My Village

It’s not looking well.

Words I hate to hear, especially coming from my father. This is a man who, given the option to sugar coat things, presents difficult information as a loving and tough fact. Since hearing these words a few days ago I am yet again, flooded with memories of her. 

I can see the mottled light in the forest behind her house, where I’d follow my brother and his friend who’s house we were dropped off at for the weekend. There is a pile of sand at it’s edge, and trucks that I adoringly drive around. She is hanging up the washing and on the line, and keeping a joyfully cocked ear to the chattering of boys. She gives a loving call out to me to ask what I would want for dinner, knowing full well but delight still in my answer: Han-ga-Burgers.

It became a long standing code word, representing this families loving remembrance of my time in and out of their house.

We have been blessed with our own village of friends in this city. My children look to our friends as aunts and uncles, neighbors and kin. Their children, a surrogate crush of extra brothers and sisters and cousins. Like the village I was raised in, the boys are given moments of neighborly love, a last moment ride, or a hangout to cover a gap in care. It’s what you do.

No more am I struck with this good fortune than when I go back home. I visit the cemetery, and sit and reflect. My eyes start to see the names on the stones around. One, A Friend of my brother. Another, a local business owner. Yet Another, a member of the congregation after who’s death I first learned of the word eulogy because of what my Father had to do in church. 

I sit in the chapel in the school. It’s big slanted beamed celling rising out of the darkness seems to be holding in the unusually cold air. For the first time since we moved to campus, I am there without the throngs of students squirming in the pews. It is silent and hard to focus. 

Please be doing well. I find myself saying it over and over. I say it right to her. I can hear her laugh, feel her tight hugs as she marveled how quickly I’d grown. 

I think of our close friends and how the younger one will run and give a hug to them. How I catch them looking adoringly at them run off and play. I think of the wonderful people that have cared for them as they have grown.

I remember my village and the people there that make up the threads of the quilt of my very soul. I can feel how they tug and pull, being stretched over time, and worn out with love. 

The email comes with a dull ache.

Tears.

Han-ga-burgers.

 

 

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While the Turkey Cooks

Thanksgiving never started out as my favorite holiday. A traditionalist as a child, I worshiped Christmas, and fervently argued with my brother about who got to open the advent calendar counting down the days. Somewhere along the way though, This day has wrenched the holly from my heart and taken root as my all time favorite day of the year.

I spent the morning waking early to the pattering of the youngest, and the adoration of my wife who has kindly remembered and reminded me of my love of this day for all the days leading up to it. I rubbed herb butter and trussed up the turkey in a manor that the Marquis de Said would admire. I look at the long table lined with glasses ready to be over flowing.

The high point of my childhood Thanksgivings, were always marked by the arrival of our closest kin. The family of three boy cousins who lived up the street and are closer in age to me than my older siblings. The eldest and I were unabashedly best friends, so any family get-together was bonus for us as we could escape as a pair. We would sit and watch the football game, steal as many snacks as possible, and retreat to my room and plot against his younger brothers.

I always try to get everything done the day before Thanksgiving, so that I can tune out stress and watch the action. I know family will suddenly start to fill our little home, the boys will amp up their volume, and the drinks will start to flow with ease. I have taken over the care of a good friends dog for the week. A black and white pit bull mix that loves our boys. He was adopted and raised in mexico, and responds to his masters commands in Spanish. Since I have no remedial Spanish to use with the animal, I have grown accustomed to him starring curiously as I say “record player” and “beer” over and over to him.

When it was dinner time, and my uncle had presided over a blessing, the group of us boys would be dished up and sent into the kitchen, where we would have our own space to celebrate. This consisted of; burping contests, making Thanksgiving Sandwiches, and putting various things in the youngest one’s glass of milk. This scene went on for several years until more of my siblings left the nest and more seats were opened up at the table for us.

