Friday, May 22, 2015
Closets, in my experience, are never very neat and roomy. No, they are messy and disturbingly full, adhering somehow to the universal law that nature abhors a vacuum. The closet in the boys' room is just jam packed with shelves of games and trinkets and Lego sets and stuffies and dirty socks and building sets and so much more.
I know it must be organized, I know it must be weeded, I know we will never play that or get that out ever again. The Game of Life has replaced Junior Monopoly which replaced Shoots and Ladders which replaced Candyland, Risk waits in the wings. But, see there, all of them are stacked in one pile oldest to newest, toddler to now. So many layers like this everywhere. Simple Lego sets, cars and planes and the Three-in-Ones the used to love, replaced by complicated Harry Potter and Chima sets with more pieces and higher age brackets.
The walkie-talkie set they never quite figured out - although they thought they had because they simply shouted into them and in our small house the voice carried enough to be heard without the aid of radio frequencies and batteries - sit abandoned in a bin next to a yellow, squeaky duck, a car that races forward when wound up by rolling it back a little, a mini flip-flop keychain, a wizard wand, a wooden yo-yo and a plastic green lizard.
There were sand and gravel pits nearby when I was a kid within walking and biking range. Between corn and soy fields, deep gouges worked by trucks and loaders and separators buzzed with activity. We played in them when they weren't being worked and, at the edges where they met the fields in sandy cliffs, we jumped, recklessly, into the knee high sand.
Sometimes though we'd just sit on a fallen tree in the shade of the corn and watch the earthmovers and frontloaders and dumptruck after dumptruck work the veins of sand and stone and gravel. It mesmerized me with its constant growl and crunch, dust and diesel fumes mixed to where I though it was one scent. We'd throw rocks into the pits and under the edges of the cliffs, hoping to break away a piece so the sand would give way and make a small avalanche. We'd munch blackberries from the brambles that served as fences and sip tepid, rusty water from canvas covered canteens and watch for hours.
I don't mean to make it sound obsessive. My childhood was slow, lugubrious one might say, and I hadn't the modern barrage of toys and things to do my boys suffer today. That's okay, and not the point. Long, hot August afternoons in rural Ohio begged to be filled as slowly as they passed.
So, we sat at the edge of a gravel pit and watched as the dirt, our dirt it seemed, moved away from us to become the cement patios and tar and gravel roads we'd sit and drive on to pass the time as the years progressed. We spent the day in a treehouse up in the wind pretending to be sailors on a long voyage but, really, we just sitting in a tree, in a wind that would someday blow us away, but for now cooled and comforted us. We watched storms come up for hours and ride them out on a porch and then go play in the muddy spots we'd hoped would fill in the back of the yard, the "bottom" we called it.
I wasn't without things to do, I wasn't without toys and balls and gloves and bikes. In fact, my heart is full of good memories of all those things, things when looking back on them, filled time surely, sweetly, slowly.
Through some impossible circle of coincidence, grace, happenstance and fate, I still have these:
They are called Tonka Minis although they are sometimes called by the misinformed, "Tiny Tonkas" which they aren't. I'm not sure what started it when I was a kid, but, I liked little things - pocketable things, treasurable things - and I loved these Tonkas.
It is interesting to note - and, up until I started considering this story out I'd never noticed it - that I played with toys of the machinery I watched, of the trucks that rattled down our road, of the tractors that pushed and gobbled the earth underneath the fields and orchards around me.
By August in Ohio the dirt is parched most summers. There was a place, shaded in the evening on what would have been the west side of the driveway, where the grass of the yard didn't quite reach the gravel of the driveway. A rut, I'd call it, full of muddy water in the wet Spring but, once dry and cracked by the Summer sun, made for a solid surface to play at my imaginary gravel yard. I'd dig out roads and pave them with loose sand. I'd load up the dump truck and the "Bottom Dump" with the frontloader. Sometimes the hippies in the incongruous dune-buggy would crash and have to rescued by the ladder truck.
I would like to tell you there was more to it than that, but... there wasn't. I didn't harbor a deep desire to be the owner of a vast sand and gravel empire. I might have had a fleeting desire to drive a truck someday or even an earthmover, but, honestly just 'cause it looked like fun, not as, like, a career or such. I never thought much about that as a kid. Hell, I hadn't even yet figured that I might like to be one of those hippie folks someday.
What I do remember is being happy. Pushing sand and trucks with my dirty hands was the perfect way to spend my hours. No pressures, mind wandering at times but mostly, truly... just pushing dirt. It was mindless, I'd have to say, but it was so very important. The sense of safety and permanence I had as a kid still lingers in my heart today. When all is crazy, when all is surely lost, I remember that there is security, that I've known it, that the shifting sand settles and will once again be sure.
One truck in particular was my favorite:
To this day it looks so happy and willing and ready to help.
It did this...
... and still does.
I'd like to pause here and take you through story of Tonka Minis, but I won't. I will though, say this: You couldn't look for a more emblematic symbol of my journey from childhood to this place I am now, this otherhood. That truck, in that old man's hand, is sturdy and strong. It is dented and chipped, but beautiful for that. It still rolls steady, it's windows are still clear. It still believes in itself. And, so do I, in both the truck and me.
I alluded earlier to the story that brought me here, to this moment where I share these images with you, and I'd like to tell it, but I don't think it is mine to tell. For some reason I kept them as a kid but my Mom moved them several times from my childhood home to a condo to a house and then to another condo, all long after I was long gone and for reasons unclear in the clouds of time. They re-emerged a few years back and she gave them to me for the boys to play with. They weren't interested them, I put them in a box.
The box is on a crowded shelf in the garage. A shelf I keep saying I need to organize and weed through. A shelf that looks like the boys shelf in their closet.
I understand that I can't keep every item that may someday elicit as strong a response as these beat up Tonkas and Matchboxes did in me.
But, when a boy says to me, "I loved playing Candyland with you," I'll find a place to keep it.
When a boy delights in finding an old notebook filled with silly pictures and impossibly cute misspellings underneath the seat of my truck, I'll leave it there.
When two boys can, between them, remember the name of over a hundred stuffed animals that have won their hearts over the span of only a few years, I'll keep 'em around.
When a boy tells his mom he loves this filthy, outgrown shirt, it'll be a pillow in few months.
More than that though, more than trying to hold on to the tangible stuff that is childhood, we will try together to hold onto what it all means.
The point is not that an old truck was saved for me. The point is not even that I was happy when I held it in my hands. No, the point is that I remember happiness.
There's the gift.
From Marci's "...things you don't expect to hear from the backseat..." (Throwing ball in the backyard edition.)
"These gloves are righteousness."
Note to self, save those gloves...
Thanks for reminiscing with me. As the boys get older I am working towards telling their stories with mine. I can't tell if I'm doing it right or not. Peace to you and, hey... remember to remember.