Long ago, there was a small wild rose that grew near the bank of the babbling river at the end of our back yard. My father loved to garden, but this was not part of the realm of gorgeous colors and fragrances he took such pride in showcasing. The large property was split into two very different levels, with a retaining wall of smooth river rocks and slate steps that divided the flood-prone riverland from the kingdom of his display. Riverland was the kingdom of children, barely more than a cleared woodland of hard damp earth, moss, a few tall trees, and hearty patches of grass. The swing set was there, and an eye-soar but beloved pool, and an ever changing arrangement of bikes, balls, forts, broken toys, and blanket tents. This was the height of the baby boom, and the new fifties suburban neighborhood in the northern highlands of New Jersey was filled with large familes and Riverland, along with the adjacent undeveloped woodland, ruled by children.
All of the children ran outside in every kind of weather, including my older sister and brother, and younger sister. My strong older sister was demanding and smart, getting her way and making the rules for the Riverland tribe. The children ran free, played war, picked teams, and seldom talked under full volume. There were mean kids and nice kids, as there always are, and shy ones, and the one they ignored and protected, me, for I was…”slow”.
I never, ever, meant for you to know.
The bands of children played too loud, too rough for me. I did not understand their rules, why they did what they did. I struggled to speak, and remained mostly silent, and passively played alone in more quiet activities that were full of beauty and wonderment to me. The parents enforced few rules, but one was to include me as a tribe member, and a watchful eye was kept for my safe keeping, as I crouched in the corners of the play areas. The tribe would scream and fight and call it play, but I never understood why this was considered any kind of enjoyment. They cried and pushed and hit and teased in a constant struggle to prove themselves. I studied the tiny things, the beauty of the tree bark, watched ants airing their attended eggs on hot days, split leaves for hours, studying the pattern of veins. I adored swimming, but alone, and spinning on the swing set, after repeatedly twisting the chains up tight. I sang enthusiastically sometimes, about my observations, but no one seemed to understand or consider it of interest. Smiles. Shrugs. They moved on to more shouting and play, away from the slow, odd, me. I gave “Holy Communion” to the ducks, scattering crumbs I would bless for them.
I never meant for you to know.
One early summer day, I was studying the small pink rose, and enjoying the burbletalk of the river. My father came down to inspect the pool, and offered me the rose, as mine, my own to tend, to safekeep, as a tiny garden, almost a pet. I was thrillled! It was so beautiful, so delicate, and so generous a special gift. So I sat and guarded it, and observed every detail of its seasonal growth, how it thrived or didn’t with the amount I watered it. I built a small fence of sticks and rocks, to protect it from the children, and made tiny roads underneath the rose, so the bugs could enjoy a scenic visit to the rose park I created for them. I hid behind the cool wall, observing my father’s garden techniques, and how he pulled weeds and picked away the spent blooms.
That summer, I began to garden. I learned to love the caregiving of growing things. I had a small, great joy, something to love, and avoided the battles of the Riverland tribe. I had my own tribe of beetles, ants, and earthworms, and my beautiful, beautiful, rose.
Odd. Simple. Slow. I never meant for you to know I was or was not these things. I never meant for you to know who I was. It was not to be judged. I did not expect or need it to be understood. That would be selfish of me. I share this now, as a gift, a sweet beauty. I was a autistic child, in a time that such things were not spoken of.
I never meant for you to know.
Photo of Yuletide Camillias that bloom in my garden at Christmas time.