Our backyard was always very well kept. It felt desolate and full of aspirations, but I was only a small kid – what did I know. I knew what to expect on Saturday mornings. At 7:00am my Dad would come in and pull the covers off of me and my two brothers with a loud booming – “wake up boys, I need your help with the yard”. Even in our sleep, we knew it was coming. Like Proust’s dream of a candle being extinguished long after it actually was extinguished – we went to sleep fully aware that we would be pulled out of bed to cut the grass, trim around the chain-link fence, and trim the bushes. Saturday mornings were not restful moments in my childhood.
One of the reasons for the immaculate yard keeping was that my father always coached whatever sport was in season. He was an all around sports freak and was none happier than when he could coach one of his boys. Practicing with his boys in the backyard on a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon was one of his favorite past-times. In order for that to occur, he needed the yard to be clear and orderly. My brothers had to have open space to go out for the long catch, or make the pitch strong. I, however, spent these Saturday afternoons watching my father and brothers pitch, catch, throw, tackle, and roll their way into little league history. Actually, in truth, I spent my Saturday afternoons re-arranging the porch furniture into more beautiful seating groups and trying new combinations of table, chair and ottomans. The furniture was iron painted white. I remember that it was heavy for me to move. There was a rocker, 2 chairs and a ‘davenport”. The davenport was this great rollie thing that we all could get on and move back and forth in a way such that it would feel like we were on a porch swing. The cushions were vinyl and had tropical flowers and leaves on them. I did not mind them, but they seemed a bit garish to my eyes. My father had purchased a handful of tiki torches and he placed them around the concrete slab porch. In the midst of all of my furniture moving and porch styling, my Mother sat quietly doing whatever she did (I have no recollection of her having a hobby).
The porch itself was made up of thin metal corrugated sheets held up from the concrete slab by decorative aluminum columns. I used to take my finger and run it along the curving “s” shapes of the decorative bracing. I can still feel the slightly ridged composition of the extruded pieces. The movement I felt while playing with these columns interested me far more than the aesthetic attempts of the decoration. I wondered how they kept the decorative pieces from falling off of the columns – it didn’t really matter. I thought the attempts at decoration were admirable and I felt proud of our aluminum porch and white painted “davenport”. How lucky we were to live such a life!
Once my father and brothers got hot from all of the running around and ball catching, they would come and plop down on the re-arranged furniture and demand ice water from my Mom. Of course, my Mom ran to grab ice water for everyone. I would always hang close to my Mom because the brothers and my dad were sweaty and it bothered me that they were messing up my porch furniture. The4y would drag the chairs over to the davenport so that they could put their feet up on the seat and my brother would stand on top of the rocking chair and pretend he was surfing a wave. I just sat there watching, anthropologically taking notes on how to behave and fit in.
My dad would always want me to play with them. He would call out to me from the hot sunny backyard, “son, grab a glove and let me throw you some pitches”. I would always try to figure out why this was not possible and that I had to keep working on the porch. I can imagine that this made my dad feel uneasy. He never said anything to me (not that I recall) but it was implicit in his actions that I needed to find something deep within myself to become part of the “team”. I got the message loud and clear – although I was not sure what the “team” was for or what it was that I was lacking.
On one of those beautiful Saturday afternoons, after our grass cutting and bush trimming, my father pulled the boys out into the backyard and spent a few hours coaching them on the nuances of football. I seem to recall that I had a set of GI-Joes that I was playing with. I loved the camouflage outfits they wore. The concrete pad floor of the porch was cool and I loved lying on my stomach and feeling the coolness through my clothes. The sun was shining and the freshly cut grass smelled that beautifully poetic message of consistency and stasis.
On schedule my dad and brothers came onto my cool kingdom and gulped down their ice water. Content with my GI-Joes I kept playing. My dad had left the backyard and went out front. I now know he went to the truck of our car and gabbed a box. He brought it back to the back yard and placed it right in front of me. “Hey pee-wee (that was my nickname), I bought you some things. My dad bought me something! Me. How excited. I jumped up, stomach still cold from the floor, and tore open the brown box.
The box contained child-sized versions of adult-sized sports equipment. Miniature. I remember thinking – “those look kinda cute! – what are they for?” I smiled and yelled “thank you!” to my dad. Before I knew it he was pulling the box full of sport equipment out onto the cut grass backyard and dispersing them all around. He asked me to come out into the yard and try them out. I left the coolness of the porch and entered the heat of the sunny backyard.
My dada placed me in the center of the sports equipment, handed me a bat and told me to smile. I smiled.
He retrieved a Polaroid camera from the great-room of our house and began taking instamatic pictures of me holding the bat and enjoying the sports equipment. I remember just standing there while my entire family watched me hold the bat while my dad photographed me. I didn’t understand it at the time but I went from elation that my father had bought me a gift, to realizing that I was a prop, a mannequin for his expectations. I wanted to drop the bat, run into the house, and hide – but I didn’t. I just stood there – pretending to be his version of me.
Those miniature sports items were placed in my bedroom, in a box under my bed. My father kept asking me where they were? When was I going to play with them? I would occasionally grab them and lie on the living room floor and roll them around – making sure he could see me – put them away until the next time he asked about them. Those gifts from my Father defined what I wasn’t. What I could never be. They were a reminder to me of my Father’s expectations and wishes – and later I realized they defined his worst nightmare.
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