Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Oh, The Places Boys Make

A copse I guess you might call it, maybe a thicket, of trees grew in the very back of the yard I grew up in out there in rural Ohio.  On a bank, it transitioned our yard down to the Osborn's which was flat and once most likely part of the field of soybeans or corn or winter wheat that was just beyond it  There was an opening between two Rose of Sharon trees in amongst the small hickories, black and raspberries, honeysuckle and huckleberries and one curiously out of place white primrose bush.  If you ducked and pushed in through the opening, you came into a small little alcove with the trees arching all the way above, a canopy.  It was isolated and safe.

When we first discovered it, probably in the late Spring of my third grade year, it was barely large enough to accommodate us both sitting cross-legged knee to knee.  We kept going in and, with time, it got roomier.  We pulled some of the undergrowth and cut back a few of the brambles with our handy hatchets and, by the end of that summer, it was our fort, our citadel, our haven from the heat and big brothers. We'd also fashioned a back entrance for quick retreat, hidden through the honeysuckle and often sat watch, one of us at each entrance, talking in whispered voices, happy and content.

We pretended in it, we ate candy and butter bread and jam sandwiches and sipped cold rusty water from our army surplus canteens.  One time, we ran out of candy, or our moms had gotten better at hiding it, and we stole a packet of Jell-O mix and licked our fingers and shoved them into the wax-paper package and licked it off.  It was cherry and when Mrs B asked us "what in heaven's name" had happened we said we had a fight with choke-berries.  The next time we purloined a packet of Jell-O, the coveted lime if memory serves, JB - a candy savant it seems in retrospect - grabbed two old candy canes and we licked those instead of our fingers.  Unknowingly, he inventing a candy my boys love today, Wonka's Fun Dip.

One year, maybe that next summer, we found a pile of old lumber behind an abandoned shed out way behind Mr. D's a couple of houses down.  Some of it seemed good.  Well, not really, honestly, but all we wanted to do was build a platform in the tree we played in and the nearly rotten, decades old two and four-by-fours seemed just the thing.  We hauled and cut and hoisted the timber into that old maple and made ourselves a fine little crow's nest out in that sea of corn that summer.

JB ran through a sliding glass door early one summer slicing his leg badly and cracking his collarbone and chipping his shin.  He recovered in his older sister's room because he bunked up with two or three brothers, in a dorm-like room his dad had made from one half of the two car garage, and his boisterous brothers could not be trusted to not jump on the stitched leg or plastered shoulder.  I cannot remember where the sister went.  I went over frequently and he and I sat with his pillows and blankets and sweatshirts all bunched up around us, chess board between, as we learned that ancient game, surrounded by girlish posters of hanging kittens and teen, blond feather-haired pop stars and a  framed photo of a grumpy looking Pope. But, floating on that seemingly vast queen bed, we were safe, alone, on our little island we battled on horseback, with castles and helmeted pawns and surprisingly wicked clergymen to save our queen and king.

Nick and Zack have always played in piles of laundry and their baskets.  They've surrounded themselves with vast armies of stuffed animals, close ranked and formidable.  They love their wing of the camper, their little berth, a king sized bed surrounded by canvas and zippers and screens, wild and safe.

I think the best thing we've ever done for them is the bunk-beds.  They have their own little space where they read and sleep and laugh and dream and talk and talk and talk.  I spent a college dorm year sitting on a bottom bunk and always felt good and happy sitting there talking and talking and talking.

When  Marci was pregnant with the boys my friend K was here for a while and helped me put in a large plywood and two-by-four storage unit in our unfinished basement.  It's sixteen by four feet and has two shelves, one just a couple feet off the ground and another easily accessible at probably five feet.  We had fun doing it, we'd shared hammer and tools many times before this, and were glad to be making noise and building.  Midway through he looked at me and said, "You know, were just basically building a big playground for your twins."  I had been formulating the same thought.  We had a laugh and moved on, but, well, now with a renewed sense of purpose, imagining how much fun we, as boys, would have had in such a place.  The large expanse of plywood - now sanded and finished nicer - seemed transformed.  But, into what?

Here's the answer:

Well, actually, that's not the answer.  That is one tiny maple leaf, the only red one amongst the growing bed of gold ones.  It caught my eye from the house, so, on a whim, I decided to go and take a picture of it.  I took two or three and turned to go in but the playset, not twenty feet away, looked, well, different.  I couldn't really figure it.  As I got closer, I could see that what had caught my eye was this:

Dried mud pushed into all the corners where the rails meet the outside board.  You know, log-cabin style or adobe style or yurt style or mud dauber style or bird style.

