Life speeds by and before we know it, we’re looking back more often than looking ahead. Somehow, I feel like these thoughts should be happening thirty years from now, rather than at the age of thirty-three*. I wonder why at the moment does it seem insignificant, but looking back it is exactly what I long for? Why is there a desire to capture the simple things, but a hesitation to establish or recognize new ones? Perhaps that is the beauty in it all, random events versus forced. The lack of simplicity coupled with escalating complexity has created a silent discontent within my own life. Finding the brake to slow this ride eludes me. Occasionally, there is a lull, but the momentum quickly builds, leaving me scrambling once again seeking the eventual stop I know is out there.
As a child, everyday normal to even boring events seemed to be a constant occurrence. One doesn’t realize that those snippets over time actually mount up to a nugget of significance; a time of uniqueness that would be difficult to duplicate, only cherished. During my childhood there were simple things initiated by my family or myself, which created an experience now savored.
Summers were filled with handstands in swimming pools or lakes; I wasn’t one to discriminate. There was something soothing about viewing the underwater world upside down; chubby belly hidden by the water and clumsy legs exposed to the sun. I would do my best to gracefully keep my legs together and point toes towards the sky like a ballerina, but I knew the result continued to be a wobbly V shape. My parents would compliment my performance each time, as if improvement was really being made. They knew all was good; the joy of a simple handstand after handstand would fill the afternoon.
If I was swimming, that typically coincided with a camping trip. We camped every year, sometimes as an extended weekend getaway and other times as a two or three week road trip. One of the simple things I loved was the campfire each evening…the smell of the smoke and watching the flames mysteriously dance. The smoke often found its way in the direction of my mother. Dad would respond with, “Smoke follows beauty,” his tender compliment ignited by nature. To this day, I still love a campfire: the work to get it going, gazing at the flames, and relishing in the radiated warmth.
A consistent fixture at the campsite, typically near the fire ring, was what I thought of as the creamsicle chair. It was a two-fold bright orange lounge chair with white head and foot rests, which was really quite tacky when contrasted with the outdoor motif. What I liked about it most was when I’d fold the two sides together to create a triangle fort. There was something extra fun to curl up in a ball, extremities tucked away from the onlookers, hiding, but not really. Another maneuver was folding only one half, using it as a big low-rider chair. When very young, I would sit between dad’s legs and his arms would surround me in a strong arc, expertly guiding a hot dog or marshmallow through the dancing flames.
The idea of going camping now seems exhausting. It’s all of the work getting there: essential gear, proper clothing, meal planning, reservations, and camp set-up. Once there, sleeping on an air mattress in a twisted sleeping bag and having to walk through the trees to reach a shower inhabited by extra large spiders isn’t very appealing. All of the work before and after doesn’t seem worth it for just a weekend getaway. I’ve resorted to the idea the best choice is just that—a resort. King size bed with high-end linens, turn down service with a mint on the pillow, exotic drinks, valet parking, and live entertainment moments away. My life has become hectic and inundated with going here, doing that, and never catching up, when it’s time to get away; I want to take the least amount of energy getting there.
Back home, we had a rather consistent routine on the weekends, my favorite part being Sunday mornings. Mom would make a big breakfast, typically blueberry pancakes or French toast. Dad and I would sit at the kitchen counter and watch mom go through her predictable motions. After we ate, dad would dig out the comics in color from the Daily Olympian, or the “Daily Zero” as he referred to it. He’d read aloud in an animated voice Peanuts, Blondie, and Family Circle. On my sixth birthday, the comics came alive when a gift I opened contained a stuffed white dog with black droopy ears. “It’s Charlie Brown, I have my very own Charlie Brown!” My parents looked upon each other quizzically. Confusion and stubbornness set in when I was informed that the dog was not Charlie Brown, but Snoopy. How could this be? All those Sundays I thought the dog was Charlie Brown! The reality of a comic crumbled my imagination. I refused to call my dog Snoopy.
Weekday afternoons were occasionally spent in the sandbox, which dad built. It sat in the shade, along the fence, under our cherry tree. I don’t recall being very productive when sitting in the damp sand, but I enjoyed seeing the dropped cherries randomly sprinkled around. I often looked up at the maze of branches and leaves above, and then out towards the vegetable garden. Peace and relaxation were cherished at six years old.
A similar setting was grandma and grandpa’s back yard. Grandpa also had a vegetable garden, but the treasure was the huge plum tree that dominated the back right corner. The last thing we’d do before our departure from a weekend visit was fill a brown grocery bag with cloudy plums. Grandpa would sit on his bucket amongst the corn and string beans, encouraging mom and I to pick from the plums dropped to the ground, rather than directly from the tree. We’d comply only when he was looking. Somehow, the ones I stretched on my tippy-toes to pick seemed to taste extra good!
Along with picking plums, during the fall I would be given the task to help and pick up pine cones scattered on the ground in Grandpa’s back yard. I don’t remember how the idea got started, probably as a joke, which I naively took seriously. Grandpa offered to pay a penny for each cone. I would count ever so carefully and gently place cones in the designated bucket one by one. Since I didn’t get an allowance from my parents, I liked the idea of earning some extra change, and my goal each time was to earn at least a dollar. Later, I realized that Grandpa would have paid me no matter how many cones I told him I picked. I was honest though and never thought to balloon the amount in my favor.
If I owned my own house and had the space, I wonder if I’d start a vegetable garden. Granted, I don’t know if I inherited the green thumb of my father’s vegetables, mom’s plants, or grandpa’s fruit. I assume there’s something satisfying knowing that simply preparing the dirt, carefully placing some seeds, and adding water can foster edible vegetation for the dining table. Being able to say, “I picked the carrots and beans from the garden today” would be such a simple statement filled with pride. It’s ironic that in the past everyone pretty much grew vegetables out of necessity or to help pinch pennies, but now that would be a relished hobby.
I guess that’s the harsh reality of growing up and having responsibility piled upon endless responsibility that no one tells you about. One gets so bogged down in the minutia that self imposed disappointment, frustration, and anxiety sets in. Time becomes spread so thin that the only desire becomes just that–time. Time to enjoy a leisure breakfast with coffee and a newspaper in a completely clean house without a list of “to dos” looming overhead. Time to exercise and golf on a regular basis, week after week, to drop those extra pounds and enjoy the outdoors. Time to organize photos, create artwork, or arrange freshly cut flowers in a vase. Time to succeed and find contentment in all facets of life. Time to slow down and enjoy the simple things.
~D.Thompson: Original 4/2008; Rev. 7/2015