Khos Don’t Camp

Khos Don't Camp

For years, whenever a three day weekend approached, friends here in the Bay Area invited us to go to one of the fabulous camping spots within a few hours’ drive of Oakland. Normally they hear our family mantra in response: “Khos Don’t Camp.” (Family Camp doesn’t count because there are beds – hard beds, but still beds – and a Mess Hall.)

We used to camp. I mean, before kids. My husband and I met in Arizona where it was an easy drive up to the Grand Canyon for the weekend between classes at our grad school. We’re sturdy hikers, and we’re good at carrying things. What eludes us is logistics: setting up the tent, figuring out what food to take, having correct change for coin operated bathroom showers. Luckily we were likethis with the president of the campus Outdoor Club, so we just asked him what to pack and where to park and how to cook, followed his directions like lemmings, and then we were fine.

But on our own, we’re easily confused. We like hotel rooms; there are no tarps or pegs involved. We’re fond of pillow top mattresses. And in a hotel, when you have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, it’s five feet across the carpet rather than 80 yards in the dark with a flashlight to an outhouse. (Yes, I know that you know that we know there are more, ahem, primitive solutions involving a tree six feet from the tent. Let’s preserve everyone’s dignity here.)

Still, a handful of times, the “Khos Don’t Camp” response was simply ignored by our more experienced camper friends and we found ourselves forced outside into the wilderness, wearing fleece and roasting weenies and taking slow hikes that we called “walks” so as not to set off an insurrection by our kids. We were let in on the big secret of group family car camping: it mostly consists of sitting in camp chairs around a fire and teasing each other, while drinking cold beer.

And we always loved it. The girls always loved it. It was cheap, wholesome, and fun.

Each time we’ve camped, in fact, we’re so inspired that we follow it up with a trip to the REI store for some new piece of camping equipment to the pile in the storage area. Then a year or three passes, and the inspirational new camping equipment gathers another thick layer of dust. “Khos Don’t Camp” just trips off the tongue more easily than “Hey, let’s book a camp site now for next July!” which is what you have to do if you want one of the California State Park sites that isn’t an additional 80 yards from the outhouse.

The latest people to ignore our creed were our friends Dawn and Patrick and their two daughters, who sherpa’d us up north of San Francisco to the Anderson Valley for Labor Day weekend last year. Hendy Woods State Park comprises two ancient redwood forests alongside the Navarro River (not named after Dave, I asked.) Dawn packed enough food to get us through to 2016, probably right after she assigned us to bring dinner fixins’ for Saturday night, and we responded by asking, “Isn’t there a restaurant in Boontville where we could get burgers?” We ended up cooking s’mores for both dinner AND breakfast. The girls jumped off a big rock into the river, and scaled felled redwood tree trunks like they were jungle gyms.

It was wonderful. It was relaxing. We wanted to go to REI again.

By now we’ve accumulated really clever 3-in-1 foldable cooking utensils and cutlery and lanterns, and even a Camping Box to store it all in. However, Hendy Woods drove home the message that our next priority purchase is an air mattress because we are old, and the one-inch thick foam camping mats that may have been fine on our 20-and 30-something year old backs on the floor of the Grand Canyon now make it feel like we’re sleeping on a bed of Legos. Every time we turned over in our sleep at the Hendy Woods campsite, it was a new adventure in agony. On the second night my husband, who rarely drinks, settled in with two entire beers and a grim determination to get buzzed enough to sleep through the night. It didn’t work, but man, was he funny at the campfire that evening.

In fact that’s probably why Dawn and Patrick invited us to come along with them again last weekend, to Big Basin State Park near Santa Cruz. We’re still sans air mattress but they assured us we had a tent cabin with actual beds. When we got there, I realized they were “beds” but still: better than a foam pad.

As usual Dawn had food enough to serve the entire campsite for a full week. Meanwhile I’d left both the Saturday night appetizers AND the Sunday lunch fixings resting peacefully at home in our refrigerator. Also, the bottle opener, and bug spray. As usual, we relied on their cook stove, their kettle, their handy-dandy s’more roasting sticks that folded in half for easy storage.

