I looked up Fenchers Park, but could find no record of it – this place from my childhood in the Los Angeles basin or the San Fernando Valley – somewhere. I must have the name wrong, but I am certain that it existed (and still does) along with Saturday night shrimp and Sunday evening ice cream; these childhood memories that stand out (because according to my beliefs, we remember what we remember because the experiences were either life-changing or life-confirming).
It was a narrow park, accessible from a busy boulevard. (This is according to my child memory.) It was terraced on a slope, was grassy green and canopied with huge, old trees. It was very long, so long, according to my child memory, that finding the beginning or end of it was just not possible. It was vast. The terrace retaining walls were made of stone, accessible, one to the other, with steps that prompted jumps and leaps while the terrace walls cued balancing acts. Play at Fenchers Park was random, a here and there, until sunset, until long shadows and apparitions appeared in the darkness. Fenchers Park was a place to feel safe, even though parents were not in mind. Where hearty breaths and a fast heart beat energized - until one could fly! Where there was nothing intrusive: not traffic, not far-away voices; where time was still, and there was nothing else.
Yet, how can an experience end that is so compelling and so liberating? (How can life end?) I crawl into the car, and suddenly feel sweaty, itchy, and crushingly tired – when seconds before I was a night bird. I sob, and my father says, “I know, I know.” I think he does; I think he remembers.
If it was at Fenchers Park that a joyful life was confirmed, it was also at Fenchers Park that my life was changed. Something I saw: a young soldier sitting on a park bench plastered with shiny scars where his ears should have been. “Don't stare,” scolds my mother. She whispers, “He was in the war. Don't stare.”
“In the war?” I had heard a lot about the war, but nothing about soldiers begin maimed. Up until that time, the war had been about flags, marching bands, Victory Gardens – I suddenly understood that war is about lies.
But I also understood that parks are truths – about the people who dream them, about the people who make them, about the people who go there – like me.