Uppermost House: The edge of my world

PeterLewisTreehouseCMYKBy S. Peter Lewis

BN Columnist

A seven year-old boy knows two things about time: there is now, and there is forever.

Now is immediate, and while not always pleasant (“Brush your teeth and go to bed, now!”), at least it can be counted on. A constant presence.

Forever is far off and shadowy and a bit mysterious. But it certainly exists, and your parents are living proof — for goodness sake just look at them; they’ve clearly been there. And it’s the vague uncertainty about forever that makes it possible (and even likely) that a little boy can believe that his orthodontist appointment next Tuesday and getting his driver’s license will happen at about the same time.

Geography can be weird, too. When I was seven, the edge of the world was right at the end of my driveway. Our driveway was long and rambling and twisty, and as it neared the road it crested a little hill and then ran quickly down between high rock walls and under towering, overhanging hemlock trees, as if through a dark tunnel. From the top of that little crest you stood and peered down through the dark tunnel to the hole of brightness at the end where the sentinel trees stopped and right here gave way to out there.

My mother would walk me down the driveway, holding my hand, and when we got to the end she would gesture gently down the roadway to the left and say, “That way goes to the city and just beyond it is the Atlantic Ocean.” And then she would toss her blonde curls to the right and say, “That way goes into our little village where your daddy goes to his firehouse meetings.” And she would giggle with the enormous simple wonder of it all, and I would just be stunned.

And that little crest and my daddy’s firehouse meetings became really important to me. I wanted to be sure that he really went there. I knew he left every weekday morning to go to some strange place called the office and that on Tuesday nights he went to his fireman meetings in the village, but in my little mind neither was a sure thing.

And so I made a game out of it. When my dad left on Tuesday nights I’d be ready, and as his old pickup pulled away down the driveway there I would be racing behind him, my little legs churning, my little arms pumping, my little P.F. Flyers crunching on the gravel, always hoping to reach the peak of the little hill in time to look down and watch dad’s tail lights turn to the right.

It took many tries in the summer back in 1967, but eventually I made it. Finally standing there, right on top. Bent over with my hands on my knees. Huffing and puffing after my little sprint. And down at the end of the dark hemlock tunnel dad’s truck turning to the right just as mom said. The red tail lights blinking through the tree branches. Dad working that old on-the-column three-speed transmission through the gears.

Years later, my dad told me that he knew all about my little game and all my wonderings about time and geography. Said he watched me in the mirror, and that he purposely drove slowly on Tuesday evenings that summer so that it would happen. So that I would see it happen. So that maybe I would even think that somehow I made it happen. So that the time and place of the world would suddenly make more sense to me and bring me comfort.

Two decades later, in the middle of my own comings and goings as a grownup, I watched my own little boy chase his dad’s Chevy down the driveway. A distant and different driveway, and yet in some magical way the same driveway. Watched his little legs churn and his little arms pump. Drove slowly and kept an eye on him in the rearview mirror as I slowly disappeared.

And then one day I saw him standing there at the end of the driveway, all bent over and panting and watching me pull away, working my way through the gears. It took all my resolve not to stop and turn around and go back to him. And I had one enormous, simple, wonderful thought: “All I want to be is that little boy’s dad. Right now, forever, and right here.” And I realized that the edge of my world was still right at the end of my driveway.

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