The work of Thanksgiving is a happy thing. It is baking and chopping, smelling and wiping. It is getting a closet ready for coats, and looking for ties to wear. It is cleaning the bathroom, and re-cleaning it after the boys use it excitedly. There are arguments and second guessing about recipes, but there is kissing as well. It is the same work as a friendship. It is experimenting and learning, it is consistent and careful. It is failures and stress as well. But it is done with the goal of sharing, joy and above all, love.

It is why Thanksgiving became my favorite.

As we got older and would reconnect at Thanksgiving, the day became more about us than anything else. We would drink beer and watch the games, bother my mother in the kitchen by nibbling on foods, talk to adults and answer questions about college. We would have opinions about real things, fueled by our youthful know-it-all-ism. Then we would gorge ourselves at dinner, savoring every plateful, knowing we would nap it off on the couch or floor afterwords. But it was our favorite meal of the year.

And we would disappear together.

When he passed away five years ago on my birthday, I was so upset. He ruined my birthday, he missed out on meeting my second child. We would have no more Thanksgivings together.

As the years have rolled by, the settings of the table have changed. The faces have come and gone. Sometimes we make the Turkey, sometimes we go somewhere else. There is usually a stranger, someone solo, rescued from the pain of a lonely Thanksgiving, a tradition I inherited from my family and my Wife’s as well. And I sit and watch, I talk and laugh, and I eat.

But somewhere in my heart, I am stealing away with him and we are walking the property line. We are sipping on Budlite and having a cigarette. The afternoon sun does little to warm the air, but shines on the frosted fields making them blinding. The air is still, and the crunching of our footsteps echos off the trees. We talk, and laugh, or say nothing at all.

And we are Thankful.

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Lost and Found

Once I saw the older one sauntering down the hill from school in the rain, my parent alarm started to flash.

‘Dude, where is your coat?’

‘Uhhh, I think I left it on the field.’

‘Seriously? come on bud, it’s raining, why did you leave it?’

‘Cause it wasn’t when I went to play…’

My mind flashed to all the nights in the past week I have sat up to listen to his thick throaty cough.

‘Well, I have to get to work so we have to go get it later. Lets run.’

I lead the shambling parade of the three of us as we sprint through the drizzle. Barking at the older one to keep up, and literally dragging the younger one behind me.

The coat in question is a very important piece for us. A high quality, fleece lined rain coat in orange. A gift from my Mother to him last spring, he reacted as any 7-year-old will to the gift of Clothing on his birthday, with a subdued ‘thanks.’ But as a parent, I was immediately psyched. Here was a piece of clothing that was vital in Oregon, that was more expensive then what I was going to buy him, and durable enough to be able to pass down the line to his bother. With all that in mind, it was clearly labeled inside, and presented to the older on the next rainy day of school as, the single most important thing he was bringing to and from school. Don’t take it off outside and leave it, don’t loan it out, don’t forget it in your cubby.

I can still remember wearing the cast off’s of my brothers, though it was not in extreme. Durable things like snow pants, and boots mostly. Hats and mittens were usually lost regularly, so there was always a large trunk assortment to select from. As I have discovered, pants for boys rarely get handed down till they are older because of the wild amount of damage done to them from play. Since the boys go to private school, we tend to need a constant source of new chinos. This drives me to total distraction when I do the laundry and I find myself wondering if they can go to school in December with cut-off chino shorts. I have been told by my wife that in fact the answer is ‘no.’

The morning is a total scramble. I can tell I am going to have to rush them to breakfast and then down the hill with urgency. When I look outside I can see the rain thickening up the sky, and then remember the coat.

‘damn it! You don’t have your coat!’

‘Ooooh.’ he says half frozen. ‘I bet they brought it into the gym.’

The thought of the coat being outside on the field hadn’t even crossed my mind until now.

‘Seriously?’ I look at him exasperated. I rush and find him a fleece zip up, and get them pushed out the door as the rain starts to fall on the three of us.

