(Before writing these blog entries, I go back through my journals reading one particular day for each year, sort of a Ground Hog Day movie except that each time everybody is one year older, and in the end I still haven't gotten it right. Here are three such days.)
Saturday, April 7, 1979
A good garage sale can cure a bad mood. So can a ride in a pickup truck. Today I apply the double cure to my son Jesse, age two-and-a-half. He's been horrible, a not uncommon condition for a two-year-old, but enough is enough.
We're still living in the Montgomery Ward cottage at Wagon Wheels while building our new house in La Honda. The new house, I believe, is the cause of Jesse's crankiness because it takes me away from home all day every day, and he's used to having me around.
In the pickup (known as the Twuck), I let Jesse lean forward in his car seat and push the radio buttons, choosing random music.
At one garage sale Jesse falls inexplicably in love with an old brass coat rack, so we buy it to install in his bedroom.
Stopping at a grocery store, Jesse's eyes alight on a display rack. "What's that?"
"Those are called pocket pies."
"You put them in your pocket?"
So I buy one. As it happens, Jesse has no pockets today, so I put it in mine. In Palo Alto we drive to a quiet street of big green lawns. We park but remain sitting in the twuck under the shade of a sycamore. We unwrap and share the pocket pie. From a grocery bag I remove a beer and open it. I pop an old Beatles tape into the radio/cassette player.
A pregnant woman with two travel bags is walking down the street, crying. Jesse grabs his teddy bear from the dashboard of the truck and holds it, watching the woman. She's wearing a long blue dress which is flapping in the wind. She’s stopped walking. Her fingers are on her lips. Still crying. I want to help but know I would only be interfering. After a moment, she walks on.
Driving home, I see the world through Jesse's eyes, the world I've brought him to - the sun burning over six lanes of El Camino Real, glinting off cars, while Daddy listens to old rock tapes with a bit of beer on his breath. A large part of Jesse's world will be whatever I bring to him, such as cruising the garage sales and eating pocket pie. The woman in the long blue dress will no doubt create a far different world on this, our shared planet.
Saturday, April 7, 1990
Jesse is now thirteen and a half. He's in eighth grade and sometimes discovers that I'm weird. We live in the house I built in La Honda. The truck is a Ford. We listen to Grateful Dead tapes - Jesse's choice - and drive to Palo Alto where we hit some garage sales and come away with a turntable. Jesse in his lifetime has never played a record album but has seen my crates of them stored in the attic. He'd like to listen.
After the sales, we drive to a medical office building on Welch Road near Stanford Hospital where together we repair six entries for six psychiatrists. I need Jesse's help to remove and replace each solid-core, dark mahogany, massive door. He's old enough - and big enough - to help dad earn a living.
For three hours labor on this, his first paying job, I give him $30, a great wage for a thirteen-year-old. And he knows that he accomplished something.
Back home the turntable works. In fact, it's excellent. My old records - John Prine, Phil Ochs, Big Bill Broonzy - have never sounded so good. I haven't heard them for ages, and now I'm hearing them through Jesse's ears, a whole new world.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Today I'm providing childcare for my grandson, age two and a half. Raj was born in San Francisco and recently moved to the suburbs down the Peninsula. I could stay at Raj's house where he is comfortable and happy, but I consider it my job as grandfather to introduce him to the more rural life in La Honda.
From my house we take a walk. There are no sidewalks in La Honda, so we walk the narrow streets. A bit up the hill from my house are two llamas in a pen. One sleeps; one watches us with a steady gaze. I explain to Raj that you will never see both llamas sleep at the same time; they watch out for each other.
We walk downhill a bit to another house and feed carrots through the fence wire to a couple of goats. The bigger goat keeps butting the smaller one away with a thwack of horns. He can eat an entire carrot in a matter of seconds.
Farther down the hill, we throw popcorn to the ducks in the pond. Farther still, we come to "the cookie store" otherwise known as the La Honda Country Market, where we select one large chocolate chip cookie from a glass jar.
Back home we read a book I just got from the bookmobile: Gramps and the Fire Dragon, which becomes the event of the day. To Raj it's an utterly gripping tale in which a boy and his grandfather encounter a fire-breathing dragon who chases them up an apple tree which they escape in a hot air balloon, but the dragon follows through jungle and cave and finally is melted by water from a fire truck's hose. When Raj enjoys a story he's all over it fingering pictures, flipping pages, shouting, laughing. We read it six times, cover to cover. What a great book.
We talk about the fire dragon all the way home in the car. Raj reprises episodes and adds new ones involving butting goats, hungry ducks, watchful llamas - framing the story and the events of the day, coming to grips with the fear, the excitement, the camaraderie. To Raj there is no line between encountering a dragon and what we did today; it's all part of the wonderful web of life. For me it's a beautiful lesson in the purpose and power of story - why we tell them, how we respond and grow. I brought Raj to my world; in return he brings me to his.