Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What To Remember

“How about that fast bike trip down that big hill that led to the water bench place?  And how we found the Temple we'd been searching for all along.”

“Be sure to tell them about the big woods and how we went down into it and pretended to find a Temple thing.”

“Oh, yeah, good one, Nick.  Oh, and remember the raccoon, that was really funny.”

“And kinda cool, too.  Oh, and Zack how we could take our bikes anywhere and all the tricks you were doing... that was a fun trip”

“I was the Shaman of Shamalamadingdong.”

“Oh, and don't forget the nature drawings.”

I'd asked for some input from the boys about writing this piece.  The conversation went on for a while, but, I sort of phased it out because I was thinking about memories and how they work, how they are made, how they are recalled...


My homemade, cobbled together “chopper,” - a customized Stingray bicycle with a second fork added to the original one, tenuously spot-welded by Joe B's dad – is flying down the hill in front of our house.  The summer is full-out August, the heat waves up from the tar and gravel road which blisters and bubbles in the blazing sun.

I pop a “wheelie” and ride it expertly for a second and then it hits down again, hard.   I ignore the little crack I hear, in fact only heard in the memory of the event much later, and pop another, hard and strong, I want that wheel up high.  And... the wheel goes spinning off, spot-weld be damned, the added fork arcing around it, slowly, elegantly somehow.  Bounce, graceful flip, bounce, graceful flip, and, finally lost in the brambles that separate the rural roads around here from the fields they service.

I do not react quickly, who could of, but I do quickly assess that there is a problem.   I consider trying to lift off the seat and push my self off the back of the bike but the rusty chrome “sissy bar" locks me in my seat.  I can no longer maintain the wheelie and so begins its inevitable fall.  The fork that still remains spikes straight into the soft pavement and sticks. I am thrown like a pole vaulter into the air.  My body flips, untucked, in a long enviable arch, and I land, hard, on my back, my thin white T-shirt no protection from the sharp gravel and oozing tar pavement.

I was nine.

It hurt.  I'll spare you the details, but they included scrub-brushes and alcohol and tweezers and oozing wounds and... wait, I said I'd spare you those details, not because they are painful or gory, but, well, because I don't remember them that well.  But, I can see that wheel flipping through the air right now and, that memory links to all the safe flights I had down that hill and so many others.

And, and... those sweet memories blow in the wind and laugh with me as Nick and Zack and I sail down a long hill on a bicycle path that leads to a lake in a State Park under the same summer sun.


I am lost again in the woods on the other side of the main road perhaps a mile from home.  The woods are getting thicker, the ravines steeper, the undergrowth more tangled, the sun filtered nearly out of sight. It is late evening and the German pillbox I am searching for seems less real than it had just minutes ago.  I no longer hear the voices of my squadron mates and, I am lost.

The sun seems a little brighter over there and I head that way and find an old farmer's path, two ruts through the reddish soil, dry and bare in the hot sun.  I know where I am and, once again, the hedgerows are in France, my is stick a gun, my self-assurance returned, I march into the setting sun.

I was nine.

I guess I was afraid, I vaguely remember that, but what I remember most was the well of confidence and purpose that swelled up in me as I continued on my way, strode on averting defeat.

Nick and Zack came running up to the campsite on the road and not through the woods where they had started.  They'd gotten lost, I was to learn.  The were searching for the Temple and thought they had seen it down a deep “ditch” so they'd gone that way and, in so doing, had turned themselves around.  Together, even thought they were “a little afraid,” they decided that they should walk back up the hill and when they came to the top, disoriented, Zack thought he saw a camper and they walked towards it, emerging in a part of the campground they didn't recognize.  Nick figured out from the number on the site that they were in “F” and pointed out that they couldn't be far from “G.”

You have never seen two boys more full of it than the two I watched swagger towards me.  They told the story simultaneously, trading parts, shouting over each other, laughing and teasing each other, dirty, sweaty, jeans covered in burrs, shoes muddy and wet, and very, very happy.