I vaguely remember my Mother reacting when we would loose this or that piece of clothing, though I also remember not understanding what the big deal was. I would promise to look around school, ask the bus driver, double check the various points of entry, and search the piles of outerwear in the house. Sometimes disaster was averted and the pieces were found. Other times, they would just become distant memories. Now that I am a parent in charge of clothing inventory for these boys, I understand the stress of the situation. How one rainy day can turn into weeks of a cold being passed between kids.

When I finally come across the coat, my blood starts to boil. It’s in an orange heap on the wet ground. I pick it up by the hood and carry it like a toxic sample towards home. It starts sagging down due to the triple gain in weight from the water. While relieved I have it, I am frustrated I now have to launder it, and dry it to try to get it back into wearable shape.

To this day, there is one thing that I was responsible for that I lost that still fills me with regret. But it was not clothing at all. I was in the 4th grade and was doing some sort of paper on my families genology. For this, my mother entrusted to me a single folded piece of paper with our family tree that she had sorted out while my father’s extended family were still alive to tell it. Names, long lost in time, were all carefully written down in pen. It was the only copy of this history, and I can remember her being nervous about letting me take it. I can also remember putting it on the grass in the park after school in order to play football with my friends. But mostly, I remember the look of total disappointment, not anger, but total disappointment from my Mother hearing about my carelessness. I spent time on the park searching, but it was gone, and I genuinely felt I let my Mom down. And even though I lost this, and I could tell my mother was crestfallen, I still felt her forgive me.  If regret can be a powerful teacher, than forgiveness is is the school master.

The sound coming from the dryer is one of cacophony and destruction. Having JUST bought this dryer, I raced quickly to throw the door open. In my desire to rush and get this coat re-workable once again, I neglected to rummage through the pockets, who’s contents were now rolling in and denting the inside of our dryer.

Crayons.

Stones.

Small sticks.

Plastic bits and pieces.

Pencil nubs sharpened down.

Wrappers.

Slips of paper with faded drawings.

And large walnut shells…

are all pulled out and piled up on the counter.

I look at this pile, this collection of trappings from a inquisitive boy. I pick up a walnut shell and look closer at it. It is a perfect half of a dark brown smooth shell and what’s more, there is moss growing inside. It looks like a miniature forest in a tiny ship. And at once I understand. This little thing was studied and lovingly collected. It was marveled at and given importance. To him, this coat was just a way to protect it, in the same way that I would hope it would protect him.

And I am reminded that the older one is older, but he’s only 7, and that it’s just a coat and not a diamond ring, or a family tree.

So its clean and dried, and waiting to to be filled with what’s really most important:

My child’s adventure.

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To Conquer

“Ease the string back…”

“I know…”

“…keep your stance open…”

“Dad. I know.”

I watch as my oldest squints an eye and lets an arrow fly the full 25 or so feet towards our makeshift cardboard target.

It was the first time he had gotten to use his bow since he had received it from his Grandpa. Seven. Months. Prior. When I was told that the idea was given to Papa to get him the bow, I was a little concerned. It was something that the older one REALLY wanted, and our philosophy with gifts is quality and importance over quantity. We had already planned on getting him the real skate board. Wasn’t that enough risk for one holiday? Not to mention Papa is a hunter, and I knew full well the bow would not be a toy set. Before gifting it, he called to let me know that the man at the store wondered about getting a 7 year old this bow for, while it was the lowest in “draw weight”, it might be a little tall. ‘He’ll grow into it I guess,’ I heard myself say, as if he were buying him slacks or a nice Sunday coat.

Growing up I remember we had access to all sorts of medieval weaponry. Old BB Guns, tools, bows and arrows. Heck even our lawn games were products worthy of a WWI weapons expert. Without firm warnings or hovering from our parents, I don’t remember any one of us getting (seriously) maimed.

Ever since he opened it on Christmas morning, I was expecting a continual onslaught of requests to go out and shoot it. However, the fervor of the holiday distracted him enough from it. And when we finally brought it into the house, and I separated the bow from the 6 arrows lovingly gifted, I hung it up on his wall near his bed. And with the exception of two or three questions, he seemed content.

