In each and every childhood, there is a field. It might be a great rolling meadow, or a small patch of green in the middle of a city. There may not even be that much grass- you've seen the burnt-out cars in the middle of a pile of rubble. If you look closely enough, you'll see the grass poking it's head through the bricks and stone. That's field enough for me. The point is, we all have these places, deep within our memories. You may not remember. I do.
My field was at the bottom of my street. I lived in a col-de-sac at the edge of town and country. I say country, but it was a farm surrounded by roads on the outskirts of Belfast. If you went past the farm you were in the city. Back the other way, and you were in Newtownabbey. But there, at the edge, we were far from urban intrusion. Back in those troubled days, even the bombs were distant thunder. The zoo was nearby, far up Cave Hill. At night, in the summer, you could hear the lions roaring, like some savannah dream. It was just one of the things that made childhood special.
The summer was the best time, of course. School was just a bad memory the second we got out the door. Then there was just us, the two month respite, and the field.
It rolled over a hill so that we couldn't see one side from the other. That made it feel bigger, wider somehow. The side nearest my house (and I was doubly blessed- my garden opened onto the Field) was slightly higher that the far side, which swept down into a river, surrounded by tall trees, a verdant line that traced the river's path . The Field was a great green ocean, dividing our land from the unknown.
It wasn't unknown long. We soon crossed the field in a brave expedition, and made the distant land ours. It had paths that were only known to children and cats, and we walked them almost every day. The river was a great compromise- it was quick and noisy, appealing to our sense of hearing and adventure, yet tame enough to be almost safe. It wasn't long before the rope swings went up, a matter of some territorial disputes over the years as it turned out. The gangs came and went and only the Field remained.
We were Rangers, traveling far and wide, armed with imagination. The Field and river were the scenes for many epic war stories and science fiction tales.
The summer seemed endless, yet school always returned. In the autumn, the Field remained ours, and somehow those evenings seemed warmer and longer. The Field changed from green to gold, capturing the sunlight and keeping it captive for a while.
As I grew older, the Field remained constant. My childhood slipped into adolescence, and the Field became a place for meditation, for thought and consideration. As new priorities took hold of my youthful mind, I was glad for a quiet place.
Then, suddenly, I moved far away from there. My family and I moved into the countryside, but ironically took up residence in the middle of a small town. I was further away now from the country than I had been on the outskirts of Belfast. I have never returned to my old house, or the Field, though I have dreamt of both many times. In those dreams, they remain the same and I can still go wandering there, if I have a mind to.
The importance of the Field, a game-board on which our childhood is played out, is this- we all have one. There is somewhere unique in each of our childhoods where we were happy.
If we can remember our Fields, remember where we put them, and perhaps share them with the ones we play with today, might our lives be richer?
My Field remains, still on the outside of town. I've asked about it, and it has remained green.
Children still play there. I envy them.