We are by the creek, my son and I, our backs against the grass and our feet in the water, looking first to make sure the snakes are gone and then to the two white wrappers between us.
“You’re first tonight,” I tell him.
“Orange,” he says, “because it’s like the sun.”
I hand him the wrapper on the left and look out toward the mountains. Sure enough, the sun looks orange. That means red for me. Good. I like red.
He opens the package and licks the popsicle inside. There is a satisfying smack on the end, followed by, “Aaah.”
We sit for a while and watch in silence, watch the robin searching for supper in the front yard and the bumblebee doing the same in the flower bed and my wife and daughter watering the hanging baskets. I don’t know what my son is thinking, but I’m thinking that sometimes you can be closer to someone when you’re not talking and just enjoying their company.
These post-supper trips to the creek with popsicles were his idea. The inaugural event was held on the first day of summer vacation. Seems like that was just yesterday, but it was almost two months ago. Time ticks faster when we’re having fun. That’s what my son told me the other day. Then he said he sat for five minutes and watched the clock and discovered it ticks just the same whether you’re looking or not.
There’s another lick and smack, but this one is followed by a sigh. I ask him what’s wrong.
“Summer’s almost over,” he says.
I ask him how he knows that, and he answers that he saw the newspaper last Sunday. There was a back-t-school ad mixed in with the comics section. He says seeing that made him feel like he did the time he ate chili and then ice cream after.
“I want it to stay summer forever,” he says, “like on Phineas and Ferb.”
I don’t know what to say to that. I’d like it to stay summer forever too, and offering up some cockamamie wisdom about how all good things must come to an end would only depress the two of us more. Instead, I start singing the Phineas and Ferb theme song. Partly because I have to say SOMETHING, but mostly because it’s nearly impossible to sing and be depressed at the same time.
He joins in halfway through. When we finish, the lick/smack/sigh is replaced by lick/smack/smile. Much better.
“Dad, can I ask you something?”
“Sure,” I tell him.
“Are we making a memory?”
I bite down on my red popsicle and think. “I reckon so,” I tell him.
The smile is bigger now. It’s the sort of smile you get after you’ve been carrying a very heavy something for a long while and can finally lay it down.
He is silent again, but not because he didn’t hear me. He’s too busy to talk. He’s more concerned with doing the one thing children always excel at and adults usually fail miserably—being in the moment. His eyes are bugged and his breathing is deep, steadying himself against the picture his mind is taking.
The cool water flowing over his hot toes, the orange sun peering from the peaks of blue mountains, sounds of robinsong in the trees and frogs in the woods, the sight of his mother and sister and the gentle mist of hose water over purple and white flowers, orange popsicle leaking down his fingers, the bright sky and the warm breeze, the first star of the night and the knowing that for this one instant, the whole world is peaceful and good and right.
He is living this moment, and when he is done he will tuck it into a secret place in his heart and keep it safe. He will tend this moment and nurture it and keep it whole. Alive.
And on some cold and distant January day that promises little more than spelling tests and word problems, my son will sit in his small desk at school and pull that memory out. He will look out the window and see bright skies rather than somber heavens and green leaves rather than bare trees. He will hear robinsong and taste orange popsicle and feel cool water running over hot toes.
It will be winter then and he will be at school. He will know then that the world is not peaceful and good and right, but he will gain strength knowing it once was and thus may well be again.
All because of the memory he made with me on this summer night, here by the creek.