Saturday, July 24, 2010

Walking the old neighborhood

Took a walk after dinner in my old neighborhood. The eerie pale light in the overcast sky drew me out. Jonny came with me. I was just going to hang out in the yard, but the restless 4-year-old first had me race him around the house and when that got boring he wanted to walk around the neighborhood. "But we're barefoot," I said. "Can you do a good job watching where you're going?"

He didn't listen too well, preoccupied with punching me in the butt and defeating the evil super foes that dominate his imagination, as I talked about how walking barefoot is different than walking in shoes. You've got to look where you're going, at your feet and always a few steps ahead. Even a small pebble, stepped on at the wrong angle, can bring much pain and despair. Little children know these things instinctively. Walking barefoot is natural. Shoes are a rather recent innovation.

Walking barefoot in the old neighborhood did make me feel a little self-conscious. If we encountered neighbors, they'd see our bare feet and the coffee stain on my shirt, and draw their own conclusions. But the ones we'd meet knew me when I was a kid. I couldn't fool them anyways. Plus, I have no control over what my parents would tell them, and they're prone to say anything. Sometimes they even tell the truth.

I divided my attentions between the boy and a pleasant nostalgic reverie with my own boyhood on these same streets. The sounds I heard of a summer evening 30 years ago are little different today. There was the whine of race cars miles away at the Rockford Speedway, the lights and din of beery cheers at the Forest Hill diamonds, and the laughter of children playing in their quilt patch yards.

Most of the houses we passed were aglow with the shifting reflections of televisions. That hasn't changed either. The TV's have gotten brighter, bigger, louder and flatter, a reflection and scribe of the society they serve.

The boy found a stick and turned it into a ray gun, speaking of a doom and death that are mere pleasant abstractions to him, part of his own hero's journey. Eventually, he had me tugging him by the stick, forcing him to trip and run to keep up. Who knows what those who raise eyebrows at a father and son's dusky barefootedness would think of this scene. The boy's actions did resemble those of a prisoner forced to keep up with the march. But he likes doing this. It's one of his rituals.

We made it back to my parent's in time to chase some fireflies around the yard. We only caught a couple. They're crafty little buggers, nearly impossible to see when they're not aglow, and their season is almost past. The last thing I saw before going inside was a golden swath of light high in the boughs of a maple tree a couple yards over.

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