My oldest and her two kids had already gone on to other holiday adventures. My youngest had squirreled herself away upstairs. Husband had stretched out onto the couch. Leftovers had been put away and the dishes were drying in the rack. I put on a jacket and stepped out onto the porch.
It was a cold day, almost bitter. Snow was still lying on the ground from Wednesday’s showers, and the porch still wet from what had melted there. I heard squealing in the bottom below the hill upon which we live. Through the now-barren trees, I could see the flurry of children playing in the remaining snow. They were on the ground, then they were up and running, laughing, and enjoying their time outdoors, seemingly oblivious to the chill in the air.
One of them stooped to pick up a fallen tree branch. It was just a stick. Fairly long but not too thick. He played with it for a minute and then tossed it aside. Immediately I was thrown back to the many sticks and branches in my childhood that were not so carelessly tossed aside after only a minute of use. In his place, I could’ve played with a stick all day.
A stick has all sorts of imaginative properties. They are fishing poles, guns, hockey sticks, golf clubs, baseball bats, swords, daggers, pole vaults, bows and arrows, magic wands, and many, many more things depending on the kid who has the imagination to accompany them.
It helps if your family is poor and you don’t have all the latest gadgets and toys to distract from genuine playtime. It also helps if your cousins are boys and they are your only playmates who prefer, like you, to be outdoors regardless of weather conditions.
As I was watching the kid who had tossed aside that magnificent stick, I wondered if he would have as much fun with his toys inside as I, at his age, had enjoyed with a stick outside. I remembered sharing his agility, his ability to run, his carefree-ness that kept him from getting cold on days like this one. I pictured myself at his age jumping off the porch and bounding down the hill to chase and be chased, to play with that stick, and enjoy being outside. I wondered briefly if I still could, and the image of me doing so now, all grown up, flashed through my head.
Then I remembered that I now need to hold the railing when I descend those steps. I’ve already fallen a couple of times in the last few years, and on one of those occasions I really thought I’d broken a hip. The memory of it caused me to wince with the pain as if the injury was fresh.
I zipped my jacket up closer to my chin against the wind that threatened to give my elderly body pneumonia. I shrugged off a chill, and then sighed with the acceptance that I’m now too old to play in the snow and exercise the childhood magic that turns ordinary sticks into any object I want them to be at any given time.
The rocker in the living room invited me warmly from the cold outdoors, and I always take comfort in its embrace.