Category Archives: Nate

All the riches buried there

First, you must be a boy 10½ years old and have completed the fifth grade or be 11 years of age or older but not have reached age 18.

“I don’t want to be a Boy Scout any more.”

I was twelve years old, that summer. My parents had come to collect me, itchy and sodden, from my first week camping at Treasure Valley Scout Reservation. This was in the ’80s, before the Boy Scouts of America had cracked down on hazing.

“They tied me to a tree and let the mosquitoes bite me. They sprayed Right Guard on my tent so the rain dripped in my face. And Josh jumped on my stomach. He said he was Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snuka.”

My parents agreed that I should quit the troop, but they suggested that a different troop might be better.

They were absolutely right.


 

My new troop was better in every way. It was smaller, and much friendlier. When summer rolled around again, I was thirteen, and very excited to go back to Treasure Valley for a week with my friends. I earned the Rowing merit badge and the Emergency Preparedness merit badge that summer. E. Prep was my first merit badge required for Eagle Scout. And I earned my Second Class rank. I remember making new friends from other troops, and telling ghost stories. I learned to keep my elbows off the table. I sneaked strike-anywhere matches from the kitchen and watched them burn. I found a tick on my scalp; Mr. Clancy carefully removed it. And I spent all my candy money to buy a mosquito net from the Trading Post.


 

The next summer, I was fourteen. I earned my First Class rank, and the Basketry and Leatherwork merit badges at the Handicrafts Lodge. I still have the leather pouch I made, and my basket. I remember the incessant sound of hammering, the feel of the rolled leather mallets with wooden handles, and the rich smells of cowhide and sawdust and paint. And the Swimming merit badge, another required for Eagle, and how it felt to pad across the dirt road in bare feet, the cold lake water dripping from my hair, and wiping the wet sand from my feet before putting on my socks and shoes. I’d go to the Trading Post, after, and buy a 3 Musketeers and a lemon/lime Slush Puppie with damp dollar bills.


 

Fifteen, and Star. I finished the requirements for Life Scout at Treasure Valley that summer. I earned the Safety merit badge, Personal Management, Environmental Science, Cooking, and Canoeing. For Cooking, we made brownies in a Dutch oven, crumbly and warm, fragrant and delicious. The Canoeing merit badge class was the most fun I’d ever had on the water. Requirement 9b is to capsize your canoe, and 9c is to empty it and climb back in. When we managed that more quickly than we were expected to, the merit badge counselor let us play for the rest of the class. We capsized over and over again, and slid over the belly of the canoe like otters.


 

Sixteen was my first summer on staff. I wanted to work in the Handicrafts Lodge, but I didn’t have a lot of leadership experience, and the Camp Director saw me better than I saw myself. “How would you like to be Camp Clerk?” he asked. I said I would do my best.

I was Camp Clerk and Trading Post Assistant for four years running, living at camp for seven weeks every summer. The staff tenting area overlooks the lake, and I remember waking up every morning with the sun just peeking over the top of the hill, mist rising off the surface of the water. I would take a deep breath of the cool morning air before heading to the shower house, pine needles collecting in my foam-rubber flip-flops. I learned every path and trail, every song, every building. I learned to drive the disintegrating pickup truck we called Mobile 7. We would gather on the back porch of the East Lodge in the evening and listen to Jon and Ray play their guitars. There were cribbage tournaments, and marathon games of Risk. We took turns as Officer of the Day, visiting every campsite at night to make sure all was well, and Charge of Quarters, sleeping in the CQ office in case something happened in the night. I was the camp bugler. I played Retreat and To the Colors at the Friday night closing ceremony, and I played Taps at the end of the campfire, each note echoing back from across the darkened lake.


 

When Nate finished Kindergarten, I took him to the Cub Scout recruiting night. I didn’t present it as a choice; it was just What You Do When You Finish Kindergarten. He accepted it cheerfully, and we marched in parades and slept on a battleship and visited the police station. When he crossed over into Boy Scouts, the Scoutmaster asked me if I would be interested in taking over as Troop Committee Chair.

In Cub Scouting, the parents are partners to their sons. They do everything together. In Boy Scouting, the parents must step back and allow their sons to be independent. Nate’s first camping trip with the troop was while he was still a Webelos Scout, not yet a Boy Scout. He came to me for help, as he always had, and I pushed him away over and over again, saying, “Ask your patrol leader.” The troop requires Scouts to address all adults, especially their parents, as Mr. or Mrs. Lastname at all Scouting events, to emphasize that separation. Your parents are no longer here to do it for you; you need to figure it out on your own, or ask your patrol leader.

He earned his Tenderfoot rank in April, and his first three merit badges at Camp Squanto this summer. When we picked him up at the end of the week, he said that Camp Squanto was the greatest experience of his entire Scouting career.


