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1944—The Jungle

I am twelve years old.

Our back lot line on Garfield Avenue is bordered by trees and shrubs, tall and thick enough that you can’t see through them or over them. We call this strip The Jungle. One beauty of the Jungle is the dense foliage, with enough sturdy low tree branches for climbing. They make excellent watchtowers. In the winters, the Jungle lies fallow when plants and trees lose their leaves, depriving us of privacy and camouflage.

The Jungle is our playground during polio epidemics and quarantines in the Midwest.  Over the back of our lot line lies the property of our quarantine playmates Bobbie and Tootie Stevenson, ages 10 and 5. Bobbie, Tootie, Mary (my sister age 5), and I can’t leave our yards all summer lest we fall victim to the poliovirus, which, we are told, kills or cripples thousands of kids during epidemics.

The Jungle hosts dark rituals, ancient battles, holy rites, and burials. No costumes are required. One end of the Jungle is devoted to an animal cemetery: dead birds, deceased squirrels, and fish that have floated to the tops of our aquariums. Anything below the vertebrate level is not eligible for burial.

During burials, everyone plays a role. Bobbie is the priest because he’s the only male. Being the eldest, I qualify as the grieving wife or mother. Props are always welcome if available—a white table runner for the priest, black slip as headgear for the mother or widow, key chain for an incense pot, and so on.

Mary and Tootie are either pallbearers or acolytes, depending on their willingness to collaborate. Their cooperation is more likely if they’re given props.

Elements of Catholic ritual, learned from my grandfather, are often used. He is a lapsed Catholic, attending Mass only at Christmas and Easter visitor. We sneak his rosary from his private effects as needed and return them when we’re done. Suffering from early dementia, Grandpa never notices the thefts.

We have no traditional music available, so we chant homemade liturgies suitable for each ceremony.