My husband and I were planning a few additional trees for the landscape when we ran head on into our past and that of our son. Near a rock formation in the wood’s edge were a scattering of Tonka trucks and earth movers, still in the places where they were abandoned by our son – now twenty-two.
“I wonder when the last day was,” I said aloud, as it was so obvious that he had been playing with them on one day and left them to wait on his return which never happened. “I wonder when he left them here, what he was thinking, how it was that he thought he would be right back and then forgot them.”
My husband began swiping away debris and leaves from their now rusted frames. They had all been new when he brought them out to play, all shiny yellow and dent free. One was stepped on by a run away horse and yet never caved to the weight, though the horse left drops of blood in the driveway.
“What do you want me to do with these?” he asked me.
“Leave them,” I answered, “leave them right there.” Part of me felt so sad, as though I was looking at the burial ground of his childhood. And the trucks seemed like monuments to commemorate that part of his life. The joy he got from hours of building roads around the house, moving mulch on his small dump truck, pretending to be a state department road crew member. It floods me even now.
We planted leyland cypress trees around the edge of the yard when we first built the house, having initially cleared more of the forest than we desired to have as yard – thanks to Hurricane Hugo and the devastation it created in our forest. They grew quickly and soon hid the spot where I used to watch my son play. Perhaps that’s why we didn’t notice the Tonka toys before now.
Images of his curly head, bright smile and contagious enthusiasm flash before me like a slide show. The knees of his jeans worn thin where he crawled around behind these toys. Sometimes he took his red ryder b-b gun, in case he came under attack, and he always had one of our German Shepherds with him.
One of the three is still with us, though she is very old – thirteen. The other two are here as well but beneath the clay. Their remains are marked. I will write about them someday, but even this mention has me in choking tears, which were already threateningly close to the surface as I recall my son’s childhood.
There is a last time for everything I suppose. A favorite baseball pitching coach, Billy Mitchell, once said to him, “Throw every pitch like it’s your last. Someday it will be.” And after throwing in college, he gave it up. I wonder if he knew the moment he last sailed the ball over the home plate. Who received it? Was it a strike, ball, or hit? We didn’t miss any of his games until college. And now it’s over.
The last time I …
The last time we …
The memories may be sweet or bitter, but they linger like the scent of chestnut blossoms in the heat of the south, suspended right in front of me. Blink and they will be gone.
“Leave the Tonka toys,” I say again. But I am referring to more than their physical presence in the landscape. Leave our family where it is, leave our memories where they lie, leave our hearts open to small tweakings, leave witness that we lived and loved here. Maybe in another decade we will find them again and be surprised by the emotions and the memories they evoke.
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