I realized it all at once and every scene I mentioned above and so many more flashed in that instant memory, that past place where time seems so odd and malleable, that comes with understanding.  I said the words aloud.

"A boynest."  My eyes misted over and I smiled.

A safe warren in a thicket of brambles - a boynest.

A pile of familiar clothes and blankets and hopes - a boynest.

A bunk bed - top or bottom, a shelf, a sleeping bag, a blanket, a bean-bag chair, a car backseat, a dorm room, a Brooklyn loft, a baby crib... boynests all.

The sandbox of a playset, safe under a mortared, caulked and sure watchtower, weapons ready on a soft bed of pine needles, a flying disk to hunt with, and a burnt, touchingly symbolic log end there on the right.

A boynest - one of the best I've ever seen, and I've seen thousands.

From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat..."

From Bill's "... pictures I took of a boy with a turban fashioned from his pajama shirt which he wore for nearly an hour last night and Marci was at a meeting and I wanted to show her that putting things on your head is a genetic thing and, yes, he and his brother are "dancing like Egyptians..."

I'm pretty sure I was at this party in 1979...

I appreciate you coming around again.

(Listen, to be honest the whole "boynest" thing might not be my strongest idea ever, but, you see, memories come and are made in the damndest ways.  This essay is not perfect either, in fact, none of them are.  There are typos and dangled metaphors and phrases, ramblings and bumblings, unfinished and unfocused stories and, well... that's the way it has to be.  I really don't have an editor or a mentor or a writing or life coach to tell me if an idea is good or bad, long or short, deep or shallow - I just kinda go with my heart.  I don't really mind that.  I hope you don't either.)

Peace to you and yours.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014 really only barely happened...

I know I said I was trying to get away from all this, but...

This came home in the beloved take-home folder:

To recap:  A shout out to Mom, an honest assessment of self, a very appropriate farting sentence, and a misspelled word to bring it all together.

It is from a test at school and we all understand that I should not be showing it here... get over it.  (I was sayin' that to me mostly.)

He got a ninety on the test.  He made up a word and then misspelled it on the other side:

"desinagrate"  Well, Nick, it sure as damn hell looks like a word to me, too.

Why would I put this on this memoir I am crafting?  You might ask, or not... and you probably wouldn't use the word "crafting," in fact, I doubt you are even wondering.  I guess I am more than anyone.  The truth is I do find it amusing - with just a hint of silly and a whisper of the absurd - but, more than that, I find these little bits of these boys so revealing.  I know this boy, in a way I was this boy, am this boy.  I was, and then I forgot.  And, if you forget what was then, it really only barely happened, didn't it?

I want boys to remember being boys, and, I want to remember it as well, my boyhood, I mean - and them theirs...  and you, yours.

I am sorry if it all seems a bit confused.  You see, it is...  I'm not sure whose childhood is whose.  Thanks for coming around again, I am glad you did, and I hope you are , too.

Monday, October 6, 2014

On the Future of Things

I don't often write about shiny things.  Fast things.  New things.  Speedy, cool things.  However, I'd be lyin' if I said I didn't consider these things.  I see a new Ford F-150 and covet it.  I marvel at the sheer amount of stuff there is in it, backup cameras and LED underbed lights that shine bright in the winter's dark of a pick-up bed at midnight.  Sometimes, I wish for a perfect new jangly Martin or Taylor guitar with sparkling strings and a golden spruce top and a mother-of-pearl inlaid fretboard.  I wistfully hope for a new toaster-oven with an array of buttons and a crumb-catcher that slides out with ease.  Sometimes, I really, really want a shed to write and pray in.  Sometimes, I think want an exciting, luminous future of popularity and prosperity.

I have to reach far across the bench of a seat in the cab of my truck, so far, in fact, that I have to put it in "park," to roll up the window, to reach the crank, you understand, to physically roll up the window.  It sort of annoys me, but you might remember I am hard on stuff and have a bad history with window motors, and, at the dealership, specifically had to ask for no automatic windows.  Suggesting what I wanted was a "farm truck" the salesguy said he had a tan one and a red one.  I said I'd look at the red one.  We bought it the day we found out we were pregnant with twins and my sons will someday learn to drive in it.  That new F-150 don't look so great now.