But at one point, Dawn needed a paper towel. And I had them in my Camping Box, and she didn’t.

I didn’t want to gloat, but I think we just earned our “Khos Can Camp” merit badge.

The kind of camper with which I am much more familiar.

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Concert Review: The Avett Brothers

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The Band: The Avett Brothers, July 29 2015. The Avetts are an alt-country-bluegrass band from North Carolina with a decidedly rockin’ edge, bringing punk and honky tonk to the country mix. Their eighth and most recent album, Magpie and the Dandelion, came out in 2013 and was their third produced by hip hop maverick Rick Rubin. Sibs Seth and Scott Avett, along with bandmates Bob Crawford and Joe Kwon (not to mention their sizable, string-instrument wizarding touring band) contain multitudes, music-wise.

The Venue: Constellation Brands – Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center, aka CMAC. Nestled close to Canandaigua Lake in the Finger Lakes region of Western New York, CMAC was the perfect spot to ride out sunset on a 93 degree day. There’s seating under a big metal canopy but we headed to a shady spot on the lawn with a picnic blanket and a view of the big screen that would help us see the ant-sized performers. Hint: Constellation Brands, the largest wine producer in the world which is headquartered nearby, has naming rights to the venue, so if it ain’t carried by Constellation, you’re not buying it at the concession stand.

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The Company: I’m in upstate New York on an extended visit with my folks while the kids are at camp. Having already traumatized my movie-loving mom by subjecting her to Trainwreck and Magic Mike XXL, I was looking to even the score and take Dad out for an evening. He’s an OG country music fan, so I knew he’d love the Avetts. I also knew that he would have a meticulously mapped out alternate route from his house to CMAC that would bypass traffic on a Wednesday night, because my dad is the human version of Waze. So we popped a couple of Avett Brother CDs into the car stereo and drove down through picturesque towns like West Bloomfield and Lima (that’s LIE-ma, because no town in New York named after something is pronounced like its namesake. Java Center = JAYva Center, Chili = CHAI-li, Charlotte = Char-LOTTE. But I digress.)

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Then, as we were sitting on the lawn and I was starting to be super annoyed by the people around us yelling loud greetings to their friends instead of listening to the opening act, my sister’s oldest son strolled by with a group of friends. “Daniel! DANIEL!! DAAAAAANNNNIELLL! YOO HOO! I’M UP HERE WITH GRANDPA!” I never run into relatives when I go to a show in the Bay Area. Because they’re all at CMAC.

The Crowd: Ghosts of People Past. Understand that I haven’t lived in the Rochester area for thirty years, and that when I am home I am on constant alert in case I run into someone I know. So every person who strolled past and looked to be within five years of my age, I stared at thinking, “Hey, I think that’s the kid we used to call The Big Polack! Wait – is that the girl who danced in Anything Goes with me junior year? That bald guy could be one of the Baseball Jeffs, but I doubt it.” It was a relief when it got too dark to see anyone anymore.

The Opener: First up was Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear. I love this story – they’re a mother and son folk duo from Kansas City. What young man forms a band with his mom? An awesome young man who realizes how good his mom is, that’s who. Really great set flawed only by being too short.

Next up was Shakey Graves, a blues/country rocker from Austin who wowed us with his one-man band opener, singing and playing guitar while using two different drum pedals to back himself up with percussion. He was joined onstage by two backing musicians and it got loud and hard – not quite the country music experience I’d promised Dad but I liked it and my nephew loves Shakey so that’s good enough for me. Props to Shakey for trying to pronounce Canandaigua. It ain’t easy for non-natives.

Age Humiliation Factor? Three generations of over-21 family members at a concert. That’s an Age Domination Factor, yo.

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Worth Hiring the Sitter? Y and E and S

This extended trip to Mom and Dad’s, sans kids or husband, has been unexpectedly relaxing because let’s face it, I’ve probably regressed a little. I’m almost 50, but Dad drives me around and pays for things, and Mom is doing my laundry. I’m staying in a guest room containing the pull-out couch I bought in high school, back when I convinced my parents to let me get rid of my bed so that I could set my room up as a salon (I had visions of my 17 year old friends drinking Bartles & Jaymes and discussing literature and world affairs, and my parents were too exhausted by my older brother and sister to protest.)

