This past weekend some of my family got together to celebrate my grandpa’s 86th birthday. I was feeling a little bit under the weather, although trying my best to act otherwise, and decided after lunch to go outside to get some fresh air.
My grandpa lives in a retirement home and his backdoor opens up onto a tile porch with chairs and couches and a stationary bike, all of which look out at the vast communal lawn, freckled with trees and the first Par 3 of the community’s golf course. I had every intention of sitting on the couch to watch golfers and listen to the Camarillo breeze, but before I could, my two young cousins came up and made me an undeniable offer: to make a fairy house. I really had no idea what to expect. I’m no expert in fairies, or their preferred architecture, but I was willing to learn, and it was clear upon agreement that I would do just that.
The lawn was strewn with pine needles and my cousin, Jackson, found one between his toes as he and his older sister, Taylor, led me to a large pile they’d already collected.
“This is our harvest,” Taylor said shyly as she lifted up a handful of pine needles to reveal a collection of pinecones underneath. It would act as a backup food supply for the fairies when the trees grew bare in the winter.
“And I think this would be the perfect place for the house,” she said, pointing to the base of a tree.
Jackson nodded, squatting down with his hands on his knees to picture the house, letting his imagination run wild.
As they began to work, it was remarkable to see their individual creativities come together so congruously. Taylor took stacks of pine needles and curved them into thick, bristly “U’s”, creating petal like “rooms” around the base of the tree, while Jackson collected grass cuttings and placed them within each petal to make each room “softer” and “more comfortable”.
I was unsure of my role or how to help, so as I watched them, I tried to think of a “wow” factor I could include, something that might reference a movie they’d seen or exceed their expectations of science and design. However as they began to collect bark and sticks for beds and doors, I realized the only tool I needed to help was an openhearted, indulgent imagination to match theirs.
“We should add a field! And a garden!” said Jackson enthusiastically.
He ran back to the grass cuttings and began to stack piles alongside the tree, creating fairy nature with worldly nature, and I again found myself watching with wonder. My cousins were nowhere near the backyard of my grandpa; they were somewhere much greater, with much more possibility. Jackson wasn’t stacking grass on top of grass, he was planting seeds and flowers and trees for the fairies to tend to. And Taylor wasn’t just moving pieces of bark around the dirt; she was purposefully organizing furniture, just as she’d seen her mother do.
To them this wasn’t a game, and it was long from becoming a silly memory they might chalk up to childhood naivety. To them, this was real. They were creating a home. One to be filled with love and fun and family, just like the one they’d woke up in that morning. They were creating a place for magic to happen, never once doubting that it would.