I can remember a game my cousin and I would play, a version of war. We would hid in the lilac bushes which encircled the bend in our long U-shaped driveway and wait for the mail truck. Sure enough, at the same time every day, we’d excitedly watch as the mail was exchanged in the box, the flag was raised or lowered, and the truck began its slow open door crawl around. Of course he’d know to expect us waiting, wearing surplus steel WWII helmets and armed with (non-working) wooden-stocked-steel-barreled-daisy guns. BANG-BANG! And he’d slowly drive by, dodging our pretend hail of bullets and shoot back.

Can you imagine how much prison time I’d get as a parent if my kids did that to a postal worker tomorrow?

Somewhere along the way, things started changing. Risk became a bad four letter word. With each high profile kidnapping, children were reigned in closer and closer to home. With each shooting, kids were shepherded away from things that could become violent. Old broken guns were demoted to toy guns with orange tips, which then were reduced to finger guns, which are now not encouraged on playgrounds around the country.  Then it seems the video games and cartoons our kids were escaping to indoors became a new source of violence.

I wondered why then had my son not become overly aggressive? I mean, he had a real bow on his wall. Then it occurred to me that perhaps, just the idea of him being able to own it, to be able to see it, and know he was trusted with it was enough. Just as my playing war with the mailman was enough of a risk outlet for me.

It was the day I walked into the living room and the older one was admiring his bow, I knew the time had come. He looked up at me and smiled, then drew back a notched tinker toy log in the string, and let it fly at the younger one. (Fortunately, they had had the presence of mind to outfit the shirtless younger one in a steel wire storage basket for protection) After a brief discussion about safety and idiocy, we made a plan to take it up camping with us.

“This is a weapon.” I said it firmly handing over the bow and looking into the older one’s eyes.  He seemed to understand that if not respected, this was something that would very well be taken back, not to come off the wall for a long time. We walked quietly towards a path in the woods where I had hastily erected a large cardboard target. His bow, as tall as he, was being tenderly carried. As solemn as our procession seemed, I knew our hearts were racing in excitement. I placed the six blunt tipped target arrows on the ground next to him, and walked him through the basics.

String arrow down.

A wide stance.

Locked arm out front.

Pull the arrow next to your ear.

Find the target.

Release.

The arrows will always be kept away from the bow, which will always be hung high enough off the ground to not be mistaken for a toy. But the pride on his face watching his arrows sink deep into the cardboard let me know he was getting just a little bit of risk back, in a world that works hard to pull him away from it.

 

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Finding the Balance

“Look, I just don’t see what your problem is?”

My then girlfriend and I were having a major row about our future. I was 26, just getting rolling in a brand new job in the world of retail, and pleased with going out for a drink with our friends several nights a week.

“Seriously?! You don’t? Look, you’re either in or you’re out. Shit or get of the friggen pot.”

She had just turned 30, and was clearly wondering why the hell she decided to go all in with me a little more than a year prior.

What I did know for sure is that I worshiped her. So being the good doting lover, we made up and decided to let things play out the way the universe wanted them to be. (A way 20 something’s can justify their idiocy.)

Not long after this discussion, I turned 27 and was steadily working my way into management of a major downtown retailer. The work was not too challenging in retrospect, but most things for me at that age tended to be what I considered to be quite grueling. As the summer season started to wind down I was gearing up for the fall shipments. I came home on the bus to find her sitting in the living room waiting for me…with news.

After she told me I broke out into full body hives, and spent the night on the toilet throwing up into a trashcan.

“I can’t do it!!” My six-year-old screamed at me over and over again. Over the past two summers we had been encouraging him to try to ride a bike. First he had gotten a trike to learn the basics of pedaling. However, unlike the trike that millions of us had learned to ride on, the newer models come with a pushing handle. This had only encouraged him to be pushed along the sidewalk. The other obnoxious feature was the fact that it allowed through a clicking ratchet to pedal backwards aimlessly with a thunderous “click-click-click.” Forward mobility it seemed was the last thing the manufacturer wanted to teach.