I am driving over mountains and through dales and tunnels in some Carolina and a song from my wife's smartphone - which is linked to the car stereo because, well, mountains - begins with a guitar intro and I wonder what kind of guitar that is and notice how sweet and tender the playing seems.  It is a song called "This Old Cracked Guitar" which was written as a marriage proposal, and recorded as a first dance... by me, on my trusty vintage Alvarez.  That Taylor Grand Concert Series seems a lot less grand now somehow.

Toast, waffles, bagels, tater tots and crowns, nachos, tuna melts, all come to our table through an old, ugly, Hamilton-Beach oven/toaster thing.  I see new ones at the store and marvel at their capabilities and wonder if they'd toast Nick's bread so lightly that it has an "only slightly crunchy outside."  Will it go to 450 fast enough that I can pop the tots in it and come back to a perfect side dish in exactly 27 minute?  Could it possibly melt the shredded three cheese mix just enough on the chips and not crisp up the edges?  'Cause Zack hates burnt edges.  Maybe that new programmable one wouldn't do it right.  Yeah, probably not...

I been watching my neighbor build a shed in his backyard over the past few weeks, he's just now finishing the roofing.  I don't think he had a very detailed plan, he and his sons just built it, which I admire.  As I watched I could not help myself from thinking that they were exhibiting no skills, which included accidentally sliding down a roof on an unsecured sheet of plywood, that I did not possess.  I have all the same tools he used as well.  Nothing is stopping me from building a shed, really.  However, as I write this sitting at a table, looking out over the yard, I know in my heart that the shed is only a metaphor, a place in my soul, and the true gift of the time to pray and write I have already been given.   If I had a shed of what would I dream?

And, in the same breath in which I long for a better, more luminous future I realize that the damn present is perfect, the past is hardly unforgotten, and what is to come is already borne in them.  We will become what we should, there is no hoping for better things to come, they just will.

I have a Kindle tablet.  It's handy, good for looking things up, checking social media, an occasional game or two or a surf around the innerwebs for a good read from a fellow writer.  And one can download books from the library and read them.  I have given this a try here in the last several months.  Initially, I just didn’t like it because, well, I didn't want to.  After some time, though, I began to see the general attraction. I liked getting novels and philosophy books quickly.  The search interface was simple and limited in a good way - less choices and all - and, for a while I felt clever and hip reading Tim O'Brien's visceral Vietnam memoir "The Things They Carried" in such a post-modern way.  I read some poetry, which translated well I thought to the blank page the reader could be.

I read lines over in the Kindle and it frustrates me.  Yes, Marci did bump up the font size and I played with the brightness, but neither one helped.  It isn't that bad really and I have figured out that it's because of the angle, sort of kitty-cornered, I have it positioned when I read in bed.

I still don't like it, though.  I can't help shake the thought that I don't like it because I don't want to, but I sort of so want to like it.  So, what's my problem?

Last night Nick came in when Marci and I were reading our tablets in bed to ask an important question - what was for breakfast the next day, as I recall - and he asked me what I was reading.  Well, I was reading a book by Michael Chabon called "Manhood for Amateurs" and I told him that.  He thought about that and then asked me what it looked like.  You see, normally I would just hand him whatever I was reading and he'd look at the cover and comment on the picture or art, or, if there wasn't one, he might flip through the book and stop, reading a sentence here and there, doing all the stuff you do when you first encounter a potential book.  Except, well... you figured it didn't you?

There was nothing to really show him.  Nothing to foster a conversation about the book, nothing to help him form an opinion of it himself, no image to mentally take and remember years from now when he sees the same book on the shelf, mine or someone elses.  That's not fair to him, or I'd say, to the book.

I'm gonna say that's why I don't like reading on the thing.  It takes away the physicality of the book itself. The number of pages, the font, the weight of the thing, the format, the passage through time as physical as a walk through the woods, the markers clear and obvious.  I know people love these tablets and they can have dozens of books on them a once, and it is easy to read on a plane or at the pool or on the porch of a cool summer's evening, but... I like tottering towers of books, tables flung with them, beach bags bursting from them and kerosene lamps on wrought iron tables in among the crickets to see them by.

The bags and bags of books, literally thousands - twenty-two at a time because the first time we went together that's how many the bag held - we've gone through are all remembered from the covers, not the light they shined out, but the light they actually were.  All the baby board books, one in particular that made a ribbon rainbow page after page, were chewed and bruised and so loved and repeated that the pages still float by, images of a hungry caterpillar, the simple, haunting refrain, "goodnight, moon," a train that really could.  They were dragged and stacked and thrown and shelved.  They were loved and tasted and handled and caressed.  They were so real and important that even now the boys recognize a cover from when they were two or three.  Sadly many of those early memories are stepping back, making room for the new ones, thicker, with less pictures and more heartbreak and adventure, with deeper messages and harder themes.

