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Friday, Feb. 08, 2002
Stick a candle in me, it's my birthday tomorrow.

43 years ago Mom was probably doing laundry or something and wondering when she could deliver the fourth, and last baby she would ever hold and carry. For that matter, she was probably wondering how on earth she would get from the house to the hospital. We lived in a small town and there was only one car. The car that Dad drove to work.

Looking out the window one morning at that car, a big bruiser of a station wagon. Noticing that something was not quite right, something was missing. "Daddy, the wheels are gone. The car doesn't have any wheels." When a four-year-old says that, Daddy tends to let it sail right by. He kissed me good bye with his cheeks smelling of Old Spice and put on his greatcoat and hat, smiling at me as he stood in the door to go to work. "No wheels, eh? Funny little guy. How's Daddy supposed to get to work in a car with no wheels?" Three minutes later he burst back through the door with a roar, "Hey! Somebody stole our hubcaps!"

Mom was the archtypical stay at home Mom who dominated the 50's and 60's. Whether she wanted to work or not wasn't a question, it was an issue whose time had yet to come. There was plenty to do at home, especially with a new baby and three other kids, the money was not pressing in on all sides, there were warm and special days to watch her four year old paint and color and put on a bathrobe and parade through the house with the record player turned up, holding a broomstick for a scepter and pretending that his kingdom was giving him a parade.

Loading sand in garbage cans is hard work. You go to the place where sand and rocks are plentiful and the man in a hardhat takes some money and lets you put four cans full of dry sand on the tailgate of the station wagon. I sat in the passenger seat on a big Sears catalog so I could see out of the windows and watch my town go by, swivel around and keep an eye on those cans. And at home, watching puzzled as the sand was shoveled out and some big boards put around it like a box. Smooth the sand, rake the sand, now you have sand in a box. And a yellow Tonka truck to push through it and an army of green soldier men to put up on a little sand hill to study the whole landscape before them.

Mom was big on stuffed animals. They were often around the bed, hanging around, waiting for small boys to go to bed so that they could have the company of small hands and faces to talk to. A plush bear in an attic, forgotten and limp with age, brought forth on a cleaning day with the exclamation "Look at this old bear. I'd forgotten he was even in here. My goodness, his sawdust is spilling out. Let's get my sewing box and see what we can do for him." He lived large on the little bed that night. Button eyes and a blue scar where he had been sewn back together again.

A Dalmatian puppy brought to the house and kept in the garage. Screens put on the big door so that he could look out and breathe the air and bark so that someone could hear. A sister who wanted a puppy so badly, who would run from school bus to the garage with shining eyes and laughing and hugging, a spotted dog with a tail whipping to and fro. "Daddy, when will the puppy get to come into the house with us?" And after a draw on the pipe, a look, the man would walk away shaking his head and send a cloud of sweet smoke to linger. A week, a month the puppy stayed. An afternoon, a scream from the sister and a screech of tires from the road. And looking to see a large hole in the screen door. What tears from sister, what awful sadness.

Large fields were next to the house we lived in. Not a field for farming, just a grown over and tumbled sort of place. When one is very short, the weeds and prickly things make forests around you, and supply the good materials to build cabins and forts and stockade walls to defend against all sorts of things. A good little builder can take his time and clear trails leading from one to another, little towns and cities which reach only to a grown-ups belt but loom over heads of those with blue sneakers and short, short hair. No sound so final as the sound of mother calling you in the middle of a battle with Fort #3. The invisible sentry returning fire with a stick gun of his own vanishes with a poof and off you trudge, to save the fight for another day.

"Daddy, can you pick up a truck? Can you pick up a house?" When one is small, you believe that anything is possible from hands so much larger. Hands that can carry and hold and make things happen far beyond your wildest dreams. Hands that hold a pipe and patiently tie shoes for those who cannot. Hands that toss children in the air and hold steering wheels. That wield hammers too heavy to pick up.

Maybe nothing much has changed. I still fight the invisible, with stick guns and muddy sneakers. I still leave it, to fight another day. I can still smell the smoke that comes from a burled pipe and dream of a day, not so far from here, that might make that young time come back and stay with me forever. Of hair cut short and bristly to the touch. Small bicycles to ride on grass and put baseball cards through the spokes with a clothespin for grip. Laundry on a line and flapping with scent in a breeze. Sand in blue sneakers.

It was a time of no anticipation. It was already there.

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