Fortunately we discovered the scoot along bike without pedals, but had waited till he was almost too big to get any real long-term use out of it. He would zoom teetering on one foot and then another, and slowly had gotten to the point where he could lift his legs up, only to hit the handlebars. But the balance was getting there.

After another summer of watching his friends get large new bikes and effortlessly ride them in slow sweeping circles around him, he had all but given up on the idea. Unfortunately for him, his lethargy was only compounded by the fact that his own parents were not bike enthusiasts. While we both own a bike, we might as well just hang them on a wall as if they were some sort of Damien Hirst inspired artwork conveying the endless passage of time through a rusty decay. We do not take family bike rides. We don’t hitch up a pull along carrier behind a cruiser and go to Trader Joes with a 6-foot flag waving off the back signifying an outstanding and healthy parent. We spent our free time eating sushi, planting flowers, and having a late glass of rose as the sunset.

After taking a couple sick days from work, I found myself staring blankly over a large empty suit department. My head throbbing, I did the best I could to focus when the occasional elderly man would come looking for something that would fit off the rack. Since the store had done away with all the finery services like tailoring, I often had to do the best with what was available, only to then have another lecture as to how this was another reason our store was “going down the tubes.” Any other day I could win some sort of concession, even a smile from these chaps, but today I listen and nodded with they typical glazed over look the had come to expect, and no doubt mentally log as yet “one more reason.”

She was going into the doctor for a confirmation ultrasound. After two days of trying to keep my spirit high about the idea and waiting for an appointment to be ready for us, I had to not miss any more work. She assured me that she wanted me to go to work, and that she would call once she knew for sure. And so the morning went by as to be expected. Slowly.

Once the phone on my hip did begin to ring, I flubbed it right to the ground before answering in a hushed tone.

“Babe, how is it going? How are you?”

Something was wrong.

“The baby’s not there.”

“What?”

“It’s. Not. There.”

“So where is it? Are you pregnant?”

“Yes. Yes I am pregnant. He just could not find the baby.” She had said the word “he” in a way that I knew well. She did not like him. As if perhaps if it were a woman she would have been able to find the baby.

“Well, what did he say?”

“It could be stuck.”

“Stuck.”

“Sometimes it can get stuck in a tube. It’s bad. They would have to remove the baby.”

“Well…what next? Where do we go next?”

“We have to wait.”

The thought started to make the hives start to rise against my skin all over again.

“Ok. Hang in there. I love you. I’ll try to get home early.”

“Ok. I need you.”

“Ok.”

I hung up the phone. I was scared. I was worried for her. I was embarrassed and pissed I was not there with her. It was bad enough I had set the tone of my parental readiness by loosing a few pounds in the bathroom, but this was enough. I was scared also that there was some sense of relief. Maybe this would be for the best. MAYBE the universe was telling me that I was not ready. I was relieved in a way that I would not have to have a conversation with my parents 3000 miles away. I would not have to see their faces when I told them that the girl they had met once or twice before was going to have a baby. And we were not married. I would not need to go though the gauntlet of a pregnancy, which had kept us both awake with whispered conversations late at night the past couple of days.

He watched our 10year old neighbor ride his mountain bike down the sidewalk. There was a look of sweet sadness in his face. A quiet and bottled want filled up his eyes as he saw the boy beaming as he pedaled switching gears. I asked him if he wanted to take the training wheels off of his painfully little bike; a hand me down job from a family friend meant to help him ride 2 years ago. He agreed, and we set about unbolting them with the help of his three-year-old brother.

In between mediating the arguments about who got to hold the wrench, and who got to hold the pliers, I spied the other bike. It is an old cast off BMX that a couple of teens we had lived next door gifted to him last year. Despite being a touch rusty on the gears and chain, and needing new tires, it was a fine throw back to my own childhood bike.