So it was nice to snap back to my regular life for a few hours and introduce Dad to The Avetts and their multi-talented, multi-instrumental, multi-faceted show – and to have my nephew there was the cherry on top. From “Live and Die” to “Pretty Girl from Michigan” to “Slight Figure of Speech” and “Kick Drum Heart,” the band puts on a high energy, highly engaging show, jumping deftly from country ballads to punk anthems to clap-along bluegrass. Dad was particularly impressed by violinist Tania Elizabeth, the sole estrogen rep on the stage. *power salute to lady fiddlers*

As we scooted to the parking lot before the encore (because Dad knew a way we could get out of the parking lot and over to the thruway before everyone else) we sang along to the strains of John Denver’s “Country Roads” that filtered out of CMAC behind us. And as we set off for the long drive home, I could only think of my favorite Avett Brothers lyric about family, from “Murder in the City”:

Always remember there is nothing worth sharing, like the love that lets us share our name.

Next concert on the calendar: Johnny Flynn, Rickshaw Stop, August 5

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How To Celebrate Flag Day, Through the Years

1972: In kindergarten, draw a beautiful Flag Day poster that includes not just a stick figure girl, but also a flag, and birds flying in formation to create a fourteen, as in June 14 (albeit with a backward 4.) Dictate an artist’s statement to your teacher, Miss Strite, who will write it down in perfect kindergarten-teacher-print-font. This is the same Miss Strite who taught both your older sister and brother, so that when you show up for the first day of kindergarten she will say, “I remember you, Nancy! Your sister brought you in for show and tell right after you were born!”

Wonder why your parents, brother, and sister giggle when you bring the poster home a few days later.

1976: Your mother will haul out the poster and display it because it’s the Bicentennial and everything is about America and 1776 and red white and blue that year. You spend 50% of 1976 wearing a poke bonnet. Your siblings bust a gut laughing when they see the poster again, and don’t spare your feelings, because you are now 10 and they believe you can take what they dish out. “Look what you wrote,” they say by way of explanation, after Mom pins the poster in the landing of the basement stairway, where much of the family’s fine art production is showcased.

“She’s looking at the flag because she knows it’s Flag Day and she’s pretty happy about it.”

“Not really happy, just pretty happy. A subdued kind of happy. There are other things she is happier about than Flag Day,” they continue, now on a roll in the way of older siblings that make the youngest sibling enraged. The Bicentennial ends, the poke bonnet is put in storage, but “Pretty happy about it” is now ensconced in the family lexicon, shorthand for “things are fine, but there are other things that are more fine.”

1977-1981-ish: when June 14 rolls around, seethe all day because you, my friend, are hearing your kindergarten prose repeated to you by your family from dawn to dusk, and you’re the only one who won’t think it’s funny. During this era the poster will suffer water stains and tears, but like Old Glory, it will continue to wave.

1982: There is a new framing store in the new mall and your mom will be on a tear, framing the finest selections of every child’s artwork. She must be feeling nostalgic because the older kids are off at college. For Christmas that year, your sister’s elementary school painting of horses grazing in a meadow will be framed and given to her. You, of course, get the framed Flag Day poster.

1992: By now you too have graduated college and grad school and have started your new married life. Your parents will be shipping you boxes of stuff from their house by the metric ton, relieved to make your things your problem. One of the first boxes contains the Flag Day poster. Trying to explain it to your new husband why this particular piece of art was framed and why you can’t just throw it out makes you wonder whether love really is enough to bridge your differences.

1993 – 2010ish: Like clockwork, on June 14, your phone blows up with three calls: one from your parents, one from your sister, and one from your brother. As soon as you say hello, they all recite the line they know by heart: “She’s looking at the flag because she knows it’s Flag Day and she’s pretty happy about it.” You can hear the shrug they make on the word “pretty” across the phone lines. She’s been happier about other things, but it’s June 14, Flag Day, and that is lower-case- ok with her.

