Save The Children!
The child’s frenzied shriek pierced the summer afternoon dullness. It supercharged the epinephrine in my bloodstream until my legs involuntarily sprang from the kneehole of my desk, and sent me hurtling toward the children’s play area behind the house next door.
The incessant shrill, now coming from more than one child, brought me to despair. I looked for a weapon, any weapon –– a garden hoe, perhaps –– as I raced through my back porch. I anticipated a giant Baskervillian hound dragging children off to the deep woods, or that some scoundrel was parboiling neighborhood kids for an afternoon snack. Finger sandwiches.
“I love children,” I heard my mind’s villain say, “with hollandaise sauce.”
Much to my relief, and utter astonishment, I was greeted instead by a seven-foot tall green plastic monster. It had a garden hose attached somewhere near the beast’s nether regions, and a stream of cool water gushed from the replica reptile’s nostrils.
An entire whoop of neighbor children was assembled on the grassy lawn, playing in the water on the near 90-degree day. Although I didn’t appreciate their bloodcurdling cries of glee, it was glee nonetheless, and in my relief, I was tempted to join them in the cool mist. I would have, too, had not my pounding heart still lagged seconds behind my legs as I raced to the fence.
Four-year-old Sebby –– short for Sebastian –– was running back and forth through the monster’s post nasal drip, demonstrating to the other children just how it is done. I could see now that it was Sebby’s voice that had brought me running. I never realized until now that the normally quiet child had an “outside” voice that was the equivalent in tone and pitch to that of a semi truck’s airhorn, attached to a set of bagpipes.
“Nice monster,” I breathlessly said to Stevie, Sebby’s older brother. For those of you who don’t remember, Stevie will turn nine later this summer, and he is not the least bit intimidated by talking to an adult seven times his senior. On the Know-It-All spectrum, Stevie lies somewhere between Erasmus and Dick Cheney.
“That’s not a monster, Mr. Marlowe,” ebullient Stevie began. “That’s a mosasaur. Mosasaurs aren’t dinosaurs. They are from the reptile class. That makes them closely related to snakes and monitor lizards.”
“Relax, Stevie,” I wheezed, “that dinosaur isn’t real. It has a garden hose stuck in his … “
“We got it at Costco,” hollered Stevie and Sebby’s mother. In the blur of my adrenaline rush, I had failed to see the young mother lounging on the other side of the lawn. She wore a flowered one-piece bathing suit, while holding a mimosa in her left hand, and balancing a copy of Raising Good Humans between her knees. With her right hand, she involuntarily flicked through the dog-eared pages, as if muscle memory had taken over long ago.
She wore dark green sunglasses, which shielded her eyes from the redness of the alcohol and the shattered dreams of young mothers.
“It was on sale,” she said. “We only paid $69.95 for it! Can you believe it?”
I yelled back “no,” simultaneously answering both questions: could I believe that Costco stocked the gushing green gargantuan, and could I believe anybody actually paid money for it.
“Mosasaurs lived 82 to 66 million years ago,” continued Stevie. “They lived in the deep water, more than likely what we call the Atlantic Ocean, today. The largest Mosasaurus fossil is over 56 feet long . . . ”
As Stevie droned off into my stupefaction, saying something about being at the top of the food chain, and while the other kids continued their loud romp through the steady spray, I remember.
I remember my own neighborhood so many years ago.
I remember my Dad setting up sheets of clear plastic that we called visqueen in those days –– giant sheets of polyethylene he anchored on the gentle hill, smothering his precious grass. Plastic that we would slide on once the water was added from the spigot nearby. I remember the younger children, toddling though the garden sprinkler attached to the long hose coiled around the house from the front.
I remember every child who assembled at our house to escape the sweltering heat.
I remember Jackie, the fearless one, directing the end of the hose and the chilled 50-degree well-water down his pants, testing his manhood and his resolve. I remember Debbie, the singer. I remember how her long black hair clung to her bathing suit.
I remember the pattern pressed into the back of my Mother’s legs, acquired from sitting on plastic webbing laced across aluminum frames. She too had drink and magazine in hand.
She, too, wore dark green sunglasses.
I remember screaming as we splashed until dusk, or until the old well-pump overheated. I remember Dad pushing the little red reset button on its housing when it came time for bedtime showers.
And I remember old Mr. Adams watching us all by our fence, out of breath –– with garden hoe in hand.
Time can be such a monster.
John O. Marlowe is an award-winning columnist for Sagamore News Media.