Musical selection: Winter (L'Invierno) in F-, RV 287, L'Allegro, from The Four Seasons (Le Quattro Stagioni), Antonio Vivaldi, Opus 8, No. 4, courtesy of Classical MIDI Archives, © 1999 Pierre R. Schwob


Every set of childhood memories contains at least one place where you could could seek refuge from the world; to daydream, explore, pretend, or just to relax and have fun. Maybe it was a corner of Grandma's attic or a park bench or even your own back yard.

My special place was called Dead Man's Lane. It was only an undeveloped lot, but to my cohorts and me, it was an unspoiled virgin wilderness in the midst of a working class neighborhood in northern New Jersey.

Dead Man's Lane earned its sinister name because its twists, trees, and rocks made it one of the most challenging sledding courses in town. Bobsledding in Lillehammer? Skiing at Aspen? Luge in Innsbruck? Couldn't begin to compare with guiding your Flexible Flyer or toboggan from Two Guys down Dead Man's Lane. Kids from as far away as 76th St. would come to Dead Man's Lane to prove themselves on a sled -- and 76th St. was no beginner's slope either.

In summer Dead Man's Lane was an island of lush vegetation. My friends and I often talked about camping out there and maybe looking for Indian arrowheads -- although we knew damn well we'd never find any.

Years later I visited my old childhood haunt. The trees and rocks had long since yielded to a tract of two-family brick homes with aluminum siding. One of the new streets was called Easy Street.

Several kids in the area regarded me warily, a stranger from another time and place intruding on their aluminum-sided world. I felt like asking them, "What's the problem? Haven't you ever seen a grown woman before?" Yes, a grown woman searching in vain for the adventurous, spirited 11-year-old who had long disappeared with the trees. I wish I could have told the kids about the enchanted forest that had once existed there, but they had already disappeared inside one of the new houses. They wouldn't have believed me anyway. Kids are too damn cynical these days.

I slowly turned from Easy Street and walked home.