I was rooting around in the kitchen junk drawer yesterday when I came across a small hand held squirrel call. It has a black rubber plunger on the top that is pushed down repeatedly into a small glass cylinder to make squirrel sounds. It is one of the many useless items we had to have since we moved to the lake.
Like many of these items it was purchased on a whim. Jackson and Rob had gone to a hunting shop to buy bushings for the rowboat oar locks and the squirrel call was sitting in a box next to the register. The cost was low enough and Rob, always eager to encourage new interests in his children, said yes. Who could blame him? Jackson has a remarkable ability to persuade people.
Jackson’s scheme was to charm the squirrels out of the trees and follow him around like the Pied Piper of Hamlin. At the very least he wanted to fool the squirrels so they acted confused. You might be surprised to learn that it didn’t work. The trouble with Jackson’s childhood interests was they never had a lot of staying power.
When he wanted to fish we bought poles and lures and dug up bait. Rob and Jack set out in the row boat and caught a medium sized bass on their very first trip. Rob scaled and cleaned the fish and fried it up in butter in a cast iron pan as Jack looked on in horror. By the time the dishes were done he declared he was done with fishing for good. Ten years later, after he was in college, we sold his fishing gear at a tag sale and the very next summer he decided to start fishing again, which I wrote about in the very first post of this blog called Bonding.
Living on a wooded lot produces a lot of dead branches and Jackson’s solution to this bounty was to become a whittler. Using a kitchen knife he chipped away at a variety of branches until they resembled toothpicks the Flintstones might use. So a purchase was made of a forty dollar whittling knife which contained a small pamphlet on the fine art of whittling. Instead of learning to whittle on balsa wood Jack used dead oak making the work was tough going, not to mention the basement work table awash in wood chips. The knife was lost and the interest died away until one summer in college when he picked up a branch seeing the error of his past attempts. After a bit of convincing Rob bought him a second knife and he whittled two wooden cooking spoons in the span of one day. He proudly gave them both to me as a gift which I still use. We both silently acknowledged he could cross whittling off his bucket list.
He was always on the lookout for a musical instrument to play. The only requirement was it should not take a lifetime to master. A month was about average. He tried the electronic keyboard, the ocarina, a penny whistle and the ukulele. One Christmas he wanted bagpipes. He found a children’s set in a catalogue and we ordered them. It was after all Christmas. I know he never played out an entire tune but I’m pretty sure he puffed out a few notes before they were relegated to a box in the storage locker. In all fairness he did major in music in college and whose to say the bagpipes didn’t play a small part in that decision.
We recently emptied our storage locker and got rid of any unwanted items. On the top of the list was a metal detector which I believe he purchased with his own savings since he was sure to hit the jackpot once he started finding buried treasure. The first time he ever used the metal detector was at a playground with a sandy floor. After an hour or so of searching the only metal he had detected was a discarded aluminum chewing gum wrapper.
In desperation I buried a pile of change and said pointing, “Hey, try over here.”
He pocketed his winnings and left confident that this was just the beginning. Our yard coughed up a few metal pipes, a one inch thick bolt and an old spoon which I recently gave to him as a long lost souvenir.
One summer he decided to plant a garden in our shaded yard. After careful consideration he decided to grow okra and we purchased the packet of seeds. He surveyed the premises and determined the perfect spot for his crop.
“This area gets the most sun,” he said pointing to an arid parcel of lawn next to the sandbox.
I craned my neck back and looked into the small patch of sun that was peeking through the leaves. “Yup,” I agreed, “this is about as sunny as it gets here.”
He toiled away for several days, turning the soil, adding mulch and making rows before planting the seeds and then forgetting about them. With little sun and sporadic watering the okra yield was nil. Not to be deterred by the okra experiment he stuck with the farmer theme and persuaded us place an online order for a plant called the Living Stone. The advertisement for the plant stated that this was a plant you could not kill. A few weeks later a tiny bulb-shaped succulent plant arrived in the mail peeking out from a small terra cotta pot. It resemble a rock sitting on a small circle of dirt. It sat on the top of his dresser for almost a year before it was determined that even living stones need some water
His sister peered down into the tiny pot before it landed in the kitchen garbage and said, “Only you could kill a Living Stone.” His reason for the Living Stone’s demise rested on the single fact that Living Stones were not terribly interesting plants. What he really needed was a Venus Flytrap. Rob had one as a child and he instigated the acquisition. The problem arose when it came time to feed it. As vegetarians we didn’t have any meat on hand and Jackson spent an inordinate amount of time trying to catch flys. The Fly Trap starved to death.
By the time he was eighteen he set his sights on brewing beer. This was one of the rare occasions where I was the complicit parent. I know I should have probably said no. In fact I’m pretty sure I originally did but after a lot of discourse he won me over. I even drove him two hours north to a family run beer supply business set up in a shed next to their house. We tasted their newest batches and three hundred dollars later arrived home with most of what one needed to home brew. I remember the trip fondly as a private adventure the two of us shared. He insisted on keeping the buckets of fermenting yeast in his room so he could monitor the temperature. One morning I went to wake him up and was bowled over by the stench not to mention the liquid oozing onto his hardwood floor. He reluctantly moved the buckets into the basement for the remaining weeks. In a panic on the night before he left for college, when he should have been packing, he had his parents and sister filling bottles and sealing on caps in an assembly line fashion while he directed our every move. Thanksgiving he proudly offered his beer to my mother and stepfather who thought it was delicious. Every time he left home I tried to check to see that his backpack wasn’t clinking with contraband beer bottles. In total he produced three successful batches and one that never had fizz.
I recently asked him, “What happened to your home brewing?
He shrugged. “That took a lot of time.”
During his junior year of high school we traveled to Victoria where he pleaded with us to buy him a kit containing all the parts to build a table-top trebuchet. Since we were in Canada I questioned the logistics of getting it home in one piece.
“Remember the sombrero?” I asked to anyone who was still listening.
Rob and Jack fleetingly recalled the trip home from Arizona with an enormous green and gold sombrero that had to be carried on and off two planes along with a long walking stick because neither would fit into a suitcase.
“But it’s a trebuchet,” Rob said.
“So.” I responded.
“That’s really cool,” Rob added and then paid for the contraption.
Back in New York Jackson assembled the device and flung a few items around the house until it was relegated to the top shelf of his closet.
The week after he graduated from college he rented a truck, gathered up most of his worldly possessions and moved into his own apartment. He left a few of his past hobbies behind.
During the aforementioned storage locker cleanout we packed up the trebuchet into a three foot cubed cardboard box surrounded by packing peanuts. The large box which was supposed to be a big joke by his parents arrived as a surprise at his apartment door. He seemed happy enough to once again be in possession of it and thanked us for it.
That’s the way it is with whims and hobbies. We often like things for reasons other people can’t understand. Interests wax and wane as we age and you never know when something from the past will come in handy in the future, squirrel call included.