“Hey listen. How about I make you a deal. You get up on this thing, and practice, and I’ll fix up that dirt bike for you.”

“For real?” His head shot straight at me. This was something he had been thinking about.

“Yeah! Let’s go to the store after you practice a little with me holding on, and we’ll get some things.”

He frantically started in with getting his helmet ready and his tennis shoes on. I ran along behind him holding onto the back of the seat with one hand, and steadied the handlebars with the other. And just when I thought he had the best balance, I let go and he careened into a stiff line of bushes to the side of the walkway.

“DAD! You CAN’T do that to me! I HATE YOU! This whole thing is STUPID! I told you I’m not ready! Why don’t you LISTEN to me?” His reaction had all the drama of a 16 year-old girl who was just forbidden to go to the dance.

“Hey. It happens buddy,” I tried to console him hoping he would not give up, “even grownups fall off every now and again.”

He wailed to the sky, and I decided that we would take a little break and try again the next day.

We anxiously waited in the Dr.’s waiting room, thumbing through the thousands of magazines. I attempted to feign some interest in a back dated issue of Sports Illustrated, but my mind was already in the examination room. She had still decidedly felt pregnant; complete with the vomiting, which could best be described as constant. (Fortunately, mine seemed to have abated for the time being.)

We had gotten a referral to this particular doctor through a family friend, who did her hair, and swore that she would be a great person to work with. She was brash yet warm, funny but thorough. After a few moments of probing around the mid-section with a lubed up stick of some sort, she stated:

“Well, there you go.”

She hit a button on the machine next to her and a string of blurry black and white photos spit out from the odd womb photo booth machine. She handed the grainy reconnaissance photos over to me and I looked at them in earnest trying to figure out if there was a baby or a missile base in them. She knew full well I had no idea of either so she pointed up to the screen

“That right there is your peanut.”

It had appeared.

The doctor left the room and I looked over at her, still clutching the photos. She sighed, smiled, and started to cry.

After a bottle of cleaner, some WD40, and a couple of new tubes in the tires, I was impressed with how the little silver bike turned out. The boys had helped me for some time, until boredom had set in while I was struggling to get the back tire on, and the younger one decided to spray the oil at us. However, the bike had worked as I had hoped. He eagerly was ready to get on the small one, and give it another shot. All of us went over to the basketball courts where it was nice and flat to give it another try.

“You just have to keep pedaling. Keep moving forward. If you get nervous or worried you’re likely to overcorrect and tip over.” I tried my best to build his confidence.

“Oh! It makes me so nervous.” She said. We were spending the whole summer as a family, and it was the longest time we had been together. Her skin was sun kissed from time at the lake and at the beach, from time in the pool and building a blanket fort for the boys out on the lawn.

“I think it’ll be ok.” I still find it hard to believe that after seeing my reaction to the first pregnancy, she had opted to go for a second with me.

I began to slowly run behind him, holding onto the seat while he did his best to keep the bars steady.

“Don’t let go!” He panted nervously as he tried his best to focus on pedaling, and balancing at the same time.

I watched the hills roll away from the passenger seat as the sunset lit up the sky. My father, having to drive me the 3 plus hours to the Albany airport was listening to the radio. I had been dreading this ride. More than the flights to and from home, more than having to sit them both down to tell them I would be a father. This ride specifically was what I was worried about. A long opportunity to hear a lecture about how disappointed and upset he was.

He had been particularly quiet when I had sat Mom and him down to tell them. I had decided to do it right away, since I was only home for a couple of days, and I wanted them to have the time to process their feelings on it while I was there. Their reactions were surprising. My mother answered simply by kissing me and saying something along the lines of “It’s going to be great.” And when I expressed my relief about her response she simply said:

“Honey, your 27 and out of my house, it’s your life not mine. I’m not worried.”

But I knew my father knowing he would have a three-hour opportunity to speak to me man to man would hold off his concerns until this ride.

