As Near as You Can Get, I Had a Perfect Childhood

When I was a kid, growing up on Orcas Island, Washington, my father built me a playhouse in the backyard beneath a copse of shady evergreens. It wasn’t a fancy house, just four sheets of plywood, a flat roof, an opening for the doorway, and two windows, one looking south to the house and the second looking north to the cliff and the edge of the world.

Eastsound Bay, on Orcas Island.

I loved that playhouse. I played for hours in its shady interior. I read in there, pretended in there, and played game after game with my best friend who lived across the street, and whose name, believe it or not, was Gretchen.

I loved that playhouse. I played for hours in its shady interior. I read in there, pretended in there, and played game after game with my best friend who lived across the street, and whose name, believe it or not, was Gretchen.

To top off our name-connection, her birthday was six months to the day different than mine, making her exactly 1.5 years older than me. I always thought it was fun to celebrate my half birthday on her real birthday. (Even weirder – our husband’s birthdays, as we discovered years later, are on the same day!)

Gretchen and I would play there often. Barbies, board games, pretend. There was one game we really liked, where you take a piece of paper and one of us would write a sentence on it, then fold it over like a fan so the other couldn’t see what was written, and then we’d pass it back and forth in this manner until the page was filled or we were bored, whichever came first.

Then, of course, you read it out loud and it was hilarious. At least it was to a couple of kids.

A beach on Orcas Island - not "my" beach, but very similar!

But the best thing to do with Gretchen was to play on the beach. Her grandparents had an orange fiberglass rowboat, and we loved to take it out and paddle around, where once we were certain that a sea serpent greeted us but it was probably just a seal and we’d gaze down into the depths at the crabs, kelp, and fishes and I’d pray I wouldn’t fall in because I couldn’t swim. Sometimes we’d wear life jackets…but not always. (And as for bike helmets…what were they?! It’s amazing we survived back in the old days!)

Back on the shore we’d find crabs beneath the rocks and once we gathered them all in a bucket where they fought each other and foamed at the mouth until we let them all go, worried that they’d kill each other in their foamy anger. We’d build fires and roast hot dogs though for some reason we never camped down there, though I did with another friend a time or two. We’d play on the huge boulders and forget about the incoming tide and then have to wade back through the cold, cold water and then, of course, our feet would squelch in our Keds all the way home up the cliff path, our socks falling down and scrunching up beneath our heels.

Gretchen’s grandparents had a wooden set of retractable stairs built down to the beach and sometimes we would take that route home. We’d huff and puff up the 90 foot cliff and then turn at the top and look down at the beach, wanting nothing more than to be back down at the bottom, still playing, still having fun.

We’d always return home sunburned and freckled, our curly hair wild from the wind, our skin salty and our knees bruised from falling on barnacles. Worn out from the day’s activities, that wouldn’t stop us from camping out in Gretchen’s orange tent that night.

Pitched for weeks on her parent’s lawn, that tent was our second bedroom most summers. We’d collapse into our sleeping bags after a good evening of chasing flying termites around the yard with badminton racquets. Aside from the time an inquisitive raccoon (aka a terrible monster in our imaginations) brushed past the tent and scared us to death, we always slept well and woke early, often returning to our haunts of the day before to do it all over again.

It never got old, playing with Gretchen.

I probably have a million stories about those glorious days. Stick around and I’ll tell you them all.

- Gretchen

2 thoughts on “As Near as You Can Get, I Had a Perfect Childhood

  1. Yes, I would like that for sure. We be gone for hours down at the beach and I don’t think Mom ever worried. Well, maybe she worried about the life jacket thing….

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