Spirit of a Child

Spirit of a Child

Isaac ran down the moss lush path like a fleet footed deer. “Mommy, come see what I found!” I  followed, stumbling on a stick, swatting at the gnats. He halted and pointed in wonder to his find, a tree blanketed in black, bristly caterpillars. I squatted next to him and was transported into childhood wonder. We slid to sit side by side and contemplated his find. “What kind are they? What are they doing? Will they turn into butterflies soon?”

Isaac’s explorations make me recall my childhood adventures. Today I remembered an old photo of my brother and I about to start off on the expedition of our young lives. I am eleven and he seven. We were smiling and slim, verging on scrawny. I held a six foot pole at my side, a backpack hugged my back. Peter clutched a long coil of rope with our dog Shena tied to the end. The dog and the pole were for protection at our Father’s command. In the day before cell phones and helicopter parenting, a dog and a stick would do.

Our objective that day was to walk the length of the railroad tracks from  Mill Pond to the town of Edmore. Our father estimated the distance to be five miles. He didn’t think we would complete the walk but he gave us five dollars in case we did. This firmed our resolve.

Edmore had a small cluster of stores including a Dollar General with alluring one dollar lipsticks and nail polishes, a McDonald’s, and Big Bear. Big Bear was a grocery store which housed a stuffed black bear reared on it’s back legs, mouth stretched in a roar, it’s yellow teeth sinister under the  store’s fluorescent glow. A small square was cut into the glass that encased him so the bravest children might touch his coarse, tangled fur.

The idea of being unleashed unsupervised in such a shopping metropolis fueled our fire. We had never been to town alone. My strongest memory of previous trips were those I took with my grandpa who drove me to town for the sole purpose of buying (me) a yogurt.  Our father’s five dollars would buy much more than a yogurt!

Snacks and water packed and swinging on my back, we set off. A half mile walk through our “blink and you’ll miss it town,” and we stepped onto the tracks. Rocks between rails shifted and slid under our feet. The sun smiled on our shoulders. We walked a few hundred feet and passed a Michigan cold water hole fed by a creek. It was dark and swirling, I’d lost a plastic sandal in its depths once.

Birch trees rose like willowy, white faced maidens and red winged blackbirds called and swooped to follow us, then perched on a cattails to study us. It was as if we were walking into a painting, bright blue sky big above us, cottony clouds billowing beauty.

Esther was here. Peter was here. At this age we embedded our names everywhere, in the crooked old apple tree in our yard, in the birch trees by our sidewalk, scribbled in my closet, scrawled in his secret cupboard.

When we tired of our woodsy exploration we ran down the hill, grasshoppers rasping across our knees. We laughed at the swoop of our stomachs. We walked beside an ice cold creek and stands of trees. A fawn leaped. Our hearts leaped. Our feet ached but we pushed on. Finally, the outskirts of town!

Across from the small cluster of stores we crouched to plot our approach. I felt like we were the Boxcar siblings, mysterious, adventurous. Disappointment dawned when we realized one of us would have to stay with Sheena. Peter volunteered and I crossed the street, determined to make five dollars stretch til’ it screamed. I can’t remember what I bought. I think fruit roll ups, probably fries too.

We arrived home, triumphant. Our sore feet were well worth the pride we felt in reporting to our father and well worth the small stash of treats we stored. Today the sweet memory beats the candy and the accomplishment hands down.

As I watch Isaac roam to the far edges of our property, then push beyond, I see my brother, I see myself. My brother is no longer with me but there is Isaac. He is not a replacement  for Peter but he is a fresh blessing and a sign that life moves on brings new beauties. I’ve often thought God blessed my family with Isaac in acknowledgment of the beautiful boy we lost. With a child’s hopeful spirit  Isaac explores his world. I’ll take a page from my past and step up beside my present wonder. In hope of God’s next blessing we’ll step forward into the unknown.

(c) photo credits https://unsplash.com/photos/oOEz7c7V3gk