We went through the predictable line of questions:

Does she have insurance? Yes.

Do her parents know? Yes.

Are you going to marry her? I don’t know. I had not gotten that far yet.

And then he made small talk, asked about the job and if I liked it, and just drove.

We got to the airport after the sun had gone down. He offered to keep me company while I waited for my plane, but I knew the drive back would be long and dark, and I insisted he start back. I took my one carryon out of the car and meet him on the sidewalk.

“Are you scared?” He asked. This was the question I was most worried about answering. I was 27 and stubborn. I moved away from home, and was determined to make my life something successful. So far I had lived a wild 20 something life, boozing, smoking, and barely getting by on my own.

“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t.”

The bike was now sailing along at a good clip. His little legs were keeping a good rhythm, and his nerves were just calm enough to hold it steady.

“Ok bud,” I leaned over and said out of breath, ”it’s time.”

“Dad, I’m scared.” He said still focused, still moving.

“I know but you’re ready. You’ll be great.”

I hugged my father and watched him drive away. I turned, walked through the sliding doors, and started to pedal forward.

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Reincarnoliosis

Dad, when is Arnie going to become a dog?

The question was odd coming from his perch on my shoulders. I was slogging him up Apple hill. (It is a back trail by the house that leads 200 yards straight down to the pond, and straighter up to the house again. I had given up and let him run down, but was entrapped with the up hill portion.)

When will Arnie turn into a dog?

I had to re-ask.

Arnie Finkbiner is the black male cat we adopted one year ago, who has since fought a raccoon and lost, and discovered a hive of digger bees.

Yes.

I don’t think he will.

But what about fwogs and bunnerflies?

I chuckled.

The sun had come up the hill more so then the trip down 30 minuets ago. We carried stinky bog water filled pail, which was dripping down the front of my long boots. Since we had discovered the tadpoles and helped mom hatch butterflies in her classroom, we had been down to the wetlands regularly.

Well, they make a big change to become something different, a new animal.

Like when they die?

Yes. No. What. What? No they don’t die…they just change.

Like when we die?

Like when we die…what?

We come back.

We do?

Yes. But not as people.

There was a chill up my sipne, or the strain on my back on these mornings was becoming unbearable. Pushing the years at three, and tipping the scales at 35lbs, he was going to have to walk.

What do we come back as then? 

Babies.

Babies?

Babies.

But aren’t babies people?

He was silent.

You know what I will come back as?

What?

A Dad.

And I know he will come around to become a great dad.

And maybe a great back surgeon too.

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Small Thumbs

As I strained to turn over the large square patch of sod, the younger one eagerly started to smack it with his child-sized hoe as if it were a piñata. The dirt that crumbled off the back of it, managed to fill up my right boot to the half way mark. As I turned it over to scratch more of the dirt off, he bent over the bare spot and looked at the variety of earthworms, desperately try to wriggle back down into the soil and surely wondering what the hell had just happened.

More worms! Look a baby one!

Your right! Keep them in there; they will help the garden out. Pick one up

No. Worms can’t sting you though. And they don’t have a mouth, just eyes and two butts.

He sat there looking at the poor things, shoveling fistfuls of snack into his mouth. Watching in earnest their movements, and making sure they were not getting too close to him.

On the campus where we are currently living, I have been given the particular golden opportunity to re-develop an overgrown garden plot nestled between an old nursery, a green house, a lawn and a line of tall pine trees. Having employed both goats in the fall to clear the brambles back, and students to clear what the goats had left, I was astonished to find myself loading over a few hundred feet of beds. As is common with some planters, I found myself with even more plants than this would house, so we began in earnest to pry up a few more feet of grass to extend the length and width.

Having gotten bit by the gardening bug once we became homeowners, I found that the bite mark was only swelling up now that I lived on acres of a school campus. With dirt and compost seemingly on call, and space and time on my hands, I have become sort of an addict. And now found myself desperate to get the boys as invested in being in the garden as much as I was.

