Sunday, July 23

Lesson Returned

Until the first born was about five years old, the family lived in apartments. To him, the place to play was the living room in front of the television. His bedroom, spare and bare but with enough toys, was another place to play. Sometimes the small courtyard where they lived was enough for plastic dinosaurs, rubber balls, and ninja turtles. On weekends he got to play in the park and the playground, but he couldn't just walk out the back door and find an open space.

After the birth of his brother, the family rented their first house. The extra rooms and big kitchen were more than Son I's experience could comprehend. Now he could race little metal cars down a hallway. Now there was a huge driveway on which to sharpen popsicle sticks. There was a garage full of cobwebs and sawdust to explore. The bathtub, with the required bubbles, held more water than he had ever seen. Little brother was in another room, and parents had their own bathroom. It was HUGE.

More grand than anything were the front and back yards. An expanse of grass to tumble on. Bushes that made for really cool forts. Birds that didn't just fly overhead, but actually came down into the place where you played, pecking at Dad's bird feeders. There was a big concrete patio with Mom's plants, shade, and a table with chairs outside! There was wooden fence all around, plus Mom and Dad bought a swing set. It was a kindergartner's dream.

Son I had never seen such things in a place where he lived. He didn't quite know what to do with so much space. By the time he could toddle, his brother knew how to exploit places with roly-poly bugs and sticks, using or changing them to his heart's content. In their early youth, Son I would always be contemplative, while his brother crashed into places to see what was there, making fun and use of whatever he found, incurring scabs and broken bones in the discovery.

Mom and Dad were not immune to the joys of this piece of the Earth. Never having had the chance to manipulate dirt and leaf and roots together, the parents took to gardening with abandon. Shrubs were sheered, trees pruned, grass mowed, gardens plotted, all to the delight of their landlord. Dad dug in the dirt and planted gladiolus bulbs against the back wall. Mom tilled the clay soil and nurtured nasturtium sprouts along the walk to the side garden gate. Through it all, Mom and Dad showed their sons earthworms, seeds, and dirty hands. They played in the sunshine sprinklers, retiring to their beds after summertime barbecues.

Son II tumbled through the sunny afternoons. Son I, true to his nature, quizzed Mom and Dad about everything. His most important questions revolved around plants and gardens, and how they all grew.

"Dad? What's that stinky stuff?"

"Fertilizer. It's cow poop. Cows eat plants. When they poop, it helps the dirt make plants grow."


"Remember the dead bird you found?"

"Yeah. It was all dried up and had bugs on it."

"Well, everything dies. When something dies, like a bird or a plant, bugs and other things eat it and put good things back into the dirt. Those good things help plants grow, and the cows eat the plants, and poop more good things. So when something dies, something else grows."

Son I looked at the ground, then at the trees, then at his father. He said nothing, nor did Dad. Both knew there was some serious thinking to do. Son I wandered to where Mom was planting more seeds and pulling weeds. Dad started on the cherry tomatoes and purple salvia. Son II rolled on the grass. Later, they all played catch, ate hot dogs, and went to bed.

Job, bills, and rent began to pile up on Dad's brain. The humdrum of the workaday world made him irritable, distant, unlovable. He spent time at the sportsbar after work, or sat silently at the patio table. For him, the world was becoming stagnant, static, dead. One afternoon Son I ambled outside and sat next to his father, legs dangling over the patio chair.

"Dad, how come you're so quiet?"

"I don't know. Sometimes grown-ups are sad. You will understand when you are older."

Son I thought for a minute.

"Dad, when everything dies, everything grows."


Shari said...

Children are the wisest of us all.

That was beautifully written.

tiff said...

I agree, 100%.

Bebti said...

When life gives you cow poop...