As a child learning to read, I loved looking for words I could recognize everywhere I went. One summer day while my mother drove around town in our 1975 forest green Plymouth Duster, I spotted a sign. It felt like I was detaching my sweaty leg from the dark plastic seats to lean out the window to get a better look. It was the late 1970’s so a small child of five didn’t need a booster seat, not even a seatbelt. I let the air rush past me as I looked at the green street sign and right underneath it was a yellow sign. I made out the words and spoke out ‘Dead End.’
I was shocked by the words I just read. The the only time I heard the word dead at the time was when my family spoke about my great-grandfather who had died the winter before. I loved my great-grandfather. He always made me feel like I was his favorite. I felt his smile was only for me. All I knew as a five year old about death was that I was not ever going to see him again, which was a sad and scary feeling. I learned from that experience that ‘dead’ meant forever, it made people sad, and it left a whole in your soul that nothing could ever fill.
In horror and shock I immediately asked my mother why the sign said ‘Dead End.’ My mother replied, ” It means that the street doesn’t lead to another street. It just ends. Some people call it a cul-de-sac. Your dad and I would love to live on a street like that because there would not be a lot of cars driving and you could play in the street.” My mind starting racing. My mother made ‘Dead End’ sound so good, but why did it have such an awful name. This was yet another time that adults and their words made life so confusing.
A year ago my husband and I bought a house on a ‘Dead End.’ I remember distinctly that the realtor called it a cul-de-sac, which did sound so much more appealing. Our house sits right in the middle of the circle. At times, it feels like the whole street belongs to us. I feel the cul-de-sac assisted my son, eight at the time, learn to ride a bike in three says. This year, he rides with confidence up and down our street.
This June it was my six year old daughter’s turn to learn to ride a bike. Willow learned to ride in two days. She has always been more of a daredevil than her brother. She now whips up and down the street after her brother. I can see the feeling of freedom in her eyes. However, this year we have gotten to know most of our neighbors. When they see us out riding they join us. Children from three years to 17 become a two wheeling gang. The parents usually stand in the cul-de-sac, watching the young ones and offer stories and advice. It is a time of community on this small street of just eleven houses.
One evening when we could not go outside to ride our bikes, both my children were upset. My son said disappointedly, “We’re going to miss tonight’s party at the dead end. That’s where everything starts.” I smiled to myself when he said this remembering my five year old’s self misunderstanding of the meaning of ‘Dead End.” He is so right. Our dead end is the beginning. The beginning of neighborhood fun, the beginning of learning to be more independent, and the beginning of us building family memories that will last forever.