The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Paradise Lost
No more summers at my grandparents’ Idaho farm
Atl Castro
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It was a stifling hot summer day at my grandparents’ house in Idaho. My brother and I didn’t want to run around or ride bikes. Instead we walked in the shade down the dirt road, where we noticed a tiny door in the side of one of the barns. Although it was at least 10 feet off the ground, the door was accessible by ladder. We climbed up and after a lot of effort, we managed to open it.

The door led us directly to a small, dark room.

“I’ve never seen this before!” my brother said as he looked in. If we hadn’t been looking up, we wouldn’t have noticed it.

“Let’s go in!” he said.

We began to look around. Inside, the smell of rotting wood mixed with the stench of dust. I sneezed. I found half a dozen horseshoes in one corner and imagined horses galloping around my grandparents’ fields. In the middle of the room was a wooden rocking chair. It was small and looked fragile. The cracks and peeling wood told me it was old. I wondered who used to sit in it.

I opened a narrow window to let in sunlight. On the window pane, I noticed the words “no girls allowed” written in green crayon. It appeared to have been there for decades, as it was covered in dirt.

“What do you think we should do with this place?” my brother asked as he looked through some old pipes that lay against the wall.

“Why don’t we transform it into our own secret chill place?” I responded.

“That’s a great idea.”

A Hidden Room’s History

Later I asked my mother about the hidden room.

“Do you ever remember playing around in a small room in the barn next to the garage? It also has something written in crayon and I was wondering if you knew who wrote it.”

“I don’t remember. Let’s go see it,” she said.

“OK, but it’s supposed to be our secret place, so just this once, and don’t tell anyone.”

She followed me into the backyard. When we reached the barn I opened the window and showed her the writing.

“Oh yeah! I do remember that. When your aunt and uncle and I were younger, we used to play in here all the time. That was when your Uncle Jimmy decided he wanted the room for himself and wrote ‘no girls allowed.’”

It was like opening a door to another dimension in our family’s history.

Over the next couple of days, we swept up the mounds of dirt and dust and put in a mini slide, two chairs, and a table. We called the space our clubhouse. Every day we would go there and drink soda and make jokes. I enjoyed playing there because it had been where my mother and her siblings had played when they were children. It made me feel more connected to them and their history.

My Paradise

image by YC-Art Dept

Ever since I can remember, I have spent my summers on my grandparents’ farm. In New York City, I live in a neighborhood where all of the houses are connected. Although I have a small backyard, it isn’t the same as the enormous expanse that we have in Idaho. Sometimes I feel trapped in the city with no place to be alone. In Idaho, the seemingly endless hillsides and fields relax me and give me a sense of tranquility. Listening to birds tweeting in the day and crickets chirping at night is a much-needed change from the honking and sirens that I endure in the city.

Idaho is a place where the other half of me can flourish. My love of nature and peace is a big part of my identity. The farm is the only place I feel I can nurture this side of me.

Jumping on the backyard trampoline, riding bikes, hunting, and hiking were other things I looked forward to doing in the summer. In the winter, skiing and having snowball fights with my cousins and brother was fun.

Then there were the Christmas parties. These were extravagant gatherings with delicious homemade food like potato soup, clam chowder, and ice cream. We’d play cards and catch up with each other late into the night. Since most of my family lives in California and Oregon, going to Idaho was the only time that I got to see them and fill them in on my life.

Unexpected News

So it was a big shock to find out that my grandparents were selling their house.

“Grandma had another infection and she had to be airlifted to the capital of Idaho. She can’t take care of the house anymore and Grandpa sure can’t either,” my mom told us about a month ago.

I felt like the walls were closing in on me. Memories of riding bikes with my brother and playing hide and seek with my cousins in the house flashed through my head. I thought of the Christmas season when we’d set up an elegant array of tiny houses that my grandfather collected. It would take an hour to set up the tables and lights that the dozens of miniature buildings sat on. It was my favorite part of the party.

“Why can’t we just buy it?” I blurted out.

“Honey, you know we can’t afford that,” she said.

I could tell she was sad that we couldn’t buy it. I stared at the kitchen counter, wanting to cry, but I held it in.

Accepting the Truth

As I got older I noticed that my grandparents were becoming less and less able to take care of such a big house along with the property. But it was still upsetting for me when the day finally arrived.

Back in my bedroom, I couldn’t imagine a summer or holiday season without being at that house. Now how was I going to fulfill my need to be somewhere peaceful and quiet? I envision myself stuck in a tight city.

It’s hard to find a place to be alone in New York. Taking walks down Idaho’s dirt roads is one of the most freeing things in the world to me. I didn’t know how I would feel this freedom and individuality again if I couldn’t go back to that house.

But now I had to accept that those moments would only be memories and would not be repeated, at least not in the same way.

I started thinking of other ways to be in nature. I could take a train to state parks in upstate New York. I’ve only gone to state parks a few times, but if I start to make the effort to go more often, I know I’ll be rewarded with good experiences.

Other things that I could do include spending more time outdoors and going to parks around me. Even though it won’t be the same as the endless fields, places like Prospect and Central Parks are still big spaces of nature and grass that could help me cope with losing my grandparents’ place.

Changes like this happen when you grow up, but it’s hard to prepare for them. I hope I don’t drift away from my relatives who live far away. Also I’m not sure where parties or major family holiday gatherings will be held or where we’ll stay each time. My grandparents insist that their new house will have a room for my brother and mother and me, but it won’t be the same as staying on the family farm that I’ve loved so much for most of my life.

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(NYC-2017-11-22)

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