The thing about childhood is that you don’t know how special it is until it’s over.
~ Billy Coffey
When I was twelve years old I decided it was time – time to see just how far Stretch Armstrong could stretch. I tied his rubbery arm to a fence in our back yard and I pulled, and pulled, and pulled. Stretch did what Stretch does – until he didn’t. SNAP! His arm broke off and a red, syrupy-like substance oozed from the gaping hole that was once his muscular shoulder. I was remorseful of what I had done, yet I marveled at the discovery of how he works.
I was talking with Bill who’s in his eighties and struggles with dementia. He has been robbed of so much. He sometimes needs help remembering family member’s names. I asked him what it was like growing up and he stared straight ahead for several minutes. He blinked a few times in silence. Just as I was about to give up and change the subject, a big smile ran across his grey whiskers. “My dad had an old Model A Ford in our front yard,” he said as his mind transported him back to his Tennessee farm. “Dad used it for parts – nuts, bolts, and pieces of metal, whatever we needed for the farm.” As he spoke, Bill painted a wonderful picture: An old rusted car with a cracked windshield, dented hood, and no tires sitting up on cinder blocks. I could almost hear the bees buzzing around the hive underneath that old car in the hot summer of 45′.
Bill never stopped smiling.
After our interview, I drove home and thought about time – how its forward motion is both a priceless gift and a cruel one. Change drifts in like a breeze through the trees. People, places, and experiences disappear and are replaced by other people, places, and experiences, and that’s a good thing.
But on this day, I am grateful for memories. Grateful for the big smile that runs across my grey whiskers as I recall the simplest things: Tiger Stadium in Detroit, the candy apple red dirt bike my mom and dad bought me, dumpster diving for Slurpee money with my friend John, lazy summer days….
….and Stretch Armstrong.