Special to the Tribune-Star
My 7-year-old nephew, Carson, came to visit us last week. That in itself isn’t earth-shattering news, for he often drops by with one of his parents or the other, the last time dressed as a ghoul for Halloween. But for a couple like Joanie and me, whose youngest child is now nearly two decades past Carson’s age, having a little guy like him in the house, even for a few hours, takes a bit of adjusting.
My wife and I are “empty-nesters” in only the technical sense of the phrase. We loved having our kids at home with us, even encouraged them to stay an extra year or two on our dole while they finished up college. But, for most part, we’re too busy, and too happy, I think, to still be pining about the good old days when we were wiping jelly-smeared faces, tying shoestrings, and telling our kids to blow harder. There’s little doubt that we’d love to do that all over again if we could, but Carson also reminded us that night that it takes a lot of energy and a lot of effort to raise an active little guy like he is.
He may very well be our “grandparent-in-waiting training,” so perhaps we had better have him over again soon.
My sister-in-law and Carson had to shout to get my attention as they caught me blasting leaves over my back hillside with a noisy power blower near dark that evening. I remembered that Joanie had told me that he was going to be with us a couple of hours, but only when I saw him with a box of plastic soldiers in his hands did I realize that it was the appointed day and time. Joanie wasn’t home from work yet, and since the sun was already giving up the ghost for the day, I told his mom to have him go on in the house while I cleaned up my tools and knocked the mud off my boots.
It was just a minute or two later, as I washed my dirty hands at our hydrant, that I realized that we no longer had child-safety locks on our cabinets, that my prescription medicine was on the kitchen counter, and that we had several bottles of drain cleaners and other nasty toxins on the shelves under our kitchen sink. I couldn’t remember at what time we no longer had to worry about our kids getting into such hazards, so I wiped my wet paws on my jeans, threw my leaf blower in the barn, and headed inside, certain that Carson was already sticking fork tines into electrical outlets, or fiddling with the switch box, or guzzling furniture polish.
I found him, sitting in a chair, petting our cat, Edgar (Carson refers to him as “Egger”), the television blank, the house slightly dark and a bit cold, since I’d not bothered to turn on lights and adjust the thermostat when I came home. No blaring cartoons, no toxic cocktails, no matches, no tipping over the aquarium; Carson was just sitting in the chair, wiggling his feet and very much minding his own business.
Because I was nearly out of gasoline for my mowers, I told him that we could climb into the truck and head to town for refills. Surely, riding in my pickup, operating the gas pump, and watching men spit at the local station would be a hoot for a 7-year-old boy. Backing out of the drive and heading south toward town reminded me so much of doing the same thing a thousand times with my son or daughter in the seat next to me. We chatted about this and that, Carson responding to my questions with shrugs and rolled eyes and “I don’t knows.” Twenty bucks worth of unleaded and two spittle-laced howdys from those going in and coming out the station door later, and Carson and I were pulling into the drive to see that Joanie had the house lit and warming.
Joanie kept Carson company for a while because I had a shower to take and two piles of school papers to tackle, but once those chores were dispensed of, we all sat around the supper table together, said our prayer, and filled our plates. Carson was not a big fan of the turkey and gravy and mashed potatoes that Joanie had prepared for us, but he gave two thumbs up to a microwaved hot dog left over from my last dalliance with our gas grill. He wasn’t enamored with our corn and green beans either, but he did eventually want the potatoes, that is as long as he could use our pepper grinder to spice things up. Carson is a big fan of pepper. In fact, I began to wonder if there were potatoes under his pepper.
When Joanie asked him what he had his eye on for Christmas, Carson surprised us by saying he wanted, “Dominoes, Dominoes, and more Dominoes!” He didn’t know that Dominoes constituted an actual game; he wants to set them, on end, one after another, then tip them over “like the guy on ‘America’s Got Talent.’” I had to admit, that does sound fun.
I don’t know if it was that question, or if he was high on pepper, or the fact that Carson’s energy level picked up at about the same time mine was drooping, but from that point on, we got along famously. It had been years since I had a 7-year-old boy to pal around with — the last time I was with my son we both used chainsaws. But I keep a lot of things in my house that are of a natural interest to little guys: ball gloves and books and rocks and pictures and pocket knives, and Carson managed to ask me a question about almost every one of them. In particular, he liked a piece of purple quartz that I keep on my desk with other odds and ends. He likes the fossils and arrowheads and bits of driftwood and feathers I leave around my place, but that quartz, and then a tall jar of white, milky pieces, really caught his eye. I told him that he could have a piece of the quartz, and after fingering through no less than 50 specimens, he selected one for himself.
“I want to go out and see your cabin,” Carson told me, the quartz in hand (his mom told me he slept with it a few nights), so since Joanie was still nearly knee-deep in dishes, and we’ve never used television as a baby sitter, we headed out the back door.
Carson is an interesting, and interested little guy. He wanted to see copies of the books I’d written, wanted to know who the people who stared back at him through picture frames and from beneath the glass on my writing table were. He thought the warm air from my heater “felt good” on his hands, and he asked questions, a lot of questions: “Where’d you get that fish? Does that old radio work? What is your favorite book? “Do you ever sleep out here?” In all, we stayed well over an hour, Carson telling me that of all the books I had on my shelves he wanted to have one in particular, an old Alistair MacLean thriller, which I’ll give to him when he’s old enough to read it.
When we got back to the house, I thought I could convince Carson to play some kind of game that required us to sit in a recliner and shut our eyes. Instead, he headed to the quartz jar and told me, “I think I like another piece in there better.” I told him he should just flip a coin to make the decision as to which piece he liked best. After one flip of the dime (he found me to be an expert flipper, so I was involved), he thought three tosses would be better, then five, then seven. … Sixty-four flips later, he chose the piece he took out of the jar the first time.
By the time Carson left a little later, still energetic, still full of questions, I was ready for a good book and a warm bed. I waved goodbye as he headed out the door to the car, and I told him to come back anytime.
I think I need to double up on my vitamins first, though.
Mike Lunsford can be reached by email at email@example.com, or c/o the Tribune-Star at PO Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808. You can learn more about his writing by going to his website at www.mikelunsford.com. He is currently working on his fourth book.