I live in a small community. Really, it is a village. In the center of the village we have a school, three churches, a fire station, an auto shop and The Cow Market… because there is a giant mural of a holstein cow hand painted on the 159th St. side of the hundred-year-old building. From the moment we first heard the jingle of the bell as we walked across the threshold of the market with then four-year-old Hannah it has been The Cow Market, although I can guarantee you won’t find Cow Market in the Yellow Pages. Its real name is the Hockinson Market.
On any given morning you’ll find a retired doctor, a P.E. teacher, a retired elementary school teacher and a variety of other men sitting around the counter of the Cow Market, deliberating on whatever topic strikes them. Hawks football. The weather. The price of gas. We don’t have a village government but we have these men who assemble before the first rays of sun shoot shards of light through the fir trees. They are our “village council”.
In our little village people watch out for people. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Sometimes, not so good. Such is the life in a small village. We have families who live in log cabins deep in the woods and we have families who live in mansions high on their mountain perch whose windows welcome the distant lights of Portland sparkling in the twilight.
We wave at each other as we walk or drive. Its a simple gesture but it is one that keeps neighbors connected. I waved to many this morning after I dropped my car off at the auto works shop and multitasked a workout of huffing (more like weezing) back up the imposing 164th St. hill. For those of you who live close…you know the hill…the 6/10th mile long incline introducing the plain between the Columbia River to the first rise in elevation of the Cascade Foothills…the 6/10th mile long hill that makes asthmatics out of cross country runners…the 6/10th mile hill that defines treacherous in an ice storm. The 6/10th mile hill that will go down in legend as the site of probably the most insane thing Nick has done in his 17 years of life. OK, looking back six or so years, my perception of insanity has changed a little bit after living in the trenches with four boys, but none-the-less this 6/10 mile hill owns the right to claim one episode in epic insanity within our little village.
Keep in mind the words I wrote a few paragraphs back, “In our village, people watch out for people.” So, on a cloudless warm Saturday in spring at least six years ago the phone rang and I answerd it. My friend Caren was on the other line. Caren used to live in a house about a quarter of the way up the big hill.
“Hey Caren, what’s up?”
“I just saw your son doing the stupidest thing I have ever seen in my life?”
Pause. Inventory sons within the house. Process of elimination. Nick.
“What?” I respond, thinking to myself, it can’t be THAT bad, its Nick after all.
She proceeded to tell me that as she was loading her youngest son into his carseat she caught out of the corner of her eye, careening down the center line of 164th St., at warp speed no less, a red Radio Flyer wagon containing my son and his best friend Casey. (Casey also lives on “the hill”. He’s always been the Eddie Haskell to my June Cleaver, and I mean that in the most loving endearing way! He’s my fifth son.)
“WHAT?” I repeated. “WHAT!?” Of course in my mind I’m thinking about the traffic on 164th St. Or that no car, local or otherwise, is going to expect a flippin’ Radio Flyer hauling’ ass down the center line of the road!
Once I caught my breath I thanked Caren for giving me the heads up. We moms, we’re each others sentinels. It is something I have loved about raising our kids in this little village. I hung up the phone, paced back and forth. Paced back and forth again. Then, when my breath returned to my lungs, I dialed Casey’s mom. She answered after a couple of rings.
“Hey, have you seen Nick?”
“Yeah, he’s right here. He and Casey just got here.”
“The Church of Christ, at the yard sale.”
“Did they tell you how they got there?” And then, much to her shock, I filled her in.
“Could I talk to Nick, please?”
A momentary pause. One where as I heard Nick taking the phone from Tracy’s hand I repeated over and over, “Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.”
And as hard as I tried to be calm and rational. As hard as I tried to be June Cleaveresque and all, I couldn’t and I unloaded in a single breath, “Ok…here’s the deal Nick it’s one thing for my son to do something stupid and no one sees it it’s entirely another thing when a neighbor calls me up and tells me my son is doing something stupid you have twenty minutes to get yourself home or else!”
My thoughts…walking up that big hill in a time frame of twenty minutes…that is punishment no matter how young the lungs and legs are!
I don’t know what the “or else” would have been. In the time it took for Nick to get home I was just grateful to have him walk through the door in one piece without more than the soles of his shoes leaving a mark on the pavement. I think I hugged him and then I grounded him. That’s what June Cleaver would have done, right? I also think I asked him, “Why?” and if I remember correctly he answered, “Because it was there.”
The maiden voyage of the Radio Flyer piloted by Nick and his first mate Casey is of legend now. But like Howard Hugh’s Spruce Goose its a one time flight, although I am quite confident it wasn’t Howard’s mom grounding his dream.
It has taken a few years…but just today I smiled about it, as I walked up the big hill in our little village. Ironically, as I was passing their point of liftoff Defying Gravity was playing on my iPod. I purposely turned around and looked down the hill and imagined it in the eyes of two eleven-year-old boys, defying gravity in a Radio Flyer, taking on the challenge because it was there.
I shook my head and smiled inwardly and muttered to myself, “Idiots…”