Monday, September 12, 2011

A Boy and the Bed of a Pickup

Not our truck and not our dirt, but you get the picture.
When I was a kid, riding in the back of a pickup truck was, if not a regular occurrence, certainly not out of the ordinary. Not so any longer. Maybe it's because there's no anchor for a car seat and no airbags back there. Not to make light of automotive safety, here's my latest newspaper column. It combines a job to be done, a boy, his imagination, and the back of the truck. Here's a link to the newspaper site, and thanks for stopping by.

We recently removed several old tree stumps from our backyard. Eleven holes to fill, level, and seed, and the toil fell to my two hands. Unless I could wrangle up some family help.

Needing to haul black dirt, I commandeered Grandpa’s pickup, and the truck became my prime negotiating tool. I approached the boy. “Want to help me fill the stump holes? Haul some black dirt? Plant some grass seed?”

No response.

“We’re taking Papa’s new truck.”

That got his attention.

“Can I ride in the back?”

“Not on the road, but you’ll need to be back there to help shovel.”

“Okay. I’m in.”

Having doubled my labor force, I grabbed a second shovel and we headed to the landfill for fresh compost. Upon arrival, and before my foot even hit the ground, I heard a familiar query.

“Can I get in the back of the truck?”

“We need to shovel the dirt into the truck, and the dirt is down here.”

So we shoveled compost. It worked like this: I’d shovel from one side, he’d dig holes on the other. “You’re supposed to put the dirt into the back of the truck, Buddy.”

“Yeah, I know. But, see, I’m trying to make the pile collapse.”

“Excuse me?”

“Collapse. See, if I dig under here, then it’ll be cool ‘cause everything up there will collapse down here!”

“But WE’RE down here. You want us to get buried?”

“Dad. Seriously?”

I kept shoveling. He kept digging, unconcerned that his ongoing efforts brought us steadily closer to premature burial. Shovel-full after shovel-full, and to be clear, these were my shovel-fulls, the bed of the truck filled. And the pile never collapsed.

“Can I ride in the back of the truck now?”

“Sorry, bud. Not on the highway.” So he dragged himself back to the front for the trip home.

As I prepared to back into the driveway, around the garage, and to the soon-to-be-filled holes, the boy interrupted with a sudden revelation. “Hey, I have an idea. How about you drop me off in the driveway, and I’ll ride in the back?” he asked.

“How about I drop you off, you grab two rakes and the tamper, put them in, and then ride in the back?” I suggested.

“Um...how about I just ride in back?”

So I got the rakes and the tamper and he, finally, climbed on the compost pile in the back of the truck.

Looking over the tailgate, using unique and animated hand motions, he directed me to each hole. His third base coach impression did get me into position, but it proved to be the last - and only - time his hands aided in the day’s work.

The bed of the truck became his play land, his battle ground, his junkyard. He slid down the pile. He threw dirt-clod bombs. He searched for nails, plastic, and other non-compostable treasures. I tried to teach him the meaning of “decomposed organic matter,” but rot and decay are no match for a nine-year-old’s imagination.

Eventually, the holes were filled, the grass seed was sown, and the job was completed.

One day his willingness to be present will transform into a willingness to participate. Until then I’m happy to let his imagination run unrestrained.

But he still can’t ride in the back of the truck.

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