It’s easy to forget the simple joy of stacking up blocks and knocking them down. I found it again playing with Violet and her new set. They’re newfangled blocks, colored brightly, oversized, and rubberized, easy for Violet to grab and chew on. I stacked them up and she knocked them down. Over and over. She is still unsure of this game, looking at me every time she knocks them over. Maybe she’s checking to see if she’s in trouble, or maybe she’s trying to tell me to stop building the blocks up when she so obviously prefers them all down.
I’m sure there’s many more things about being a kid that I’ve forgotten about, things that Violet will help me remember. Sitting there playing with the blocks, I recalled how as I child I had a mad love for small things. Small cars, small figures. Tiny things were cool. They still are apparently because toy stores are still jammed with miniature versions of this and that. And thinking about my love of small things reminded me of how that affinity got me into trouble, because when I was small, I also had a problem with taking things. By that I mean stealing, and once, at a country store my parents used to take me and my brothers to on Sundays, I stole a miniature bottle. It was a tiny version of a gallon jug made of brown, beer-bottle glass, topped with the tiniest cork I’d ever seen. I imagined filling it with water or iced tea and carrying it in my pocket whenever I went exploring with my friends into the woods, and at the moment when they were complaining of being thirsty, I would take out my little bottle and slake my thirst, leaving all of them jealous, wishing they had a bottle like mine. I’d fill it with pop and sneak it into the movies, or I’d use it to bring home sand from the beach. The fact that it held only about an ounce of fluid did not even occur to me. My second grade mind churned out more uses for the bottle than I could picture. But my parents had told me on entering the store that I wouldn’t be getting anything, and I didn’t have any money. Friday’s allowance of three dollars was long gone. So, I listened to the more sinister of the two voices whispering in my head, and I slipped the bottle into the pocket of my cut-offs.
This being 1980, my cut offs were tight, so the bottle left a bulge larger than any bulge should be in the shorts of a seven year old. I spent the rest of the time in the store leaning slightly forward and standing behind displays, feigning interest in country crafts of all sorts. I even remember asking my dad about an Amish doll, pretending that I wanted it despite the fact that the blank face totally freaked me out. How I made it through the car ride home without one of my brothers noticing my shorts or the guilty look on my face, I don’t recall. When our station wagon pulled into the garage, I jumped out and bolted around the back of the house, fished out my bottle, wriggled off the cork with shaking fingers, and filled it from the hose. I ran down the path into the woods, all the way down to the creek. I wanted to work up a sweat. It was early July, school was out, and I had the coolest bottle in the world clutched in my hand. Those things outweighed the guilt in my gut and allowed me to run as fast as a kid can run at the beginning of summer. When my sneakers hit the water, I was puffing. I pulled off the cork and tilted the bottle back. The opening was so tiny, I had to shake it to get the water out, but I did not care. Even now, years later, I can remember what it felt like to be a kid, to picture something in my head, and then to make that thing come true. So what if a few details didn’t match up? It did not matter.
I played around in the creek for a while. Filling the bottle up with creek water and dumping it out, again and again. I tried to fit some minnows inside, but they were too big. Soon, the urge appeared to show off my bottle. Yes, it was cool playing with it by myself, but I wanted others to see me playing with it, to know that it was mine. And although I should have known better, even at seven, I got it in my head to show the bottle to my parents. Maybe it was my guilty conscience extracting revenge or taking the long way around to get me to come clean, but for some reason, I decided that I wanted my parents to see it. But how to I explain how I got it? Easy. I would tell them I found it, and to cement the ruse, I took some wet mud from the edge of the creek and slathered it all over the bottle. I jammed it inside with a stick. Then, I cleaned it up just a bit, trying to make it look as if the bottle had been underground for ages and had only recently been unearthed. I thought it looked pretty good.
Tomorrow, I’ll tell you what happened when I showed it to them…