Thursday, March 26, 2009

Generational relics

My youngest daughter and I love the "I Spy" series of books by Walter Wick and Jean Marzollo. These oversized, colorful books are filled with still life photographs of everyday clutter. Each photograph spans double pages and is filled with a busy assortment of common items. At the bottom of the page is a riddle of the items we must hunt for on those pages. One such scene is open before me now and the riddle reads: "I spy a schoolhouse, three camels, a bell, a lighthouse, a swan, and a basket that fell; a paintbrush, a drum, an upside-down block, a calendar card and a grandfather clock." The double page photograph is littered with books, pencils and pens, children's blocks, photographs, an old fashioned abbacas, a bell, toy animals and much more. Our challenge, heads together, faces intent, is to carefully scrutinize the clutter and find each item named in the riddle.

This game draws up long dormant memories of my own father who, like many dads I would think, had a drawer that became a repository of the everyday pocket litter of life. Coins, wallet pictures, pens, business cards, tacks, a pocket knife, a small address book, all things he dropped without a thought into one common place, but which to a small boy, became a world of discovery to poke through.

My memories of my father have receded deep into mist now. He died when he, my mother and I were all far too young for such a loss. I remember a quiet man, gentle hearted, who was in and out of the hospital battling heart disease. He taught me to play chess, to throw a ball and best of all, to love reading.

I am middle aged now, with children of my own, some of them grown, yet one thing I recall about him was that he could distill insight from a situation or from people he met, and share it succinctly and gently when it was appropriate.

My dad would have excelled at the "I Spy" books, given that he was quietly perceptive and gleaned treasures from the ordinary in the conduct of life.

Much of my dad's belongings are locked away in a safe box now: his wallet, his World War 2 dogtags, many photographs. I now have my own drawer, my own littered collage of common goods. Amidst my collection of clutter is a picture of him kneeling beside me as a toddler, which I look at now hoping that he passed to me his gift of mining wisdom from the ordinary.