Election Section

The Little Pond

By Janet Turman
Friday December 21, 2007

The long lean branches of the weeping willow dangled low over the little oval pond in our backyard. Faded red bricks fringed the concrete pond and the narrow bridge that crossed it. The bridge sloped up ever so slightly, then down to the other side of the pond. It was an unnecessary bridge. I could have walked around the pond had I wished to pry through the tangled branches of the drooping trees and unruly plants that surrounded it. But I never ventured around the pond during those years when I was six, seven, and eight years old. I always sat in my favorite place, the middle of the bridge. 

I could be alone there, not like in my bedroom, which I shared with my older sister Gwen and younger brother Jack. Our bunk beds and Jack’s bed left barely enough space to move between them. It was pleasant enough inside, but I loved sitting alone on the bridge over the pond, watching tiny creatures dart about between stringy dark green plants. It was cool in the shade where flashes of sunlight filtered through the trees became glistening jewels on the water. On most days it was so quiet that only the hum of an occasional bee or the buzz of a fly interrupted my peaceful reverie. Once in a while the rhythmic chomp-scrape of a hoe sliced through the silence. I recognized it at once as the old man who lived behind us working in his garden.  

In the harsh South Dakota winters, the pond froze over with ice as hard as the concrete surrounding it. Though I spent little time out there, occasionally I tramped through the snowdrifts to check the thickness of the ice, taking tentative steps on it to see if it was solid. I would never have thought to try to skate there even when the ice was thick enough to hold my weight. The pond was so small that one short glide would have taken me from one side to the other. It was nothing like the lake where Gwen and I skated.  

We shared a pair of hand-me-down white leather shoe skates, a great improvement over the clip-on metal runners of earlier winters. Although I am two and a half years younger than Gwen, we wore the same size shoes then when I was seven and eight, the years before I surpassed her in height and shoe size. We took turns waiting for each other in the warming house, a little shack at the edge of the lake. A huge pot-bellied stove in the center radiated heat out to the benches surrounding it. When it was my turn to wear the skates, I clomped outside down the wooden ramp to the lake, where the frigid air bit my face and seared my lungs as I skated along on the lumpy surface around the edges of the lake until I felt frozen or decided to give Gwen a turn. Even though sharing the skates meant I had to skate alone, I felt safe and protected, knowing that Gwen waited for me.  

At home she preferred being inside and never went to our pond behind the garage. Jack didn’t venture out there either, so I thought of the pond as my private place. In the summer I’d push aside the drooping willows and step out from my cool haven into our victory garden. The blazing sun blinded me for a moment, and the heat scorched my fair skin as I moved through the tall corn stalks toward the other vegetables: string beans, potatoes, peas, lettuce, carrots, green onions and finally, tomatoes. I twisted a few shiny ripe tomatoes from the vines, dusting them off as I walked back to my sanctuary. Sitting in the middle of the bridge, I savored them, the warm red juice dripping down my chin. 

Some days I took a large empty mayonnaise jar and a little Pyrex dish filled with uncooked dry grains of Cream of Wheat to the bridge. Earlier I had washed the Miracle Whip label from the jar and carried it to the basement, even though I hated the daddy-long-legs that crept around down there. Using my father’s hammer and a large nail I punched holes into the lid of the jar, holes that were evenly spaced in a circle around the edge of the lid, with larger ones in the center.  

At the pond I scooped the jar full of murky water, though in the jar it looked almost clear. I filled it again and again until I had captured four or five tadpoles. I wanted ones that still looked like chubby gray minnows; their legs only a faint protrusion beneath the skin. Eventually, satisfied with my catch, I plucked a few strands of slimy green plants from the pond, adding them to the jar. Then I pinched some Cream of Wheat from the dish and sprinkled it into the jar, watching it float on the surface, as the tadpoles explored their tiny new home. I scattered the rest of the grainy Cream of Wheat over the pond, fearing it didn’t hold enough food to help the tadpoles grow into frogs.  

I soon became the tadpole expert at school, telling everyone about the wonderful process of metamorphosis that changed the tadpoles, also called polliwogs, into frogs. I collected them to take to special friends, thrilled to be able to share my pets. 

The pond, and especially the little bridge, remained my favorite place for several years until we moved to a different house. Now, over sixty years later, I have a tiny private space in our home. Quite the opposite of the little pond, though it is about the same size, it is filled with furniture and equipment. I call it my office because I work there, but it’s also a playroom for my grandchildren and me. In a small clear space amidst the furniture, we play on the floor with Tinker Toys, Hot wheels, Tonka trucks, an ancient Fisher Price Circus train, and other treasures left from my sons’ early years. 

The main thing is compared with other areas in our home the room is mine. My favorite colors dominate: reds, orange, and pink. Photos of my family and a few of my paintings line the walls. It is cheerful and cool, even on hot days. I can look out the single window through the oak tree, past telephone poles and electric lines, at the hills filled with pink and white cherry blossoms in spring. In the fall I see all the colors of the season: delicate pale yellows, deep dark golden oranges, vibrant reds and more. As much as I enjoy my room, it will never match the natural environment of the little pond, and I may never feel the sense of peaceful solitude and timelessness that enchanted me in my earliest favorite place.