 

As Committee Chair, my job is to organize the administrative side of things, and to let Nate be on his own, and fail, and learn from his mistakes. I try not to go on the camping trips, to give him space. But when the Patrol Leaders’ Council announced that the September outing would be a weekend at Treasure Valley, I knew I would have to go.

I was afraid it would have changed, in 24 years, as all things must change. The first night, after the Scouts were in bed, I walked down to Boonesville Plain and listened to the hoot of an owl. Some things had changed, of course. The seven-foot bushes are now forty-foot trees. But the camp is well-cared for. I still know every trail. And the stars are still there, the Milky Way bright and clear across the night sky.

On Saturday, we took a hike into West Camp to see Sampson’s Pebble. As the PLC examined the trail map, one of the younger Scouts said, “Maybe we’ll find the treasure of Treasure Valley!”

Another Scout laughed and said, “The treasure is friendship!” I could tell he was being sarcastic, but my eyes blazed with recognition. Kid, you are right. You just don’t know it yet. 24 years, and I still keep in touch with those guys.


 

As we were packing up on Sunday, getting ready to leave, I asked the Senior Patrol Leader if I could borrow my son for twenty minutes, a breach in the troop’s protocol of separation and independence. I wanted to give Nate a quick tour: show him the Council Ring, my old tent overlooking the lake, the waterfront, and the parade ground on Boonesville Plain.

As we walked down the hill past the East Lodge, he said, “Do I still have to call you Mr. G?”

I smiled. “For this, I think you can call me dad.”

Pleasantly Surprised

Scene: The bathroom behind the Boulevard Diner in Worcester. Nate has just finished getting sick to his stomach. Dad is helping to clean up.

Nate: Well, this was unexpected.

Dad: To tell you the truth, I expect something like this all the time. That way, when it doesn’t happen, it’s like a super-duper bonus.

Nate: So… every day of my life is like a super-duper bonus to you?

Dad: That’s exactly right.

Wonder Wheel

Every year at about this time, our local church puts on a big celebration for the Feast of Saint Rocco. There are carnival rides, and live music, and Italian food. In years past, we’ve always missed it, but last year, we managed to get there for one afternoon. Nate rode a couple of kiddie rides, but most of the rides were for big kids. Nate was five-almost-six and too little to go on them. Truth be told, he didn’t really want to go on them. He’s always a bit… apprehensive about trying new things. Sandy and I tried to get him on the Caterpillar Coaster, or maybe the Ferris wheel, but he knew darn well that it was just too scary. We were a little disappointed, because we wanted to ride the Ferris wheel ourselves. But so it goes.

This year, he is six-almost-seven. This year, we ran into a couple of friends of his, Michael and Matt, who are in his Cub Scout den. They are all in the same grade, but Nate is the youngest kid in his class, so these boys are a bit older than him. As soon as we finished stuffing our faces, they headed right for Pharaoh’s Fury, a Big Kid carnival ride for sure. And Nate was not interested in going on that ride, no way, no how.

Michael’s older sister, Amy, is eleven years old. She wasn’t too keen on Pharaoh’s Fury either. She immediately took Nate under her wing and asked if he would go on the Caterpillar Coaster with her.

Amazingly, he would.

Nate and Amy on a roller coaster

They went on lots of rides together, and Nate had a wonderful time. We had a wonderful time watching him.

When it came time for the Ferris wheel, Nate took his place in line next to Amy. Sandy and I fell in line behind them. As the wheel spun, and the ground fell away from us, we laughed with the sheer joy of it. We could hear Nate and Amy laughing from the next car. And when our car got to the very top, the ride stopped for a moment. We could see for miles, and the new moon was low on the horizon. I put my arm around Sandy, leaned over, and kissed her, carefully. I knew we’d get up here eventually.

Vegetarian Mumbo Jumbo

Scene: Nate’s bedroom, around bedtime. Nate is sitting on the floor, putting on his pajamas. Dad is reclining on the bed. Figaro, the cat, enters the room.

Dad (to Figaro): Come here, you fat, furry thing. I’m gonna eat you up.

Nate: Dad, please stop talking about eating the cat. I don’t like talking about killing animals, and eating means killing, you know.

Dad: Hm. How do you feel about having eaten turkey for dinner this evening?

Nate: Oh, I don’t mind that. I just don’t like hurting cute, furry animals.

Dad: What about an ugly furry animal?

Nate: You mean like a bullfrog… with hair? (pause) I don’t think I’d eat that.

You know what I mean

Scene: in the car, driving home from the YMCA. It is a dark and stormy night. Dad is peering through the rain, thinking about buying new windshield wiper blades, and singing along to the song in his head. Nate is in the backseat, listening.

Nate: Daddy? What about the cat?

Dad: What?

Nate: It sounded like you said, “I’m two-sixty-four my cat.” What does that mean?

