“I was like Nathan,” I reluctantly admitted to my daughter and took another sip of steaming tea.
I was that aimless neighborhood child that wandered about with nothing to do but kick the dirt, find worms, daydream, and watch birds.
Nathan often knocks on the front door to ask if his friend can come out to play. The door opens, and he looks up from his worn shoes with pleading eyes and hands smudged with breakfast or lunch, then topped with a layer of dirt.
“Can your son come out to play?”
Young Nathan is prone to swear like his father and is known to break things and embellish the truth, as only Nathan can do. My daughter maintains covert surveillance at the window for any problems that usually erupt when her son and Nathan play in the yard.
After the aimless boy heads home, my grandson retells Nathan’s mischievous doings leaving mom to vow to limit the visits and increase the talks about natural consequences to her kind child.
Her eyebrows knit together as she explained about Nathan and how she delves into damage control mode after the neighbor boy drifts toward home. She is challenged to nurture this wayward boy and prevent his rough edges from rubbing off on her young son. No easy road ahead.
I glanced over the fence, and there he was, alone in the patch of grass in his yard. He bent down for some treasure to inspect and share with no one. He pushed the thing deep into his pocket and scratched the dirt with his toe.
I recognized him. I was a mirror image of Nathan at that age, sans the foul language and embellishments. At that age, I maintained an ever-wandering search for something, the following discovery to push my imagination, unaware of any lack.
Go, play outside was the mantra at my house, which forced my aimless wandering. But I was content to be out— a solace from the drama I was far too young to understand.
I imagined I might count the bricks at the garage foundation, then smash the wingless bug— find a perfect stick to swipe at the spider’s web or knock down icicles that precariously dangled from eave gutters. At times I found an extraordinary treasure in the dirt or a bird’s nest— supreme. An unearthed marble or coin had always been the prized treasure goal.
But the greatest joy was a friend to play with, to complete the day and dwell on our antics when pulling the covers up over my head at lights out.
I endlessly floated in my own cloud in those early days— I didn’t know any better, and neither does Nathan today. When I was young, I would step up to the porch two doors down and hope my friend, Jimmy, would answer the door. His mother was not kind like my daughter is to Nathan. No motherly smile greeted me when she answered the door.
My friend and I never played dolls, but happy to play war or cars or dig roads with him. We watched the garbage truck rumble down the alley together and gathered yellowish-red maple leaves into big piles to jump into and bury ourselves. We found whittling sticks, climbed trees, and when we found a treasure, we hollered like wild animals and celebrated together.
When Jimmy came out to play, it was glorious. I stepped out of my cloud for the day.
Jimmy was my hero.
By Diana Warren