Mostly I just remember the heat. And the dust. And the fire ants. I suppose the cares and concerns of children remain on fairly basic levels, and as a four-year-old boy living in Laredo, Texas, those were my main worries.
I remember hearing that there was a swimming pool in our new trailer park. My mother packed us up for a walk through the mid-day heat. Now that I have children of my own, I know what a production that can be: changing into swimsuits, slicking everyone up with sunscreen, grabbing a few pool-friendly toys and maybe a lawn chair. She probably carried all of this plus my two-year-old sister. I probably walked, dragging my towel through the dusty dirt roads, eyes peeled for red ants wielding cross bows with fiery arrows.
The next image is my life’s metaphor for disappointment: an empty swimming pool, slimy green and full of lizards, surrounded by a rusty chain-link fence and tumbleweed. We walked back the way we came. I’m sure my mom was pretty down about it. She probably went inside and cried while I drove my hot wheels trike around the cement slab beside our trailer, the rumbling plastic wheels sounding like far-off thunder.
* * * * *
I remember when dad and I made up our own set of signals. The Nerf football was as big as my torso, but somehow I hiked it through my legs to him and ran the passing route into the kitchen. “1” was a long straight pass, sometimes caught all the way back in the hall. “2” was short, and dad threw a laser, digging the pointy end of the football into my bony rib cage – I never liked “2” very much. “3” was hook right. “4” was hook left. “5” was fake short and go long.
Dad called the plays inside that trailer for hours, and I ran the routes.
* * * * *
He used to take me for rides on his motorcycle out the dusty trailer park lane, to the highway and back. I remember one time we saw a road runner: a real live cartoon in my three-dimensional world. I never even knew such a thing existed.
I see pictures of my dad now, when he was 24, with a mustache that looks like he borrowed it from his dad. He looks like a kid He was a kid, ten years younger than I am now, starting a church in a place where he couldn’t even speak the language, his wife and two young children along for the ride.
* * * * *
“Dad, call a ‘3’. You never call that one.”
“Okay, okay. Ready? Hike – ‘3’!”
The little boy shoves the huge football between his knees, then runs for the kitchen, breaking right. His dad lobs the ball through the air. The boy reaches out for it, through the heat and the sadness and the palpable feeling that they are very far from many people that love them. He catches it, falling to the thread bare carpet.
He lies there for a moment. He is four, but he knows this isn’t home.