One should be able to hug  "To Kill A Mockingbird," drop a tear on the last page of Owen Meany, to close up Narnia in victory as The Last Battle is won.  One should have something to desperately clutch as you gasp in horror at Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et Decorum Est" or to caress as you read the words of Dickinsin and Frost.  A machine cannot offer such physical assurances nor will it ever make you smile as the cover of Animal Farm or Catcher in the Rye at the used book store - last Tuesday I think it was - makes you remember high school in just one breath.

So, the books pile up and wait.  Here is a stack my brother sent me, books I'd read as a child, sitting on my work/music, uh, bench, waiting to be found:

"Churchmouse Stories" is unforgettable, so sweet and naive, and, two books down, "The Battle of Gettysburg," showed me the despair and suffering of war and led to Lincoln and Whitman and Woody and Dylan and Homer.  That book, that thing.

This is the shelf next to my desk, a few favorites, odds and ends, Shakespeare, Narnia, Sherlock, "The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart," a signed Owen Meany, Oz.  And a dulcimer...

Down there on the bottom two shelves are a set of Harvard Classics, fifty books of importance as decided in 1920.  There is a long and satisfying story to tell about them, but, I haven't time right now and it may go untold.  The milk grate is full of the memories I have already shared here - "the keeper box."

The boys have a shelf in their room.  It is messy.  It shifts easily.  It is, I believe, the third bookshelf we've had in there, progressively larger and sturdier.  It is, somehow magical and alluring, as bookshelves so often are:

Yes, those are guard-Furbees, motion sensitive and irritable.  It's perfect, isn't it?

One last pile comes to mind.  Ever-present, right there in front of the television, with delicious irony, a pile of the boys library books waits to be read,  returned or traded for a new series, a new place - a new thing - to be remembered:

My life has been haunted by the ghosts of so many books.  But, those beautiful ghosts rose up from the paper pages and deep black ink and battered bindings and old book dust and the smell of the past and future commingled.

We have littered the boys childhood with books, piled thick and scattered randomly or purposefully, and we will continue to do so and hopefully they will never be far from a stack of books, a pile of dreams.

Truly, would this image seem as nearly as tender if we were all staring a Kindle?

Or this one as iconic?

I don't come to bury the tablet readers or suggest their unworthiness as a replacement for our books (actually, I do), but merely to remind you, us, of those books that, so long ago, sprang from our hands and into our memories.

From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear form the backseat ..."

Something a kid said to Marci:

"Mom, you could be a saint ... I'd vote for you."

 It's true, I think you vote once a day, forever...

I might, or more likely not, follow this up with a few other technologies I see not serving us, especially these beautiful boys, as well as their antecedent.  For now, though, thanks for coming around.

Monday, September 29, 2014

On Pride and Personal Prejudice

Zack is taking his plate into the kitchen where Nick is blustering about making some "butter sauce" for his second plate of penne.  I'd made a nice bolognese with fresh garlic, onions, carrots, basil, oregano and home-ground meat, but he likes a second plate of just pasta and butter sauce.

"Dude, what are you doing here!?" I hear Zack exclaim.  I'm thinking, he lives here, but soon I get it.  A friend of the boys from down the street is standing, grinning on the porch.

His name, curiously (and to the purpose of not implicating any other child around these parts) is Dude.  Which, for as often as they call each other Dude, might actually be his name.

"I rode my bike down, thought you guys might like to play," Dude answers, still grinning.  He's a good boy - polite, sweet, gentle - my kind of kid.

I get up from my, well, third plate of penne alla bolognese - it's really good - and watch as the three boys shake hands and pull each other into sweet, chest bumping hugs, grins all 'round.  My boys slip on their "muddy shoes" and they run out into the yard - a scream of boys.  Wooden swords are brandished.  Instantly it seems, there are four types of balls available and, uh, they play.

I walk in the kitchen as Marci is beginning to clean up.  She points to the abandoned bowl of ingredients that Nick had started and suggests it might be a nice idea for a post:

(Later, the following week.)

I am gonna tell you a little secret, I can't remember where I was going with this, I started it Friday and it is Monday and, well, that's all there is to that.  There seem to be some other images here next to the one above, grouped together in my WIP folder as "syns.1-9."  The image above is number nine and I think it was supposed to be used for a killer closing, which, I may have written first, as in the above is my closing, or, I have forgotten altogether.

