oh, if only they’d come to that door. if only they’d swing it wide open, pull you in in that way that they usually do.
oh, if only you, too, could play at the nelsons.
every street, nay, every childhood, should have one, the nelsons.
a rambling old house where the attic is big, the garage is quite stuffed, but the imagination, oh my, it’s humongous. it can’t be contained. it seeps through the cracks, it sprawls in the yard. it’s piled quite high, can’t be stuffed in the closets.
a house, and a family, where ideas are meant to be steeped, and a little mess only makes it all better.
a house where a boy (one who can’t stay away) can get lost, and his dreams can be found, where they spill from his head like bright bits of confetti.
a house where a boy can spend a whole summer’s day pretending it’s star wars, real live. where pb&js come cut out in stars, where the fruit on the tray is not plain old melon and grapes but canyon fruit, and pea-eyed fruit, too (nothing official, i’m told, just a name with a nice star-warsy ring to it). where the windows are hung, for effect at this lunch, with a star-and-moon pillow case and a star-and-moon sheet. where after lunch, after oreos covered in yellow-goo stars, a movie is served. taken in, but of course, in full anakin skywalker star war regalia.
oh, did i mention this was all the doing of the kiddies? the mama was out running errands.
better than best, this is a house where the children do whole gobs of the thinking. this is a house where the grownups are sparks but the kids take the ride to the stars.
how unheard of in an age where children, too often, are spoon-fed. how divine to be left to your own child-stoked devices.
yes, this is a house where a glue gun is part of the landscape, but that’s just the tip of the work bench. jig saws i’ve seen, and tools that impressed even my builders. it’s all at the ready, all standing by for whatever’s the latest invention.
and with every invention, it seems, costumes come out of the woodwork. this here is a full-service idea factory.
squirreled away in the basement, in what she calls, simply, “the fort,” the mama has all sorts of doodads and drawers stuffed with whatchamacallits. every cool thing you would need to construct whatever it is you sketch out in your head.
the mama, a school teacher, a kindergarten teacher, to be precise, is the heart of this five-member troupe. but she’s backed up with a daughter, sweet 16 but not too big for dress-up and make-believe and stirring the pot of whatever’s put out on the stove of creation.
the papa’s a scientist, known and loved around here as pyro pete, for his leanings toward all things pyrotechnic and sparkling. if it fumes and it fizzes, if it flies and goes pop in the night, chances are, we’ve watched pyro pete do the igniting.
they are the sort of family you thank your lucky stars for. the sort they write books about. even meanders, apparently.
speaking of stars, if there’s one shooting by, you can bet the high-powered scope, the one hauled from the attic, is out on the sidewalk so all passersby can gawk at the heavens.
out back in the alley, come every summer, there is, at the production and direction of ms. sweet 16, a full-scale musical staging, called the garage-in-the-alley theater. this year it’s annie. last year, pippi longstocking. year before, peter pan.
rehearsals begin back in spring. the cast, from every house on the block with a child; she leaves no one out. finds just the right part for each player.
with her own special mix of magic and love, the lovely directress gets even the big kids, the boys teetering on teenage-hood, singing and dancing, stringing up lights, painting boxes for sets, rigging costumes. little ones, ones who struggle to read, she has them tapping their toes, spouting their script, pretending they’re pirates with swords. (no matter the show, she manages, somehow, to make swords a part of the action.)
grown men in the audience, in their chairs in the alley, i’ve seen them weeping, unable to stop.
it’s all part of the nelson equation.
we bumped into the goodness that flows there the very first morning we looked at this house. there on the sidewalk, hand-in-hand with her then-wee-littlest boy, mrs. nelson was out “hobgoblinning,” a never-before-heard-of october ritual in which you ring a doorbell, drop a sack full of goodies, then run like the dickens lest you be spotted mid-action.
with her red hair and freckles, there on that long-ago morning, we were pretty much put under her spell, that mrs. nelson.
she’s never let up. cinnamon rolls on a plate at the door, the day the moving truck rolled to the curb. bags full of goodies, always themed and home-made, for practically every last holiday since.
in the deep of december, when it’s dark and it’s cold, they light up the night as they kindle swedish tradition. put candles on heads, glide through the twilight, santa lucia herself, with her maids and her tomten. come new year’s, there is a rousing kinder parade. children with clangers and banners, ringing the block.
you might think it exhausting–it’s not. it’s some kind of wonderful, really it is.
but it’s the unending stories, the summertime plots, the pretend with a capital p, that’s the thing that is truly so priceless. that’s the thing that all children everywhere, and all grownups too, should not have to grow up without.
the nelsons, they are essential. like iron for blood and milk for your bones, they should be stamped with minimum daily requirements.
i pinch myself, daily, hourly sometimes, wondering how in the world did we get so darn lucky. who knew that this house should have included the listing: “wrld’s bst nabrs: the nlsns, attchd.”
oh my goodness gracious, for an indescribable crew, it seems i did some describing. i am hoping and crossing my fingers that your world, too, or the world of your children, held, holds, some magical wonderful clubhouse where ideas were there at the ready, waiting to be tried on, tested, concocted. is there another block on the planet where the essential neighbor is there, awaiting your knock on the door?