Recently I re-published an essay about my mother that I had written some two years before. I had as hard time getting started with that essay because of my relationship with her was difficult on occasion, but then resistance faded away and there was my essay, my tribute to my mother.
On the other hand, my relationship with Dad was different. Tucked away are many memories of the two of us. The time he built a sand box in the backyard and those times he would sit there with me playing cars, and roads, etc. We would walk to the nearby hallow, and follow the trail down to the stream below. I was aware that people looked up to him and I know I was proud to be with him.
I suppose nearly every boy in our culture had the experience of getting their first haircut. On the day of my first haircut, dad asked if I wanted to take a walk with him, which was always a treat. As we walked down Lawson Avenue he told me that it was time for my haircut. I was not sure what that meant, but if dad was there with me it was okay. At Park Street we turned right and walked another block to the next intersection, and there it was: the barber shop.
What is amazing to me is how vivid my memory of that event is. The barber placing a board across the arms of the chair. Dad lifting me up. The feeling of being almost as tall as my dad! The barber was very kind and talked to me throughout my haircut. The scissors were a little scary, but I was brave…and then it was over! Oh, the feel of my hair on the top of my head…that was different.
The walk home was filled with me telling dad all about it, as if he had not been there all the time. When we got home my mother was happy with my haircut, but my sisters thought it was too short! All in all, it was a big plus for me.
The week they tore up Lawson Avenue, removing all the bricks and stacking them right there in front of our house, while the neighborhood gang of kids watched from the safety of our front porch. The back porch with its great view of our yard, all the way to the paved alley, a rarity, was the scene of many croquet games, hide and seek, and dramas, mostly good, but some not so much. In my imagination that back porch sailed the seven seas with adventures, when those sisters of mine weren’t using it to play house with their dolls.
I also have clear memory of one Saturday morning when all the kids gathered in our backyard. There in the yard were two or three large boxes. Kids with imagination can manufacture stories and games, and those boxes served to do just that. We had so much fun! And then it all changed! Dad arrived with the news that we were “going on vacation”, whatever that meant. I was so disappointed! I wanted to stay and play, it had been great fun!
But “vacation” proved amazing. A cabin on Lake Erie! And that Lake, well, my eyes could barely take it all in. I learned that driftwood toys are fun and wading far, far out into the Lake until I became frightened and was rescued by my sister, that is a memory that has stayed with me. I don’t remember too many other things about that week, but I know it was the beginning of my love for the Great Lakes.
I had one special friend, George. We were drawn to one another because we were both small and we were “the picked-on-ones” in the neighborhood. Behind George’s house was a wonderful place, hidden by bushes and he and I would meet there and conspire, plotting all sorts of dire punishments that would be meted out to those bullies. The minds of two little boys can come up with some pretty awful, and super painful consequences. We would get even!
There were those long summer days, out in the country, at our “Victory Garden”, the visits to that spring, the marvel at black snakes and their shed skins, the short hikes and the lessons about poison ivy and growing vegetables, and capturing fireflies at night. And always dad, there protecting, and teaching by example.
We all have those stories of growing up. The cuts and bruises, the unfounded fears to overcome, the meaning of love lived and shared, the dreaded visits to the dentist, the chores that had to be done, and learning what responsibility means. And new experiences of going to school for the first time, the first dog (Spuffer?) to train and take care of, and the lawn to be mowed and the bed to be made, and the hands to be washed before eating, and the words you cannot say, and the difference between truth and lie, and apples eaten right off tree and strawberries right off the vine, and stars at night, and stories and prayers at bed time.
Little memories, big memories, wonderful glimpses of life seen through the eyes of a small boy, growing up.
For What Its Worth.