This awesome little house was awesome for several reasons. Even though my room was always freezing in the winter, I thought it was the absolute best to have a crawlspace under my room. When I was first allowed to explore them, I found graffiti all over the walls from previous owners, and I was allowed to add my own name to the denizens of the past. I was eight and allowed to write on the walls. Awesome points.
We built our own swingset and slide out back not long after moving in. But that wasn't what made the backyard awesome. It helped, sure, but the nature already in place was what rocked the backyard.
First, there was the tree. An enormous old "helicopter tree," as we called it, because of the little whirligigs that stuffed our gutters and sprouted miniature trees several times a year. And it was climbable. I spent many hours in that tree, pretending I was hiding out from imaginary bad guys, or that I was in the lookout nest of a pirate ship.
Then there was the row of bushes along the back fence. Our yard was significantly lower than the yard of the neighbors behind us, so there was about a foot of concrete wall before their fence began, and the bushes lined up perfectly to make this a secret little alcove to play in. The concrete wall was wide enough to sit or walk on, and when I was shorter, I could do this entirely protected from prying parental eyes. (After all, a child's playtime is an almost holy thing, not to be understood by adults - kids are utterly serious about their imaginings, and adults just think it's cute.)
The long corridor of bush/fence alcove was made better by one amazing little thing: the pig stone.
What the heck is a pig stone? Well, when your grandparents live on a farm (even if they no longer have animals), and you absolutely love animals and farms but live in the city with a solitary cat, a pig stone is the best thing ever.
At the far end of the bush/fence alcove, a large, pinkish rock stretched across the opening on the ground. It was just long enough and just smooth enough that to my young mind, it was my own pet pig, guarding the opening to my fantasy world. He was a fair pig, willing to defend my hideaway from prying adult eyes, but he required an offering before he would help me out.
So, every time I went out to play, I partially filled a bucket with sand, sticks, leaves, and other things my addled, childish brain thought a pig would like to eat. Then I topped it off with enough water to make a slop.
Then I poured it on top of the pig stone. Eat up, piggy. Yum, yum.
I needed to pour it on the pig instead of just leaving it for him to eat for one simple reason: pigs need to eat, but they also need mud to play in. I always made sure the light dry spots on his hide were darkened with muddy water-slop before I left my pig stone to his guard post. Once he was happy, I could run off and play, and he would keep me safe from adults while I imagined the afternoon away.
Winters were a bit harder. I probably got some strange looks as I got myself a cup of hot water before heading out, bundled up in layers of itchy, plastic-y, snowsuity goodness, my hat and hood combo restricting my vision like blinders. If I did get weird looks, Mom was discreet about it (thank you, Mom) and just let me go outside, where I did my best to dig up sticks under the snow, pulling up old hedge clippings and tossing them in the steaming cup. The pig stone was especially happy to have these hot baths in the winter - I'd clear the snow from his back before dousing him in hot, evergreen-scented tap water.
Kids don't need battery-powered kid-sized cars. The Pet Rock people were on to something: all you really need to have fun is a random object with some odd quirk to it. Like a pink rock.