We all have those places we hold dear to our hearts, that take us back to a simpler time, when our biggest worry was the scraped knee we got when we fell off our bike or the fact that we had to finish our vegetables before we could have dessert. For me, there are only a few places where, despite the years that have passed, I can be taken me right back to that place at a moment’s notice. One such place is Miss Renda’s house.
When I conjure up Miss Renda, images of a spunky, fun-loving, motherly (but in the cool mom kinda way), sweet, yet stern, woman come to mind. Miss Renda looked after me from around the ages of 3 to 7, sometimes all day, sometimes half-day, and sometimes only during the summers. Along with me were her twins, Melissa and Ty, my brother once he was born, and I’m pretty sure another child. When I think back on that time, some things are fuzzy, but other memories are crystal clear, painting this image of a quintessential American childhood.
Her home was warm and inviting, familiar and lived-in. Her house, on a corner lot, provided a huge yard to play in, and its white stone brick exterior, for some reason, didn’t seem to match the inside of the house. The front door, while the entrance my mom used to drop me off and pick me up, wasn’t the entrance we used. We came in and out using the back door, the one by the car port that led into the playroom. The front door was for more formal entries, not casual ones. Isn’t that how it always is? The back or side door, the more familiar one?
In my mind’s eye, I can transport myself back to that place, and while I know I can’t remember all the details (Where was the bathroom again?), I can remember the ones that count. I can remember the wrap-around front yard, where every summer we’d spend hours running through the sprinkler, fighting for our turn on the slip ‘n’ slide, eating popsicles in the heat of the afternoon. You know the ones. The brightly colored liquid in the plastic pouch where, once frozen, you cut the ends off and pushed up to eat. Why were the tiny frozen pieces in the cut off parts so much better than the actual popsicle? I can remember Melissa trying and trying to teach me how to do a cartwheel out there, and me failing every time. I have, to this day, never been able to do a cartwheel. It was in front of Miss Renda’s house, on that stretch of road leading to the dead end, where Melissa and Ty taught me how to ride a bike without training wheels. The pride I felt that day is something every kid should experience.
Her backyard was just as fun! Melissa, Ty, and I would spend countless hours outside, making up games, imagining new worlds, digging in the dirt, playing with leaves and sticks, and collecting locust shells we found stuck to the side of the house. Around the back, there was a swing tied to a big oak tree, and I have this vivid memory of swinging on the swing belting out “Rockin’ Robin.” Later, when we were in elementary school, Melissa, Ty, and I would tease each other with the “Sittin’ in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G” song on that very swing.
Inside, I can remember the massive playroom, full of toys, and if I recall correctly, a room that was converted to a playroom from something else (garage maybe?). I can remember nap time, our nap mats in the foyer near the front door. Like most kids do, I fought nap time, and I remember Miss Renda’s constant pleas for me to “just go to sleep.” But my strongest memories are in the kitchen and one of the back bedrooms.
The kitchen was the soul of the house. Miss Renda’s U-shaped kitchen, clad in typical 70’s/80’s fashion was yellowish-orange or green. A large dining table sat off to the side, where Miss Renda’s family presumably ate their dinner. But we didn’t eat there. In the middle of her kitchen, Miss Renda had a small kid-sized table and chairs set up for us, where we’d eat our snacks and lunches. My favorite meal Miss Renda ever made was Cherry Soup and Grilled Cheese. I can remember years later my mom telling me the story of cherry soup. My mom and 4-year-old me were grocery shopping when I asked her to buy me cherry soup. Of course, she told me cherry soup doesn’t exist. Insistent, I told her it does- Miss Renda makes it for me!– and I wanted it. Again, she tried to convince me I was making it up, as there is no such thing as cherry soup. After throwing a fit in the store, my mom asked Miss Renda what it was she was feeding me. Where was I getting this nonsense? Miss Renda laughed and told her it was tomato soup and grilled cheese, only we wouldn’t eat it if it was called tomato soup (no kid really likes tomatoes, do they?), so she called it cherry soup, and we loved it. From then on, my mom made me cherry soup, too.
Sometime in the 80’s, Nintendo came out with their original gaming system and classic games of Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt. Miss Renda was the only person I knew who had it, which made her the coolest person I knew. I remember it was located in one of the back bedrooms, hooked up to a large, encased-in-wood TV set. We were allowed to play it sparingly, which made it all the more appealing. I can remember sitting on the edge of the bed, taking turns with Melissa and Ty, as we learned to navigate this entirely new technology. Shooting the ducks, we got way too close to the TV, our barrels nearly hitting the glass. Maneuvering little Mario through the mazes of Super Mario Bros. took skill and timing. It was vital to move the controller when you were making him jump. We swapped tricks and helped one another avoid pitfalls by shouting out our advice. I didn’t convince my parents to buy me a Nintendo until much later, when Super Nintendo came out. I still wish I had that first Nintendo system.
As much as my memories are attached to the physical place of Miss Renda’s house, the real memories are my experiences within that place. Miss Renda was such an influential person in my life, and I’ll never forget the care, love, and attention she gave us. I wouldn’t want to change this part of my childhood in any way, and I wish that everyone could have their own Miss Renda.
A sketch of Miss Renda’s house I made in my writer’s notebook