wind; their full branches bending and creating moving shadows. Bees buzzed, small animals skittered about and the dogs at the nearby farm sensed my presence. They growled, they shrieked, they yelped; throwing their bodies, heavily, against the wire fence.
Breathless, with tears streaming down my cheeks, I counted to three, and ran as fast as I could. The sound of my footsteps angered the dogs, causing them to howl, while trying to get to me. Imagining them breaking free, I cried harder; praying that the fence was tightly locked. My little feet pounded the dirt all the way to the end of the path.
Relief waited for me when I arrived at Fycke Lane. I felt safer, there, as people drove past me in their cars, or walked on other parts of the sidewalk. My chest shuddering, I kept wiping my eyes, as I continued down the road.
My Aunt Ada lived a block before the school, and I was, often, tempted to ring her doorbell, just to tell her I had been scared. I knew she would hug me and sit me down in her pink kitchen. She would give me milk and cookies and remind me that I was safe. I believed she would have, even, walked with me the rest of the way. But I never did stop, there. I couldn’t wait to get to school.
An afternoon in my classroom was my prize for conquering that awful path. I loved my teacher and the room full of kids. Building with the gigantic building blocks was my favorite part of playtime and I adored the stories my teacher read to the class.
Of course, I was worried about the walk back home, but my brother was’ always, with me for that. He hated the path, too, and I had learned that being frightened together was so much easier than being frightened, alone.