2010 – 2014: Your parents and siblings are busy, they’re getting older. Sometimes they forget to make the Flag Day call, and that makes you indignant. If they don’t call you, you call them and recite the forty-year old artist statement to them, then give them a minute to laugh at you. Tradition is tradition.

2015: Invite a couple friends over for a Flag Day barbeque and center the poster on the fireplace mantle. Flag Day may not be a major holiday, but by this point you consider it your own.

And you’re pretty happy about it.

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These days the poster rests under a bed of California stars.

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Family Heirloom

My friend Maria is classy. Classy with a capital C. When, almost 25 years ago, I attended her wedding in Sweden on her mother’s family farm, which was as picturesque and Carl-Larsson-like as it sounds, one of the highlights was The Bestowing of the Family Heirlooms. Every few hours, a scrum of Swedish relatives would arrive, often singing, and present Maria and her fiancé Ted with a delicate set of china, or bundles of worn felt that would be unwrapped to reveal silver cutlery or serving dishes that had been in the family for generations.

At one point my friend Jill, who had been Maria’s college roommate, leaned over to me and said, “I don’t know about you but there is very little presenting of felt-wrapped silver in my family.” (For her part, Maria would thank her relatives profusely and graciously praise each item. Then, behind her hand, she’d say to Jill and me, “How the hell am I supposed to get all this stuff back to the states? What were we thinking, getting married in Sweden?”)

Perhaps because my grandparents were immigrants who packed light, there was no heirloom china to hand down, beyond one porcelain plate with Charles Dickens characters printed on it, and my mom is not handing that over one second before she has to. Maybe that’s why, when my siblings and I were all teenagers, we created our own family heirloom.

I don’t actually recall where the item in question originated. It just appeared one day, like magic, and with its presence a game began, a game that required us to stay in close touch. Because rather than clinging tight to this family heirloom, we like to make sure that it gets ample time with the other siblings. And the more of that time the temporary owner is unaware that the object is under their roof, the better.

Allow me to explain. Say I am in possession of the family heirloom, uncovered perhaps at the bottom of a box that was filled with Christmas gifts for my kids so I couldn’t refuse to accept it. I must then pass it off to my brother or sister and – this part is key – I must not tell them that I have done so. I must hide it in their house so efficiently and effectively that it will take them weeks if not months to come across it, even if they’re looking for it. Think: laid flat between the mattress pad and the mattress in the guest room, or rolled up and stuck inside a little-used vase in a high kitchen cupboard, or layered behind a couch cushion.

Because then when you call the heirloom’s owner, weeks after you were last with them, and say, “Did you find the heirloom yet?” he or she will go INSANE. It’s like an itch you can’t scratch when you find out the heirloom is your house somewhere, the game of hot potato that threatens your sanity. And after weeks of searching, when you DO find it, all you can think about it how to keep the game going. Airline flights have been booked for lesser reasons.

The heirloom went MIA about five years ago, around the time one of our cousins became seriously ill. He needed it more than we did, and if it did anything to cheer him during his illness, it was worth putting a temporary stop to the heirloom’s travels.

But on Monday I received a box in the mail. It was a slightly updated, slightly roomier version of the original heirloom – we’re all middle aged now, after all. It was blue instead of white. But everything else was the same.

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No one is taking credit for resurfacing this gem. But both my brother and sister should remember that I’m scheduled for a loooong visit back East this summer. And while this t-shirt will be traveling with me, it won’t be coming home in my suitcase.

Obviously.

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Our Family Album

This week one of my favorite songwriters, Teddy Thompson, released an album called “Family.” As covered in a New York Times Magazine story last weekend, the project truly is a family affair, a folk rock collaboration between Teddy, his sister Kami, various nephews, and the now-divorced matriarch and patriarch of the clan, folk legends Richard and Linda Thompson. Each family member contributed a couple of songs, and the others layered on their own musical contributions in a Round Robin recording fashion.

The Times article, and the album itself, present a fascinating glimpse into the specific family dysfunctions of the Thompsons, who as Brits tend toward the “stiff upper lip” school of repressed feelings. Why talk about it when you can just write a song, send it to your dad for his guitar input, send it to your mom for some background vocals, send it to your sister for a little musical grace, and pray that everybody understands the subtext, both positive and negative, that you’d prefer not to discuss in the open?