Someone here is gettin’ old

Scene: A picnic table at Kimball Farm. It is Nate’s sixth birthday. Nate is eating a giant dish of chocolate ice cream. Sandy is eating a giant dish of lemon sherbet. Dad has gone in search of a dessert that does not contain lactose.

Dad enters, carrying a giant chocolate chip cookie.

Nate: Can I try some?

Dad: No way. This is my dessert.

Nate looks disconsolate.

Dad: That is your dessert. This is my dessert.

Dad winks at Sandy.

Dad: “This is my rifle, this is my gun…”

Nate: This is my Slinky.

Slinky

A little family

When I was in college, the theatre department put on a production of Six Characters in Search of an Author. The script called for a very young girl to play the part of The Child. Luckily, we had one handy. James, the auditorium manager, and Professor Jane, the costume designer, had three beautiful children: two boys and a girl. The girl, Nia, was six years old at the time, or thereabouts, and she was perfect.

I was in my early 20s at that time, and I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I did not want children of my own.

I don’t remember having anything to do with Six Characters. I probably worked on the electrics crew or something. But I happened to catch the tail end of an evening dress rehearsal one night. James was there too, waiting to pick up his daughter. When the stage manager dismissed the actors, Nia spotted her father. She jumped off the stage and went tearing up the aisle, screaming, “Daddeeeeee!” She leaped into his arms and he spun her around into a big hug, The Child’s ghostly white dress fluttering behind her.

That instant of pure joy stabbed me right in the heart. That was the first moment in my life when I thought, “Maybe having kids wouldn’t be so bad.”

When Sarah and I started dating, we were in our late 20s. Sarah let me know early on that she wanted kids, and I knew that if I wanted to keep her around, I would have to get on board with that. When I met her nieces, all my resistance crumbled. I fell in love with them immediately. Watching Sarah with them, watching myself with them, I finally admitted that we would be good parents.

Taking care of a newborn is exhausting work. Being a single parent is exhausting work. Being Nate’s dad is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, but there are a lot of nights when I am just tired, and I have a hard time being the sparky, energetic father he deserves. Some nights, when I go to pick him up at school, he is delighted to see me, but I am too tired and cranky to appreciate it fully. And other nights, when I am delighted to see him, he is busy playing or coloring and would really prefer if I just went away. Sometimes, he knows he’s been naughty at school, and is dreading my arrival. But in the back of my mind, I remember Nia and James, and I know that one of these days we will both be happy to see each other at the same time.

Sandy’s lease is up tomorrow. She packed up her apartment and moved in with me and Nate on Wednesday. She drove in to work with me on Thursday and spent the day cleaning the old apartment. We drove home together, and together we went to pick up Nate at school.

And Nate saw us across the crowded room.

And his face lit up, and he ran across the room, and he ran right by me and threw himself into Sandy’s arms, hugging her with all his might.

And I thought, Oh—that’s what I’ve been waiting for.

Welcome home, Sandy.

Like sugar to my heart

Last Saturday, Nate let me sleep until 8:00 in the morning, which was awesome. Then I heard a gentle tapping (upon my chamber door). I croaked, and Nate opened the door and poked his head in. “I’m hungry, daddy.”

On my bleary way to the bathroom, I tripped on the laundry basket, which I had strategically placed in the hallway the night before, specifically so I would trip on it. “Okay, buddy. I’m just going to start the laundry, you think about what you’d like to eat.”

As I poured Tide Free into a measuring cup, Nate called down the basement stairs. “Actually, I don’t want breakfast.”

Even in my semi-conscious state, I knew this was… odd. “You’re telling me you’re not hungry after all?”

“Right.”

“Is there anything else I can do for you, or can I go back to bed for a while?”

“You can go back to bed. I just want to be alone in the room where we eat.”

A brief pause, as I attempted to figure this out. Then: “Oh. I think I see where this is going.” I started the laundry and bounced upstairs. I grabbed my son and swept him up into a good-morning hug. As I kissed his cheek, I took a deep sniff. Sure enough: chocolate and peanut butter. Someone’s been into the Easter candy.

Like father, like son. I took the basket and moved it to the top of the fridge. “You just let me know when you’re ready for breakfast, my sneaky little weasel.”

With the past and the present and the future

Sarah died three years ago today.

The hospital cafeteria sent breakfast to the ICU, for those of us who had spent most of the night keeping vigil. I remember thinking how strange that was, orange juice and a bagel, and the sun coming up, and Sarah gone.

I remember Beth driving me to the rehab hospital to pick up Sarah’s things, and the Irish nurse saying, “Och, and the little one!” (meaning Nate, of course).

And Beth snapping at her, “You’re not helping,” and muttering imprecations under her breath as we waited for the elevator, holding paper bags full of comfy clothes and get-well cards. I had to laugh, in spite of everything.

I can remember everything about that day, but I would rather not. I choose to remember Sarah laughing, standing at the wheel of her parents’ sailboat, holding Nate on her hip.

And I choose to look ahead, not back.