Here are the other eight images in the order I'd planned for them:







Yes, well... I have no idea how this was supposed to work.

Imagine deep and impassioned writing on pride and, uh, prejudice of the personal variety - what does that title even mean? - because, I have nothing.

Nick, who has been working hard at spelling and vocabulary in general, came home with this study aid that he had made for his synonyms.  The first column is the word, then its synonym and finally a "skech" to help him remember the words.  He was remarkably proud of it, and, he should have been.

Zack brought home a project he did with some of his classmates.  There is a lot more to that story but, I in short he did most of the work as his group made suggestions, did research and colored the background.  He was pleased, his teacher was very pleased, and his table worked together.  He was proud of himself, and, he should have been.

Nick was very happy to show me his "pickle paper."  I read it in a cheesy announcer voice and he laughed and laughed because it was exactly as he had imagined.  I told him I was proud of him, and I was.

Nick, Zack and Dude decided to have a drawing contest after they'd conquered the backyard.  Nick made a "devil/pope drawing" and said there was a better one on the flip side where bold letters scream "LET ME WIN OR i'll Kill YOu" and a face down torso floats ominously.  He was proud of the joke he made, proud to make me laugh, and I did.

Dude's entry was a "dirigible warship" and it is fantastic.  I was so spellbound by work other than Nick and Zack's that I almost immediately declared him the winner, but I didn't.  He was proud of it and I told him I thought it was perfect.

Zack handed me his and simply said, "It's me."  A happy and proud boy made a picture of a happy and proud boy.  He beamed and so did I.

I called it a three-way tie.  A cop-out I realize.

Well, there must be some sort of point here, and I think it lies in that wallowing title up there.  We all can see pride in others, acknowledge and affirm it when we see it, show them themselves in it, but... well, it becomes more meaningful, more fulfilling, more empowering when you find that pride swelling up from inside you.

Yes, yes that is the point I wanted to make.  Or not.

Listen, I have to mow the lawn, and go do stuff and... sorry about all this, bit of a train wreck today, I'd say.  Thanks for coming around all the same.

From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat..."

Dammit, I can't find anything new for this either.

I know, I could close with a picture of Nick's abandoned bowl of garlic butter...

Nailed it...

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Frayed Green Rope

For the most part, I write my posts as if you were sitting with me on the porch or in the living room and I was telling you a story as I showed you some pictures I had in a faded scrapbook.  I've recorded today's post so, if you'd like, you could get an idea of what that might be like.  Listening to the recording is by no means imperative for the post, I just thought it might be fun.  You should be able to hit play and then read along:

I don't understand greatness.  Perhaps, I should begin again - I don't understand Greatness, capital G.  I recognize it when I see it.  It is easy to see it in the poems of the heart, the hymns of the soul and the stories of the wild mind.  It is easy to feel it in the psalms and symphonies and myths all imagined by Great men and women, their beauty and grace forever shining through the work of their unbounded imagination.  To even mention one would open a list that I could never finish, but you know them.  Yours might even be different than mine, but you know the Greatness I speak of.

You can almost feel - reach out and stroke, taste and smell - the kind of greatness Great leaders exhibit.  The genius and flawed captains of industry, the courageous and cold  generals of armies, the clever and guileful politicians of fame and infamy.  Destined Greatness perhaps, if you lean toward that, or unrelenting sheer damn will, if you'd like.

We celebrate, as well we should, this Greatness.

But, what of my greatness?  What of yours?  Did God only destine so many capital G's?  Is only a tiny fraction of all mankind past, now and forever, capable of Greatness?

No, of course not.

I was in a local hardware store, not a big boxy one, but a cramped Mom and Pop sort of place.  I needed some small propane tanks for a trip I was to make out West and I saw one-hundred feet of rope.  It was perfectly coiled and tightly wrapped and knotted off and I had to have it.  Oh, I had rope - some hemp rope for everyday stuff, a nice cotton clothes line, some nice thick green cording and some twine.  One does not go wilderness camping without things to tie and trust.  I bought that rope...

That was fifteen years ago.

I could probably stop for a moment and find out exactly what kind of rope it is.  I'm not going to because it doesn't seem necessary, I haven't known up to now.  It is a capable rope.  A decent rope.  A frayed rope.  It is a green rope.