It’s a gorgeous album, but with lyrics like “if you’re busy living your life, then you won’t be living mine” and “I am betwixt and between, Sean Lennon you know what I mean,” it’s clear that the Thompson family is working through some shit here.

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It got me thinking about what a Family album would sound like if it came from this house, a chance to air grievances and express gratitude in four part harmony. Hey, my people are from Yorkshire. I can do repressed as well as anyone. When readers of the first draft of my memoir said they needed to read more about my feelings, I told them, “Got it. Can you please tell me what they are?”

I’m no musician or songwriter, but I can at least imagine the titles of our tracks that various people in my family would contribute, and conjure a few sample lyrics.

“Over and Over”

Mom’s telling that story of yore

She’s told so many times before

Since I got home from school today she’s retold it twice

Is she losing it? Should I be nice?

“Break Some Rules”

Yes there’s a family rule

If you cook dinner, clean-up should be done by another fool,

But when what you’re cooking is just for you

Like a smoothie for one, not two

Then rules are meant to be broken

Pancho and Lefties”

Everywhere else in the world, left handers are a minority

In this house, they’re the authority

Mom’s the only right hander here, so be kind and think

Where’d it goooooooooo? Where’d it goooooooooo?

Dish soap and toothpaste on the wrong side of the sink

“Ticket to Ride”

I don’t drink, I don’t gamble, I don’t play golf

But she’s glaring at me through the mist

All I said was I’m riding in the morning

She said “GREAT!” like she was pissed

“Achilles the Warrior”

The dog

The dog

The g-d dog is attacking a stuffed animal

You’re making me insane

I’m sorry

I love you

I love you, boy

“Recycling My Love”

The stack of unwanted paper on the counter grows

Like a tree, like my love, like the winter snows

You sigh and ask “anything more to go out to the bin?”

Nothing at all

Except that catalog I found, right before you walked back in.

“Taller”

Yes, you’re taller than me now

Yes, by an inch or three now

Yes, you can fit into my shoes now

But no, you cannot wear them.

“Home”

Where on weekends lazy parents nap,

Where on flowers the dog takes a crap,

Where girls talk nonstop ballet,

Where the meals are substantial if not gourmet

Nirvana for me at the end of my day

So what are the track listings on YOUR family album?
 

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Benign

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About six months ago my oldest daughter said, “Hey, there’s a weird bump on my arm, I should probably ask the pediatrician about it.” It didn’t hurt her, she said, but there it was, a quarter-sized firm lump, just south of her right elbow. She couldn’t remember when she first noticed it: could have been weeks, months, or years earlier. Coming from the “rub some dirt on it” school of wound care, I said something along the lines of “Ok, add it to the list of questions we’ll ask when you have your regular annual check-up in August” and forgot about it.

To spare you the suspense: it was a benign tumor, and as of last Tuesday’s surgery at Children’s Hospital in Oakland, it is no longer in her arm. But the three weeks starting at the end of August when we went from casually pointing it out to the pediatrician, who referred us to a radiologist for an ultrasound, who referred us to the Pediatric Oncology Clinic at Children’s,  who referred us to another radiologist for an MRI, who referred us to a pediatric surgeon to have the bump removed and biopsied: those three weeks were surreal.

From the very beginning I believed it would turn out to be nothing, based on what the medical professionals were saying but mostly on sheer faith. As a parent, how do you go into that situation believing anything else? It is your job to know that everything will turn out fine for your child, to train formidable force of will on that thought. You can’t really entertain other possibility.

That’s what haunted me. Even as each test and exam gave us one more reassuring data point that there was nothing scary going on in her arm, I kept thinking to myself: parents of really sick kids never believed anything would happen to their children, either. At the heart of all my belief in her eventual well-being lay a dark kernel of dread. And that kernel wasn’t loosened until the tumor was gone, and she was back home lying on her bed eating Trader Joe’s Parmesan Crisps, watching Parks and Rec on her laptop while floating along on a cloud of Tylenol with codeine. The dread didn’t disappear for good until I got the call two days ago from the oncologist who said the biopsy showed it was benign. Benign: the most beautiful word in the English language.

