Thursday, January 17, 2008


When David was about three, he and I were at Sears in the lawn and garden department. I knelt in the aisle to look at a weed-eater box and a moment later realized David was not with me. I walked quickly to the end of the aisle and didn’t see him. I ran to the other end and didn’t see him. My heart was pounding as I ran here and there in a widening arc and I couldn’t find him! I flashed on our having passed some video games at the entrance to the restaurant and ran there and there he was, climbing up the front of a video game machine. I almost collapsed with relief.

David was a climber. He climbed the shelves of the refrigerator. He climbed ladders on the front porch. He climbed the very high iron ladder set into the concrete of the “big black bridge” that took the railroad tracks across White Rock Creek where we went fishing and canoeing. He climbed the steep embankment for the Santa Fe tracks near the golf course – we used to hike along that embankment for a long way through the underbrush, sweating, having a grand time.

Sometimes I would drive my blue Toyota pickup along a dirt road near the lake to the big black bridge and we would hike around the woods there and fish in the creek. One day we were there near the bridge sitting in the truck, having a snack when two men walked up to the truck. It was clear to me that they had evil intent – maybe just my money, maybe more. Fortunately, I had a .357 loaded with high velocity ammo at hand and so we sat there, the men coming to my door (which by now was locked, window cracked) and though it was out of sight, I had the pistol cocked and pointed at them (them bullets wouldn’t even be slowed going through the door). I told them to go away and was so clear and confident in myself that they backed away.

We had a canoe (named Linda) that I’d bought at a garage sale. David and I paddled that thing way past the north end of White Rock Lake and into South Dallas from the south end. One day we tipped the canoe over in some shallow water and when I stood up, I started laughing. David got really angry at me for laughing, but it was too funny, both of us and all our stuff drenched in muddy water.

We never caught much in the way of fish, but we always had a good time.

I’ll never forget one day we were sitting on a log in the wild forest near the lake and I told David the Holy Grail story. He was entranced – I’d never seen him like that before. It was a deeply magical day.

For years there were several acres of woods and small meadows at the end of our street. David and Leslie and I spent many many hours down there hiking around, tunneling through the thickets, making campfires and cooking things, and having a grand time. A quarter mile away from there was the Santa Fe railroad tracks. (The trains stopped running 8-10 years ago, though the track bed remains.) We’d hike along the tracks or in the underbrush a little farther away, sometimes with a neighborhood child named Sean a year or two older than David; and when Leslie was there, sometimes with an older child named Rosalee. Rosalee’s favorite line was, “Just one more thing” – which it never was – there was always just one more thing.

Sometimes David, Sean and I would build a dam across a small rivulet running alongside the tracks. As fast as we would build the dam, the rivulet would fill the dammed basin, so as the pond got bigger the dam had to get bigger and then the water would wash out underneath the dam. It was all pretty grand and good for endless hours of fun. Photo: Christmas 2007

There was a cottontail bunny in the field at the end of our street and one day Sean’s father shot and killed the bunny with an arrow – just to kill it. I remember that Sean had a look of sick fascination when he told us. I don’t remember if David realized what had happened – I know I was sickened. My recollection is that was basically the last time we did anything with Sean. I don’t remember there being a decision that we were done, but we were (and I never would have trusted David alone with him anyway).

David and I found a big and very sturdy cardboard box maybe 4x4x8 behind an appliance store. We put it in the living room, cut a door and some windows in it filled it with pillows and the like and there we had a fine little house.

I had a half a yard or something like that of sand delivered and dumped in the alley. It was a huge amount of sand and I spent many hours wheel-barrowing loads into the sandbox. It was a big sandbox – 8x12 and dug out more than a foot deep and the sides were 2x12s and the sand was piled up above the sides. David spent a lot of time there and so, actually, did I.

Later David and I built a tree fort over the sandbox. Chuck M. helped. The floor/platform was about 10 feet off the ground and there was a fence around the platform and a roof over that. To keep the little children out I made it so that it was difficult to get into – the children had to climb a jungle gym, get across the bars and then through a small opening in the side. We had pulleys to bring a bucket up and down. Leslie would fix food and whoever was up there would haul it up. We’d take tennis balls up into the fort and throw them for Goldy to chase. She would bring the ball right up to the bucket and we’d be saying, “Put – the – ball – in – the – bucket” but she never did.

One Christmas I made a rope slide that the children would hold on to a wheeled thing starting about 14 feet up and zoom to the corner of the yard – great fun.

The first day of kindergarten David met a boy named Chris and Leslie connected with Chris’ mom, Shirin. His dad, George was a pulmonologist, and we got on well. David and Chris played together a lot. In our yard they liked to make mud pools and slop around in the muck. They liked for me to build a fire in the yard and then they would feed it endlessly.

When David was born our back yard had a good cover of St. Augustine grass. The fires, the mud pits, the Christmas tree forts, the dogs, the children … the yard still hasn’t recovered.

Every Christmas we would have a Christmas tree fort. The first year we did this there 10 or so trees gathered from 2-3 blocks around our home. The next year there were more, gathered from a wider area and the next year more and the next year more until we had these massive piles of trees , gathered from all over, including Christmas tree lots (one 15 foot tree makes an excellent wall and add more on top …). I wish I had some photos of these edifices. They had “rooms” and tunnels and children swarming over them, rearranging, crawling through, building the walls higher and higher and Goldy and Judo into it too, and the children trying to build the forts to keep the dogs out and everyone sticky with pine sap.

We’d start driving around a few days after Christmas, filling the truck with just the right trees. On the way back home we’d be cruising along the street with David and Chris in the back of the pickup truck, buried under trees with their arms sticking up, holding on to the top trees. One day when Jeff was visiting we had an absolutely total load and on the way home saw an excellent and very large tree (we were experts on which trees were the best) on a median strip. We couldn’t get it on the truck so we tossed one of the lesser trees that we had to the ground and picked up the good one – all the while laughing hysterically at what it must have looked like to the people in the house and what they might have said to see someone come along and exchange discarded trees.

The Christmas tree fort days came to an end when I told someone at the Dallas Morning News about the fort. He did a small article on it and the next day the Dallas Fire Department showed up to close us down as a fire hazard. David was in the 5th grade by then, so the CTF days were limited anyway – but still, it was a blow to us. The city arranged for a special pick-up of the trees (it took more than one dump truck to haul them away) and I hired a man to help and we hauled trees endlessly to the median strip.

As I write and reflect on these things I am reminded of the many many good times David and Leslie and I had. There were several factors in this: First there was the great love we have for one another. There was the parenting role model that Leslie was for me. She truly showed me the way to be a good parent – because I had very little experience with good parenting. And I wanted to be a good parent – and strangely enough, really did not know how. Another thing was the guidance given by one of Leslie’s child development specialist friends who said, every moment a child spends watching TV or otherwise disconnected is a moment forever lost to your relationship with your child and your child’s development – you’ll never get it back. And finally and far from least is the fact that from the beginning, the three of us have worked together to be a good family.

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