Growing up in Vermont, it would be fair to say that my Mother’s vast flower and vegetable gardens shaped my childhood and adolescence. The peppered beds of daylilies and hosta were the backdrops to many a boy hood adventure. As I grew, my brother and I would often be sent to the garden to harvest beans or carrots for supper. I have an aversion to fresh tomatoes because of a faint memory of an incident where a rotten one one was thrown on me. And then there was the day my mother got so mad at us for sitting down in the lower acre, and eating every sweat pea we could find right off the vine.

Dad are we going to water the baby plants?

The younger one was clearly starting to get antsy. Watering was about the only thing I can offer to him or his brother that holds any interest. However, with only one hose, I have quickly learned that whoever gets handed the hose first tends to be the one that keeps it. The other one will gingerly try to reach over and over for it, only to recoil and run when it is turned in their direction.

Sorry bud, it rained this morning, and the plants are already really wet. We don’t want to drown them.

Awwwwwwww!

He dropped his shoulders and sauntered over to the brush pile in the pine trees, to look for another sword, and I realized that I would have to button up digging out sod until I could steal another hour of time.

The pavers of sod were cresting over the sides of the wheelbarrow as I began to push it off into the forest. I felt the muscles in my back strain as I tried to keep up the speed and balance of the barrow as it careened down the forest path to the spot where I had been tossing the heavy squares in the hopes of smothering spring return of the ivy shoots. I could start to feel the tendons in my legs and arms twisting like the green branches of a sapling. I knew there would be hell to pay for trying to rush and squeeze in as much time as I could.

Not to be outdone by my mother, my father took over some of the gardening operations. However, with his load of lawn mowing and tree care, he had to stick to the one or two big crops. Pumpkins were always a crowd pleaser, but I remember the years of potatoes he tried out. We would all often be called down to the field to assist in pest control. Armed with tweezers and a pill bottle of gasoline, we were trained to pick off the potato beetles, and drop them into the bottle. Not exactly organic farming, but a good solution never the less, as we were rewarded with fresh starchy potatoes in the late summer.

As I return from the woods pushing the empty wheelbarrow up the slope, I go over in my head what I still want to try to get done. Turn the soil in the new bed, add compost and fresh topsoil. Get the radish starts in with the carrot seeds. Weed the garlic beds and cut a new boarder. Never seems to be enough time.

The younger one has come back with a sword, and uses it to knock out the rest of his snack cup into the garden. I watch as he takes his stick and pulls dirt over the bits and pieces. He then moves over to examine the umbrella sized leaves of a recently re-discovered rhubarb plant, which according to some of the grounds crew, is older than myself. I can see him sorting out whether it’s even real or not with its gargantuan leaves and bright red stalks. He stops to itch his butt and shoots a puzzled at a small purple artichoke shooting through frosty green leaves. I can tell he is wondering the same thing as I: how does one go about eating that?

I cannot expect them to readily love something I only recently discovered that I myself love. It was something I surely took for granted growing up. Always seeing my mother pour time into her plantings, but never seeing the connection she was making. When my parents sold my childhood home, I went back to help where I could. I can remember walking the property to say a tearful farewell to decades of memories. It was when seeing my mother’s buckets of plants that she was taking with her to her new garden something clicked. One doesn’t simply plant things because they’re nice to look at, or because they are fun to eat. No, it seems a true gardener creates some sort of connection with something much deeper, and tries their best to make some sort of imprint with it.

Dad, let’s goooooooo…

Ok. Let me pick up.

I close my eyes and wipe away sweat from my face, feeling the dirt from my work gloves smear across my skin. I can picture what I can only hope the garden will look like in the next couple of months. Rows of tomatoes, a tee-pee of beans. Broccoli and a row of sweet peas. Egg plants, summer melon, and squash. Cucumbers climbing over the lattice, with bush beans.

And if my son’s attempt works, a fruity cheerio tree right in the middle.

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