I was exhausted throughout those weeks, not physically, even though it was hard to sleep. It was the mental exhaustion of wondering (how long will it take for the doctor to interpret the MRI?), revisiting (why didn’t I take her in for that lump when she first told me about it?), worrying about her (this is an awful lot for her to handle, especially at the beginning of junior year), worrying about her sister (shunted to the side temporarily while we run between appointments and talk about treatments.) When I wasn’t doing those things I was praying and chanting the word in triplicate: “benign benign benign.”

I didn’t tell many people at first, because I didn’t want to have to keep repeating the story, and I didn’t know yet whether it was the bad thing or the awful thing. But at some point I knew we needed prayers for my daughter, and a lot of them.

My minister was happily flipping quesadillas on the griddle at church for Welcome Back Sunday when I took him aside and told him. He said, “Let’s turn this griddle into an altar. But don’t lay your hands on it ‘k?” and then we prayed right there. At a bat mitzvah between the MRI and the surgery, I managed, but only just, to not yell her name during the Healing Prayer because I knew she’d be embarrassed. The school counselor’s secretary offered to “take her name to the altar and talk to Jesus.” Shari offered to call me during the surgery for a good cross-country pray. Lisa asked her meditation group to devote its practice to our kid, and our Jewish friend Joe raised it up to his Evangelical Christian minister father in law. The point is, I felt like we had pantheistic coverage, though I do need to work on my contacts in the Buddhist and Islamic world.

Blogger Julie Gardner recently wrote a beautiful post about the worries we carry, called “Your Bag Won’t Always Be This Heavy, Mom.” I couldn’t even look at my bag for the past few weeks, let alone pick it up. But our friends and family were happy to shoulder it for us so we could focus on our daughters. Jill called and asked, “Do you want baked ziti or kugel for dinner on Tuesday?” Andrea met me at the house to help get our 5’9” daughter from the car into her bed to sleep off the anesthesia after the MRI, and weeded my garden while she waited. My mother in law sent a cheerful bouquet of yellow flowers, and my parents sent the kids each a $5 bill, which, nobody don’t like a $5 bill. Maria texted me our favorite prayer from our favorite wacky church lady, the 14th century Christian mystic Julian of Norwich, just after our daughter was wheeled into surgery:

All shall be well,

And all shall be well,

And all manner of thing shall be well.

In other words, “benign, benign, benign.”

My daughter’s friends were also incredibly supportive, including the one who showed up a few hours after surgery with a plate of delectable chocolate cupcakes that helped chase away any lingering anxiety. Parents of our younger daughter’s friends offered to take her for ice cream and dinner so she didn’t get lost in the shuffle. I was grateful for everyone who emailed and called and texted and said, “Don’t bother calling me back, just wanted to let you know I was thinking of you.” It truly helped.

I was awed during this time: at the courage my older daughter showed, the bottomless love for his children that renders my stoic husband so vulnerable, the resiliency my younger daughter displayed when her parents’ attentions were elsewhere for a little while.

I was reminded that no matter how scary things are, pockets of humor persist. Right before she was wheeled in for the MRI, the Radiology Department doors swung open and a male administrator flew past. “Her nail polish is metallic so it’ll mess with the MRI results,” he yelled over his shoulder, “I’m heading down to the gift shop to see if they sell nail polish remover.” After the polish was off and the MRI was underway, three nurses came out to the waiting area separately to ask where we get our nails done, because the polish was so hard to remove. So much for my idea of taking her for a manicure a few days earlier, to keep her spirits up.

When we got the final, final call on Wednesday that the tumor was benign, I finally released the breath I’ve been holding since September 5. I’m hopeful my funny bone will fully recover soon, too. I’m left now simply with the need to express thanks, to God and all the people who do His work here on earth: pediatricians, radiologists, oncologists, surgeons, nurses, child life specialists, compassionate teachers, cupcake baking friends, texters, prayers, callers and emailers.

She’s ok, so we’re ok. Thank you.