You do not serve yourself or your rope very well if you cut it into smaller and smaller lengths.  I still have one very long piece that I have tried to keep intact.  I remember laying the whole rope down full length on a pinon lined forest road in Northern Arizona, near Payson, handling every foot of it.  I doubled it back in, pulling one end towards the other, the dragging loop kicking up the brown dust as the wind lifted it to the too turquoise sky.  I can still see the jagged anvil-like rock I used to anchor the two new ends of the rope.  I followed it back, and, with my Swiss Army knife, I made the one rope two.  I duct taped makeshift aglets onto the cut ends and coiled up the two halves.

Half still waits in the back of my truck with the jumper cables and the towels and the first aid kit and a good tarp and some unexceptional bungees and, well, a pool noodle.  Necessities...

The other half was used and reused and and cut and tied and...

One time, up in the same pine woods, I'd bundled that rope all a round a beaver dam-sized pile of sticks and driftwood and then to two longer skid like branches and then up to a chest harness.  I pulled it several hundred yards I'd guess to my campsite where I played with it and burned that wood with boyish zeal.

Another time I hung a swing I'd made out of a two-by-four scrap that I'd burnt holes in with a red hot piece of rebar I'd found on the side of the trail.  I threw the rope over the limb of a golden aspen, ran the two ends through the holes, wrapped the leftover up and around the board and sat and swung, up and over a creek, through the scent of the pines, in the yellow of a mountain sunset.

More recently, I used a piece of the rope to tie up a clever swing Nana had made for the boys a while back.

They seem in it a lot.  I've been in it - to test the rope, honestly - and it is mesmerizing and powerful to watch that old rope climb into that tree, into the blue sky, gracefully, confidently, and sway you like a dream.

It's funny, I just looked across the basement where I write and saw this:

I am more than certain I hung this up before the boys were even born.  A basement clothesline.  At the time for things like bathmats and wet suits and coats, slung between two giant sixteen penny nails I'd had to pound in with the side of the hammerhead, between the floor joists.  I knew at the time that wet mats and blankets and coats could get very heavy, and, perhaps I also sensed then that ever-growing little boys would jump up for it, missing, and then jump and grab it, and then hang on it, and then follow it to the steel I-beam, and from there jimmy away, across the basement, loudly avoiding the lava cement floor.

You've been to our back yard before, so I needn't explain all the time and hits and clashes and catches and cracks and bruises and cuts we've had there, but... but, have we ever come in together?  There is a free standing step that leads up to the screen door that leads to the porch.  It is an awkward step and you must open the door before mounting it.  This is not easy to do when you can only reach the handle from the step.

A little boy who is cold and damp and covered in leaves keeps standing on the step to open the door but when he does so, the door sweeps him off the step and he loses his grip.  I am watching from a distance, under the old maples, and the scene is both humorous and heartbreaking.  The solution comes clearly, suddenly, simply - the green rope.  I walk to the shed where the old half is waiting patiently.  I eye a length that seems just so and cut it off with the clippers I'd used in the long forgotten rose garden to cut off the flowers and clip the tips of the thorns.  The boy, Nick if you must know, is still baffled, and frustrated.

I have him stand down and tie one end of the rope on the handle and quickly, arbitrarily in retrospect, tie two knots near the bottom for easing grabbing.  I close the door, look down at the toddler whose been watching and say:

"Try it now."

He grabs the closest knot, pulls gently, climbs the step and walks onto the porch.  He lets loose the rope and the door slaps shut.

"Dood ide-a, Daddy!" he says, smiling on the other side of the screen.

I go and sit back down under the maple canopy, thinned by the autumn wind, and smile in the understanding.

You see, this was my moment of Greatness.

A yoke of purpose in a forest...  Greatness.

A golden swing over a creek...  Greatness.

A climbing line tethered to a dream...  Greatness.

A strong rope for wet clothes and the ghosts of boys to come...  Greatness.

A green frayed rope of hope...  Greatness.

I simply cannot imagine just how many times that rope's been yanked.  I'd guess it's been up there for pushing seven, maybe eight years.  It often gets flipped around and ends up caught in the door, half in, half out.  It has weathered uncounted blizzards and sleet-storms and rains.  It has been baked and faded in the summer sun.  And yet...

The other day I stepped out into the yard on a cool, late summer's night.  I'd never noticed it before, but I usually hold the rope and close the door gently with it to keep it from slamming.  I guess I just missed it, or it'd slipped out of my hand, but it wasn't there and the door slammed in the quiet night and I panicked.  Not because I disturbed the night or the sleeping boys or my reading wife, but because I thought the rope was gone.  It wasn't but my heart cracked at the thought of it.