“C'mon, Zack, let's go get lost again.”


“I only walked to the bathroom, for just a sec, honest, Dad,” I am pleading as we step quietly through the screen door.   I have messed up royally.   I can't sleep and everyone else is asleep and I, well, I sneak out of the camper, but, not before I grab a box of Nutty Buddys from the counter next to my sleeping brothers, with a smirk I assure you.  I get out and open a pack of them and then I have to go to the bathroom.  I could just pee in the woods behind the camp but, it is crowded here at the State Park and peeing in the woods pisses dad off, so I trudge to the bathroom and back to camp.

Upon my return there are skunks everywhere, Nutty Buddys, an opiate I know now in retrospect, opened and strewn everywhere.  They are all munching and wandering and, Dad stands still in the doorway of the camper, scowling.  He is a smart man and quickly figures it all out.  He gestures to me, in no uncertain terms, to “Shut up!” and waves me to the door of the camper.  He assures me he isn't mad, but he is, but he knows a crying boy will scare the skunks and that is the very, very last thing he wants.  We watch them, they're cute, dad softens, puts an arm on my shoulder and says, “I know, son, it's alright.”

I was nine.

Every park or camp seems to have them, bears some places, skunks, possums, even at a State Park in Kentucky, feral cats.  I remember wondering what they had here as Nick and Zack helped me pop up the, uh, popup.  Over night Marci hears a rustling and a I go out to see what it is.  She checks again later.  I'd left out the cooler but it has a good strong latch, the food box and trash bag are under the cover of the truck.  Nothing.  I had checked the latch and it was closed.   Later, after breakfast which had only necessitated the milk from the cooler, I walked back toward the firepit and there, ripped open and scattered all around the opening, were the remnants – the very empty remnants – of the bag of lunchmeats.  Salami, pepperoni, turkey, ham, even the sharp cheddar gone and, off down the ravine a bit, toward the lost Temple, a lone, fat, pleased raccoon was watching me.

I don't really remember getting in trouble, or the hard time my brothers probably gave about the Nutty Buddys, but I do remember, with a tear in my eyes, watching those cute little cat-like skunks, snacking peanut butter bars, under the stars, my Dad's warm palm resting forgivingly on my thin, chilled shoulders.


At that same campground, earlier that same summer, I am watching some older boys riding their bikes past some older girls.  They are standing on the seats of their bikes and riding “with no hands” and I think it is the coolest thing ever.  I begin to try it but, really, I can't seem to screw up the courage to get it right, managing only to sort of put one foot on my seat or lifting my hands away from the handlebars just briefly before grabbing on to them again.  I know I'll be able to someday, one day, but not this summer.

I was nine.

I let the boys go wherever they wanted in the park when we went recently.  A freedom I'd never really given them before, but, the camp was not busy and the roads were flat and, honestly, campers are some of the most friendly people I have ever met so I wasn't much worried.  I looked up and saw Zack coasting by doing this:

“Whoo-hooo, go Zack, nice job,” Nick was screaming and so was I...


I am with my childhood pal, Joe.  We are perhaps twenty feet up, at the top of the Saturn tree rocket about to be launched into space, the moon is waiting.  The next day we are waging war against an undetermined foe, only determined to keep our tree fort safe, our kingdom safe and sovereign.  The next day we are flying a bomber, unloading a fusillade of bombs destined to win the war as we fly through flak and the rat-a-tat-tat of machine gun fire.

The tree is everything we could imagine and we are anything we could imagine, Joe and I.  We are race car drivers and astronauts, we are warriors and prisoners, we are cowboys and Indians, we are sergeants and generals, we are princes and kings.

I was nine.