I’d keep you safe, I’d keep you dry, don’t be afraid Cecelia, I’m your satellite…listened to this song driving back and forth to the hospital and it’ll forever be associated with the memory of this month.

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A Street Named Dad

Larry Lane

Like so many fathers out there, my dad is incredibly hard to shop for on Father’s Day. He’ll smile and say “Thanks!!” for anything we give him, and if the gift were a clump of dirt wrapped in a leaf that was sealed with spit, he would proclaim it the most glorious leaf, the exact dirt clump he’d been needing, and the cleverest spit anyone had ever received.

His easygoing nature has inadvertently made gift-giving occasions harder. What can we ever give him that is fitting for a guy so affable and low maintenance? I think I finally have something: I’d like to have a street named for him.

Specifically, I am thinking of petitioning the city elders of my hometown to rename the driveway of my childhood home “Larry Lane.” So many of my childhood memories center on that expanse of asphalt, and what my dad was doing in relation to it while I was growing up, that he and the driveway are kind of inseparable in my mind.

We lived on a quiet suburban street with no sidewalks, but tons and tons of kids. We roamed in a ‘70s style pack, ranging from a little kid we nicknamed Chuck the Rock all the way up to the long-haired hippie Cline boys who were really more men than boys. And the pack almost always started its adventures off in our driveway, because it was so roomy.

The driveway, which I have expertly rendered below using all of my art skillz, looked like an afterthought by the city planners, a continuation of the road that led into it. But it dead ended into a chain link fence. Many were the times when we looked out the window over the kitchen sink to see a confused driver sheepishly and slowly backing out of our driveway, having discovered that Fernboro Road just…stopped. We called that no-man’s land of the dead-end “The Ordinary Woods.” Neither woody nor ordinary, that’s just what we called it, and everyone in the neighborhood knew its name.

Larry Lane sketch

Our house sat on one side of that elongated T-shape, and the Clines were on the other side. In between was the most glorious freeform playground known to man.

The driveway was long, flat, and smooth, which meant it was the perfect spot for shaky bike riders and roller skaters and skateboarders to practice while staying out of traffic. Long before I can remember, my dad put up a basketball hoop at one end, so the big boys and girls could shoot hoops while the rest of us rolled around on various wheel sizes. Dad would be out there mowing the lawn or trimming the shrubs while we cavorted, but in those days parents didn’t feel the need to be in on every one of their kids’ activities. We no more cared about my dad and his yard work than he did us and our eternal games of Ten Sticks, and everyone was fine with the arrangement.

There was one exception; he loved to play catch with his three kids. After dinner we all went out with mitts to the driveway while he threw to us, mixing in pop flies with regular throws. I have virtually no hand-eye coordination, but thanks to my dad and his patient throwing I at least survived my solo season in the town softball league.

In the fall, my dad would be out next to the driveway raking, and in the winter he was the man with the shovel. This was probably the time of year when he least enjoyed the copious expanse of blacktop. He wasn’t insane: he paid for a snowplow to clean the Rochester snow out the driveway, which would have been a full time job otherwise. The plow pushed all the snow from the driveway into the Ordinary Woods, creating a short steep iceberg-shaped hill that kept us entertained on our saucers and sleds for hours.

Eventually spring would arrive. Sometimes not until late May, but it would finally arrive. That’s when Dad would carefully remove the custom built wooden a-frames he’d made to protect the azaleas that flanked our front door; by all rights they probably shouldn’t have survived in Rochester, but my father babied them. Lifting those covers off was as much a sign of spring as the buds on the cherry tree.

The driveway was the spot for events that Dad and Mom hosted – garage sales and after parties (what, you people didn’t throw garage sale after parties?) graduation parties, Memorial Day volleyball games and picnics. The driveway social scene wasn’t fancy – bring your own lawn chair and BYOB – and it wasn’t pretentious. But it anchored a happy childhood.

Just like my dad.

Instead of embedding a video today I’ll encourage you to follow this link http://www.thewildernessdowntown.com/ . It’s a very cool Arcade Fire interactive video where the magic of Google customizes the video for your experience. Type in the street that you think you should be named for your dad and report back!

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