Boys, someday you may find a short piece of dirty, faded, frayed, sweat and tear stained green rope in the back of the second drawer of the rag dresser here in the basement...  Now, you'll remember what it was, I'd guess, but hopefully now, you'll know why I saved it.

Thanks, for sitting with me on the porch of my memory for while.  It is nice to have the company.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Bella, Soccer Star

I resolved in my last post to figure a way to make this less potentially hurtful for the boys.  In the last few days I have been able to speak to a number of friends and acquaintances about my concerns and, although some said the threat of harm to the boys is a theoretical possibility, most simply pointed out that no one really reads blogs.  Most teachers and educators, although acknowledging that cyber-bullying is a pervasive problem, told me that they have never heard of such a thing as a child being bullied or teased because of a parents blog, FaceBook, yes, but not a blog.  I polled two teachers and a librarian...

I figure it this way, maybe - maybe - one-hundred people will see this post.  I have less than three-hundred followers on my FB page, most I know personally or at least know who are, a friend of a friend, that sort of thing.  So, you know what?  I am gonna risk it.  I have scoured these pages in the last few days for something, anything, that might seriously harm them as they go forward in school and life.  I can't find it.  N and Z are good boys, with strong hearts, sweet dispositions and, as I see it, the ability to figure who their real friends are.  It'll be alright.  I think they would rather have this silly, harmless, loving chronicle and suffer the occasional poke about their spelling or bad pirate drawings than be free from that threat and not have this on which to remember back.

I may be wrong...

This is Bella, she is a soccer star:

Down on the bottom right, parenthetically, N points out that she is married to Chad:

Chad is in the Navy Force and is sporting a snappy uniform there.

Z is working on a new historical graphic novel about English emigration in the late eighteenth century.  I love this boat, or is a ship?

There is a lot less of this sort of thing these days.  Practices and homework and the damn, damn, damn Kindles have taken away a lot of the time they used to have to make pictures and drawings and all that.  Sad, really, endings are that way.

After practice last night they came home and immediately went to the table with their craft-boxes and busted these out.  I am glad they did.

Listen, if you are a follower here and have a second, do me a favor.  Run this over in your head:  Do you see what anyone, even a mean child, could find on this post, or any others you can think of around here, that would aid in hurting or teasing N or Z?

I can't...

From Marci's "...things you don't expect to hear from the backseat..."

... for the sequel: things you don't expect to SAY to the backseat ...

"Yes, it would be cool, but I don't think we should set that on fire, honey."

(yes, I have boyz)

I will be trying some other things around here, I have even considered a new look, but, I don't think I need to give up on the fun and joy of watching a boy or two grow up quite yet.

(On a side note, I asked the boys if I could put these on my blog.  "Oh yeah, that'd be cool," and "Only if you'll do the rest of the comic once it's finished.")

Thanks for coming by.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


Perhaps you've noticed, although you're not really supposed to, that I am in a transitional place around here on my porch of the internet.  Thus far, I have been comfortable telling the boy's story with few filters and emotional edits.  I wanted to never seem mean.  Yes, I have teased and kidded, even cajoled a bit, but never to be mean.   I've attempted to paint mostly the strengths and the characteristics that I felt would be remembered sweetly, truly.

Well, uh, so...  I can't seem to find a way to say this with even a little grace; poetry is rarely used to describe the cruelty – too harsh, maybe – the meanness of humans to humans, not war or poverty or injustice, addressing that is not for today, but just plain everyday meanness.

Listen, truth is, I am afraid that some mean, shallow, attention-needing child is going to find these posts someday and use them to make fun of Nick or Zack.

I don't see a way completely around it other than closing down shop, which I don't want to do.  I try to stay under the radar and have no desire to go viral, which seems to not mean viral in the sense that it spreads everywhere but rather that your words and good intentions are attacked with the twin viruses of hate and stupidity.  I offer few opinions really, and, well, dammit... I have tried to pour all the tenderness, love, honor and respect I could dig out of myself onto these pages.

I have cherished, am cherishing, them with this. Others are not always going to see it that way.  A jealous boy or a lonely boy or a pretty girl or a jealous girl might find these words and images and fold them around, twist them, trim them, disrespect them, and use them to hurt the very soul of the child I am trying to celebrate here.  That's messed up.

