Our house in Iowa City… the house of my early childhood … had front porch steps, back-porch steps, and a side door stoop.  But in addition, there were what Mom called the sidewalk steps. These were the three small steps leading up from the sidewalk to the front walk. I have since found they are referred to as Precast Bullnose Steps with Concrete Cheeks. They were the width of the walkway, set down between little ramps (the cheeks) on each side. They were surrounded by an old abused lawn of crabgrass, dandelions, veronica and violets. Being at ground level made them quite comfortable to scrunch up on. They had a rough texture that was nice and cool in the summer but left a pattern of nubbles on the back of your legs if you sat too long. There was just enough room for a little fanny to sit comfortably without getting dirty, and they were perfect for being out in the big world while staying safe. You could be busy and adventurous, brave and careful. You could play with others or be alone. They were the ideal place for eating messy cinnamon toast like a popsicle pronged on a fork, or watching ants converge on splotches of spilled Kool-Aid. 

Those small steps marked the boundary line of our front yard, and were as far as we are allowed to go until we until we reached a certain age, after which we could move out into the bigger world. The older guys were allowed to take the sidewalk to the top of the hill from whence they could whoosh themselves off on the tricycle and go barreling down Seymour street over the humps and bumps and gnarly roots. They had the entire playground across the street for showing off, and could walk to the circus grounds up the street and around the corner, or go off to watch the trains rushing under the bridge at the cross street beyond the school, or go to the corner market two streets away for candy on allowance day. 

It really wasn’t fair that I couldn’t go with the rest of them. Sitting there, knees bent, with time slowly passing, feeling ill-used and harassing the scab on my knee, I would wait for others to get back from their weekly trip to store, having to trust in their discretion to make the best candy selection on my behalf.  To pass the time, I would watch the ants that crawled in frenetic disarray if you poked at them. I would make little tiny ant road blocks from the remnants of grass cast over the hard-packed dirt. I traced the branches of crab grass that lay down flat to avoid the push mower, and learned to love the tiny little white daisy-veronicas and the yummy dark purple violets with their shiny flat green leaves framing their perseverance. The big world of tiny things, was always there to keep me company while I waited. And in the end, time became meaningless while I explored that miniature world. Today I remember nothing about the candy, but the ants and the rest of that small world remain a vivid memory.

Lately, I have had occasion to revisit the old lessons learned on those sidewalk steps. Here am I, stuck at home, sitting on the steps with my own house and my own yard at my back, with space of my own to enjoy. And once again although I am missing the bigger world and all its excitement, with time on my hands, I find myself creating new memories while letting time become meaningless.

They’re gone now, those little steps. I googled the old address and saw that the front lawn has been graded down to the sidewalk so they aren’t needed anymore. I know it’s silly to feel such a sadness for their passing, but there you are.

3 Replies to “SMALL STEPS”

  1. Wow Connie – I feel like I experienced these memories through your rich visual descriptions. So wonderful!!

  2. The small daily glimpses into the glories of Nature around us never cease to astonish. I, for one, am happy (most of the time) to slow down and watch them all. Thanks for this!

  3. I love the glimpses into the past from “our coming of age”. You captured your innocent observations from your smaller frame most eloquently.

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