Just look there, in that far meadow: there is the toylike stage-set of your childhood, the stoops and sidewalks that made up your world. It was there you learned how to ride a bike and how to tie your shoes; how to give a noogie and how to recieve one without too much wincing.
The more we look the sooner the first person singular give way for we were kids in the company of other kids, And when I pull out my old diaries they carry me right straight to that place:
- At Ballroom Dance class in Fifth Grade, my flailing hand catches Robbie Wilson square in the face and his nosebleed makes a Jackson Pollock canvas of his dress shirt.
- In school during Sixth Grade the big magazine drive has me hard-selling kinfolk across three counties and 12 weeks later my “prize” comes in the mail: a cheap ballpoint pen.
- My best friend Tina and I find a baby mouse separated from its mother. We bring it home, squeeze milk into its impossibly small mouth and pray it will last the night. The next day we hold a funeral, tissue-lined cigar box and all.
- That Christmas, I get three great presents. The dog, I lovingly note, gets four.
- Later that year, the dog gets a chest cold for which our veterinarian, with perfectly straight face, prescribes not just pills but an ounce of booze to be given nightly. (Afterward, my mother will never tire of telling of what she said to the druggist: “I need a pint of the cheapest whiskey you have,” then, on seeing his expression, blurting, “IT’S FOR MY DOG!”)
Ah but how my sister and I love that pup, the first most grateful object of our young affection. We are all three kinsmen, we sense; we follow orders and come when the grownups call us. And more time passes and the diaries show our antics growing bolder:
- Our next-door neighbor Dicky lights a fire of oak leaves and rolls in it to be funny.
- He and his brother Bobby get trapped in a too-high tree and Nan and I wing buckets of hard little apples at them.
- Spring comes and we pick sides for the big season opener of Softball out behind the Talbots’ house. Everyone is there: Tina and all four Talbot kids, Robbie Wilson and his younger brother Alex, Nan and I – everyone but Dick and Bob, held captive in their long Catholic-school workday.
We’re four innings in when suddenly comes a deep male shout. It’s Mr. Wilson on a child’s bike, roaring across the Talbots’ grass and heading straight for their big crimson maple.He reaches up as he passes under it, grabs a low-hanging limb with both hands and swings, letting let the bike rocket on without him. Then he jumps back to earth, limps to home plate, for one of his legs is polio-shortened, picks up the bat and hits one out of the park to bring everyone home.
I can see it now. And I can remember now, too, that he did this in a thousand ways, as did all our grownups. All through our childhood they brought us home safe, then leaned in, sheltering, sheltering, sheltering us in that golden far-distant meadow (but not all the time and not all that close as these pictures of Robbie and Dick testify.)