Of course the boys know that I do this, they've seen some posts and know I write about them and other stuff.  I have told them, promised them, that I will never say anything mean about them, or embarrassing.  I will try not to go too far past the point where something I share might someday hurt them.

However, that point is difficult pin down.

Have I gone too far if I post this simple sentence I found on a sheet of notepaper Zack tossed in the trash?  I mean, it was in the trash.  Should I have not done that?

It says: "My family supports me in everything I do no matter what."  Maybe it is alright to show his well constructed sentence here, but do I cross a line when I say that knowing he knows that touches me deeply in a place where words fail?  Perhaps...

Is there a time when an evil clown drawing is no longer hilarious but borders on creepy?  Maybe his future employer or spouse shouldn't be privy to this.

It's not too bad, really, although the dead dolly looking thing is weirding me out.  (Should I have not said that?  Was it pithy, snarky?)  How long can I continue to show Nick's misspells before it becomes, well, enough?  I don't want anyone to construe that I was making fun of him at all.  Simply stated, I have a genetic mutation that somehow turns misspellings into a playful, quirky word game.  "Confetty" is, for some reason inexplicable, hilarious to me.  Not because of the mistake made, but because of the marvelous creativity shown in the very making of it.

Do I cross a point in time, now and, irrevocably ahead of me, where this won't seem worth mentioning because it shows how peculiar a little boy named Zack can be?

That's probably fine, but what if I were to show a close-up of this little guy and then make-up a long imagined story of his past and his people and his heritage?

Yeah, I'm not... but that's a helluva hat.  But, had I, would I have gone too far?  Would I have revealed my own strangeness and silliness and plain weirdness at the expense of a boy who just wants a "normal" dad?  I am beginning to think it might, you'll notice I didn't mention the story of Steve and his heroic defense of his native home, high in the hills of a Land called The Rounders...

Should I not share here the marvelous madness of Nick's math pages?  The assignment was to find words that, spelled correctly, added up to one-dollar-and-nine-cents using each letter's numerical equivalent.  Can you imagine an exercise any farther away in his mind?  

Perhaps I go to far when I mention how proud I was as I watched him figure out a word and a strategy to add it all up.  The satisfaction I saw on his face, the joy it gave me... should I not speak of that?  One of the words is disjointed, I find that particularly funny.

Should I avoid speaking of snuggles and kisses and squeezes and taps and smacks, pats and secret handshakes?

Sometimes, when Nick comes in with the dawn to tell me he is up, he lays his head on my chest, face down, a sort of face hug, I stoke his head trying to physically remember the shape of it.  Maybe I can go with that, but... What if I mention two secrets I also know about the face hug?  I know he inhales deeply as he presses against me.  I have seen him do it with his favorite stuffed animals, and shirts, and a certain pillow that came from an ER room that smells of courage and pain and continuity.  I also know that I did the same thing.  The power of smells, the permanence of taste, has greatly influenced the way I see the world.  Does that reveal too much?

Other mornings, this morning as a point of reference, Zack came in and laid down gently next to me.  I pulled the cover up and he quietly murmured thanks.  We shared a joke and a handshake and told a little story.  It seems fine to tell that, but, what about the sense I had that this could be the last time he will do this with me though he's done it since before he can remember?  Should I leave out the tired, threadbare, stuffed and restuffed, stained, tan bear called Bear-bear and how we was the great hero of the Watermelon Wars and coincidentally invented soccer, unfortunately originally played with watermelons.  Does that leave Zack open to misguided ridicule?

Here is the hard truth:  I think it might.

Tenderness and truth and love are of deep significance but speaking of them, remembering them, living them, leads to a vulnerability that should not be underestimated.  I'm cool with that, I know I seem flaky and emotional and odd.  But, should I expose the pure, simple vulnerabilities of these boys-who-will-be-men to the winds of the days to come?

Probably not...

Here's my plan.  I want to tell more stories of my own childhood, but, I'll be telling their childhood through it.  It is all one childhood.  I've mentioned that before but it keeps just pounding me with its  significance.  The telling little details, the hurts and scrapes and brokenness, can be mine, but the story can be ours.

I'm working out the details.

It'll be a slow transition.

 From Marci's  "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."

"I am very good with vocabulary.
I can use all sorts of words.
I am just very bad at spelling."

(how very astoot of him)

That deserves some confetty...

Listen, things aren't really gonna change too much around here.  Honestly, I wanted to remind myself to be careful here.  I wanted you to hear it.  Thanks for listening and, as always, thanks for coming around.