Tag Archives: childhood

“… Make Way for Other Toys”

No matter my age, the waning days of August – and, therefore, summer – always bring to mind Puff the Magic Dragon and his once-great friend, little Jackie Paper.

When our children were small, Puff was often their bedtime song of choice. They never knew, as we laughed, danced, and sang together, about the strong connection their Dad felt with this song, which is a metaphor for the end of childhood.

“Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sails…”

As a boy, I had three very best friends: Paul, Philip, and Evans. There were certainly others, good friends all, but these three were special. From ages eight to fourteen (and much longer with Paul), we were inseparable, at least during the summer.

Summer days began early and ended as late as the grown-ups in our lives would allow. Baseball was our first fascination, but there was also ample space made for kickball, bike chases, lunches at the local sub shop, swimming, bowling, and all other activities comprising the “stuff” of childhood.  We had great, uncomplicated fun.

“A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys…”

My memory may be a bit fuzzy, but I believe I was ten when the disturbing news came that Evans would be moving away – rather far away.

He and his family had been living on the bottom floor of a two-family house owned by Evans’ grandmother, who lived upstairs.  His grandmother chose to remain in our neighborhood, but the rest of the family would be moving out of state.

When Evans broke the news, our sadness was mitigated by his promise – supported by his parents – that he’d be spending summers with his grandmother… and, therefore, with us.

Evans proved good on his word; and, for the next several years, summer was redefined as the time between Evans’ arrival (always by early July) and his departure (in mid- to late August).

“One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more…”

Each return was a time of genuine anticipation and joy. Between visits, however, life happened.

As time passed, Evans’ connections at home and the lure to remain there year-round naturally grew stronger. And so, a summer eventually came when Evans opted to not to come.

“Painted wings and giant’s rings make way for other toys…”

The following summer, Evans, who had recently gotten his driver’s license, surprised us by driving to Massachusetts himself. (His father had always driven him previously.) His car was a brand new Datsun 240Z.

Evans’ visit was a short one, just a few days; and, while there, he kept mentioning how much he missed his girlfriend back home. I understood.

There were no baseball games; and, throughout his visit, my bicycle remained idle and rusting in my parent’s garage. In a few short years, the world had changed so very much.

I saw and spoke with Evans a few more times between the mid-seventies and the mid-eighties, but it’s now been nearly thirty years since I last heard my dear friend’s voice.

I’m so very sentimental! For me, childhood will always mean Paul, Philip, and Evans… my little Jackie Paper.

I still love them all dearly. I’ll always cherish the times we “went to play along the cherry lane.” And, whenever I reminisce, I’m sure that I’ll find myself wiping off the “green scales” trickling down my cheeks.

Coming Home

Nowadays, arriving home from work lacks the magic it once possessed. Most often, my wife is not yet home from her job, and so I enter without ceremony into an empty space. It can be a lonely feeling; but, it was not always so.

When my children were small, they seemed particularly attuned to the sounds of my arrival. By the time I put my key in the front-door lock, I would frequently hear little voices cry out, “Dad’s home!” And then, the thundering feet… those blessed thundering feet.

Perhaps the relative emptiness experienced when coming home today helps me appreciate more fully what I had in the past. Then again, maybe I’ve always known.

Whenever I see a young father walking hand-in-hand with his small child, I inevitably find myself hoping the man realizes the precious gift in his grasp. I hope he knows and understands the magnitude of his influence, the enormous power wielded by his opinion.

My sensitivity in this matter has deep roots.

I am one of those guys who always cries when Ray Kinsella’s father appears at the end of Field of Dreams. The scene taps into a broken part of my life, a part that, even 55 years into this journey, remains – at least to some degree – wounded and vulnerable.

Today, I recognize the same innocence and receptivity in my grandchildren’s faces that I found on those of my children. Dare I believe that it was once, a very long time ago, on my face as well?

Much good can be realized when working with such marvelous trust… or, of course, much harm!

“You’re not worth the powder to blow you to hell.”

They’re only words. Right?

No. Not really.

A Special Childhood Memory

There is a single moment from my childhood that I uniquely cherish, a moment against which all subsequent experiences of happiness have instinctively been measured.

It was a morning in early summer, and I had slept in. I was, perhaps, nine or ten, and life’s complications had yet to dawn on me. So, it was easy to love… God, family, and friends.

I wish I could describe the otherworldly peace I felt while lying there in bed. I was awake and refreshed but felt no compulsion to move. Instead, I was fully content to watch the graceful dance of the curtains and to drink in the sounds and scents of the young day.

After a time, the doorbell rang, and I recognized my mother’s footsteps in response. When she opened the door, I could clearly hear the conversation that ensued.

“Good morning, Mrs. Dalton. Can Steve come out?” It was Philip, one of my closest childhood friends. He was always polite.

“He’s not up yet, Phil, but I’ll see if he’s awake.”

I bounded out of bed. Time to play!

Thereafter, the blessed memory fades.

Dwelling

One special evening, many years ago, found my daughter Rachel, perhaps 4 years old at the time, in an inquisitive frame of mind. In one sense, this was not unusual. Bedtime often seemed to inspire a rash of questions from the youngest Daltons – a clever tactic intended, no doubt, to delay the inevitable; but, that night was different.

After family prayers, story-time, and our bedtime song – a nightly ritual joyfully celebrated by all – Rachel and her little brother were safely tucked into bed. I kissed them both goodnight and was quietly leaving their room when the first question was posed.

“Daddy, does God really live in my heart?”

Since this was a concept we had spoken of a number of times before, I smiled and affirmed that it was indeed true.

Rachel paused thoughtfully and then followed-up with this: “When I die will I really be with God forever?”

Recognizing that this was not a time to rush away, I walked back and knelt by the side of her bed. I looked into her wondering eyes and assured her that this too was true.

She then became quiet for a few more fruitful seconds before asking me a question I will never forget.

“Daddy, does that mean that, when I die, I will live in my own heart forever?”

Honestly, I can’t recall how I answered my daughter that night because I was so taken by her thoughts/words.

Many times since, I have asked myself what it would be like to live in my own heart forever. Would it be a well-ordered and peaceful place? Would I find genuine joy there? How about hope? Faith? Goodness? Kindness? Mercy? Forgiveness? Gentleness? Understanding? Patience? Acceptance? Love?

Hmmm.