by Linh Nguyen
When I was five, we moved to Ithaca – a town so small that every animal was recognisable: the dog with only three legs, the cat that kept getting lost in the creek, the fearless squirrel that would rap at our window for peanuts. In Vietnamese, childhood is called the age of poetry, and in that little corner of the universe, my life aligned like a picture-perfect poem.
The summer days in Ithaca were a whirlwind of recklessness. As soon as the yellow forsythia flowers bloomed by the creek-side, filling the air with their sweet aroma, all the kids would be on the streets, selling lemonade for 25 cents and chasing after ice cream trucks. We would go wading down in the creek, catching crayfish and bathing with the wild ducks. It was an adventure through currents and a forest of reeds.
There were so many grassy fields for a little girl to run around in, and so many sloping lawns to roll down. The university campus was my Emerald City of Oz. It was a castle for my daydreams, filled with hideouts under enormous, draping weeping willow branches.
Everything was just a walk away, albeit a long one for tired little legs. After visiting the campus, we could either head to the waterfall and follow the creek back home, skipping over rocks and weaving through greenery, or go downtown through the Commons. The streets were cobblestoned, and all the shops faced a central square with picnic tables and giant umbrellas in the middle. There were toy stores and clothing stores and stores selling gemstones. But even the best toy store couldn’t match the library, with its warm couches and carpeted floors, a hushed haven of inspiration and magic hidden in rows and rows of children’s books.
There was only one public elementary school in the entire town. The junior section had a small plastic playground with colourful tubes that I could climb on with just a few days’ practice. All the kids longed for the graduation to grade two, to the senior playground with the huge wooden turrets and tunnels, the jungle gym set, and the hills and trees to one side. Dandelions covered the hillside in the warmer months, the little bright yellow suns and the perfect balls of fluff, carrying our wishes through the wind.
Snow or summer, the sun always shone. April snowstorms frequently threw blinding blankets of white over the city – a Santa Claus village dusted in sugar with little children bouncing around in marshmallow coats. My first snowmen came to life there, with real carrots for noses, and as tall as I was.
There was so much room to run, so much fresh, clean air, and nothing to stop us from racing our bikes on the road and playing hide and seek all day across the rickety fences of our houses. The streets were quiet, and a child’s yell of laughter would cut through the air like a firecracker. At the end of summer, we would sit outside and watch the ‘bird show’ from our porches, when flocks of sparrows and starlings flew south for the winter, darkening the sky as they passed by the thousands. Long days, bathed in sunlight – it was poetry indeed.
Linh is an English major in her final undergraduate year at the University of Toronto. In the rare moments when she is not reading or writing, Linh can be found watching Disney movies, working with children, or enjoying a hot cup of tea. Her work has appeared in several blogs and publications, including The New York Times, Her Campus, and more.