It was a rough week for me. I had lost my Dad a month before due to his health. I was worn out from the constant running back and forth to the hospital after work. The funeral and bill arrangements had gotten the best of me. I had recently experienced a nasty early spring head cold and work was busier and more demanding than usual. I wasn’t sleeping or eating particularly well.
I was an exhausted adult.
Then one day during a visit with my niece, Charlie (short for Charlene), she had asked me to climb to the top of the hill behind my condo to watch the clouds go by. In my haste, I had initially dismissed her by pointing to a plate of freshly baked cookies as I watched TV, but she persisted, “Uncle Ed, there are many puffy clouds today that we need to visit!” Tiredly, I surrendered and grabbed our light jackets as I shut the door behind us and headed toward the hill.
She instinctively reached for my hand and off we went.
Charlie began skipping and looked at me with her wide green eyes as she pouted, “Skip with me Uncle Ed, it’s FUN, I promise!” I rolled my eyes and as I began to explain that grown men don’t skip, my feet began to betray my head as if adult opinions had no place in childhood. It amazed me how quickly the simple act of skipping came flooding back. It immediately threw me into a tailspin of childhood and I grinned stupidly as we worked to synchronize our rhythms. Charlie giggled loudly as I hoped no one heard her and would see me in the insane dance of youth.
As we approached the hill my thoughts drifted to the scene in the movie The Wizard of Oz, when the characters are running through a field of poppies with the beautiful Emerald City in view. Our pace picked up, our hands broke apart, and we ran! Charlie squealed with delight as she took off leaving me behind in her push to the top of her world.
I smiled uneasily as my breathing became somewhat labored in the fresh cool air.
As I crested the top of this rolling mound of deep green blowing in the wind, I had to stop to catch my breath. Charlie was spinning wildly around in a circle while her long light hair danced freely in the air. Twisting as she yelled, “I’m dizzy Uncle Ed! I’m gonna spin forever until I fall! Come spin with me!” Her tiny sneakers tip toeing forward at a wobbly pace. I felt captivated by this power of childhood as I began to spin. I threw my arms out like a propeller, I thrust my head and fingers to the sky and I spun wildly. I opened my eyes, and then closed them to feel the effect of being at the top of the world spinning madly out of control as my stomach grew butterflies.
I felt free!
Charlie and I collided and laughed hard as we crashed together to the coolness of the hilltop’s blanket of grass. Her laugh teetered back and forth from a full belly guffaw to hysterical giggle as I barely recognized my own sounds of joy. Our breathing grew silent as our gazes turned to the sky.
How this day of blue ceiling was created is truly a miracle of nature to me. The color was surely that of something no simple man could ever construct. I lay awestruck in continued silence as I could almost hear the white cotton-like clouds dancing and drifting by as if to heaven’s music while they were putting on a show for only us. The clouds became animated and changed their shapes swiftly as they twirled in groups of soft splendor.
“Look at THAT cloud over there Uncle Ed! It looks like an elephant eating an ice cream cone, doesn’t it?” broke Charlie into the quiet sunshine. “See him holding it with his trunk?” she asked. “YES! I do!” I shouted back, to which Charlie immediately explained that I could use my indoor voice if I wanted to. I chuckled out loud as I studied the white formations in search of something spectacular. “Look at that one Charlie. Over there in that clump of clouds… do you see that telephone shape?” I asked. “See the dial with the headset on top?” Charlie rolled over and looked directly into my face with a smirk and answered, “What’s a dial?” I snickered as I realized that she had no knowledge of what a dial to a phone was in our smart phone world, so I quickly pointed to the moving formation of a face in the sky. “Look at that face Charlie! That woman’s face and the mouth is moving too!” I motioned, as she just as quickly spotted a snake about to eat a chicken leg.
We giggled again then grew silent as we just watched.
We continued to peer at the puffy presentation passing slowly by. I could sense my breathing as it calmed to a gentle roll and my heart became light. How did I deserve this gift of a child to bring MY child out in me? He hides most times, shy but lingering in so many quiet spaces of my soul as he waits for that fleeting chance to climb a tree, kick a can or run blindly with a kite in the sand even if only figuratively for a time. True laughter reigns in the hearts of children. Real laughter reigns hidden in me, I sighed softly to myself.
“Look at that really dark cloud over there Uncle Ed!” Charlie pointed out innocently; “THAT is definitely our Obama isn’t it?” I laughed, and then bellowed harder still. Tears began to roll as Charlie looked quizzically at me and asked “Why are you crying?” I had no answer as I wiped my sleeve across my face and stood to reach out to her. “Let’s go eat lunch,” I exclaimed. “I’d like to have strawberry ice cream for lunch,” she spoke with authority. My initial adult reaction was to say no as my mouth blurted, “Strawberry ice cream it is!”
We rolled down the hill laughing more that afternoon. Grass stains and sore muscles be damned! It felt GOOD; REAL good as I stood up dizzily as I reached my hand out to help Charlie stand. “Thanks Uncle Ed, for a very fun time!” she tweeted. My eyes began to water as I mumbled something about allergies and thanked HER as we hugged.
We skipped home as we sang “Weeee’re off to see the Wizard…”
(this is a work of fiction that is based on several wonderful memories of my own children and dedicated to them back in the day…)