Nick was a Shaman complete with a magic wand and a forked stick chestpiece and a bark hat and a soul deep with understanding and wisdom.  He was reverent and sometimes full with his power.  And silly.  He imagined, just as I had done and just as all boys will always do, that he was what his heart said he could be.  This is what the Shaman of Shamalamadingdong looks like:


I am bored and there seems so little to do, summer is long and hot and drawn out and tiring and sad and lonely and... I am bored.  “Find something to do” is still echoing through my head as I sit in the den downstairs, wondering what it might be.  I look at the World Book encyclopedia set, grab “C” and begin flipping through.  I have already been through them all this summer and I doubt that “something to do” will be found by opening them once again. “California.”  A full page color map.  I'll draw this.  I have the colored pencils and a spiral bound notebook I, uh, acquired from my brother Bob, and, I'll draw this.  No, no... I'll do all the states.

I didn't manage all the states, I am sorry to say.  I think - actually I know, because that is my point – that I did California and Connecticut and Alabama and finally Alaska.  I can still still see the stars around the Capitals, the rivers and inlets and mountains and wetlands.  The way I erased and worked so hard to get the shapes just so.  I remember it seemed so urgent at the time, imperitive.   I think spent a day and a half doing it.  I found “something to do.”

I was nine.

“Find something to do,” I say in exasperation as I was playing the guitar and the boys were finishing a Gatorade after a long bike trip and, frankly, getting on my nerves.  Marci had grabbed a few brochures, pamphlets, whatever, from the State Park office.  There are two of the same one of native birds, one of reptiles and mammals and a couple trail maps, standard issue stuff, nicely done, full color and all.  Nick started to flip through one and Zack does the same with the same one.  I put away my guitar and put it in the camper figuring I'll have to find something to do with them.  I head to the bath-house a ways down the campground.

I had lingered long enough and walk back.  From a distance I can see there is activity, the camper door  opened and slammed and opened and slammed again.  There was was what appeared to be scurrying, no, searching.  I wonder.

“Dad,” Nick meets me in the road, “Do you have any paper?”  The crayons were out on the picnic table, the bird books were opened. “We're going to draw the birds from the books, all of them, for our class, you know, at the Temple.”

“Okay,” I said, unsure of what exactly the hell that could mean, “There's some in my guitar case. Graph paper, is that okay?”

“Oh, yeah, that'd be perfect.”

I handed them the paper and played guitar for a couple of hours.  This is what they found to do:

After dinner, they decided to work on the drawings some more, doing some skinks and other things, culminating in this drawing they did together.  Well, Nick watched and advised as Zack did most of the drawing:

They are nine.

I was nine.  Perhaps, I am nine.

That's what's got me sort of mixed up these days.  I have a vague notion that parenting and growing up is the same thing.  My childhood is theirs because I remember mine as I help them create theirs.  It is difficult to explain and I've already taken up far to much of your time.  However, you are clever, I think you know what I am trying to say.

We've gone this far, stay with me a minute longer.

When we got to the bottom of the hill there was an old arched tunnel that directs a creek into the lake under the bike path, which, years ago was probably a road.  Nick spotted it and said with wonder in his voice, “Zack, it's the temple we've been looking for!”

Indeed it was...

I brought the Shaman necklace home, fully expecting it to break, it is basically held together with a stem of grass Marci tied to keep the two ends together.  I put it on the bell and notice it everyday, and when I do...

… I am nine again.

Thanks for coming around and pulling up a chair today as I selfishly reminisced on my own childhood.  I've more to say on this, I hope you'll be so kind as to return again.

And always, don't forget to...

 ...play in the fire.


  1. A well done melding of past and present. The camping trip sounds like a rite of passage. The drawings are great.
    The memories of the writer are very interesting. It is amazing what you can learn about the past from your adult children. Main comment on those: you weren't supposed to cross 741 the drivers of the cars there didn't understand about nine year olds.
    Keep up the good job here.

  2. After reading anything you write I am always inspired to pay a little closer attention, to listen a little more carefully, and to soak up what others (big and small) have to teach me. Thank you. Thank you. I love to read what you write.