Max, the Last of His Tribe

I Was a Kid Before I Lost My Kid

I never knew I would lose my son Max when:

Perhaps the most exciting night of my childhood, Oct. 24, 1967, when the movie A Hard Day’s Night premiered on TV, we had a late-afternoon Sunbeams (kids’ Baptist group) meeting while my Dad was putting together my new swing set in the yard. The anticipation of a new swing set plus seeing that movie and going to Sunbeams was almost too much happiness to hold. And then there were cupcakes.

When my babysitter Ruby, a sweet old lady, made homemade doughnuts, just for me, every time. There were five kids in our family, and Ruby had older children, but when I was at her house I was a spoiled only child.

When I found a book in the school library called Ishi, The Last of His Tribe (by Theodora Kroeber, who I later discovered was Ursula K. LeGuin’s mother), and read and re-read it. Somehow at that moment, in fourth grade, I knew I was going to be a writer. It wasn’t a mere decision; the desire seared through my soul.

And there were simple miracles, too. That evening when my friend Jim and I were riding bikes and stopped for a moment to look at a small snake crawling in a ditch. Suddenly, a large owl swooped down, grabbed the snake, and carried it off in one fluid motion — just a few feet from us. It felt like we were let in on a secret.

Max helped give me a “second childhood.” Truth was, the second childhood was better than the first. It was so different from adult life. I loved going to the park, swinging on the swings, feeding the squirrels, running on the grass with no destination or reason, and identifying the planes leaving O’Hare airport.

Our two childhoods converged in a way — his first and mine second. There was a summer day when Max, about 12 (and me, about 46), rode scooters in the park. We wore tie-dyed T-shirts and a man walking past said, “You both look very 1960s, shirts and scooters!”

We were two kids, the same age, and it was wonderful.

I am glad I could not foretell the future, though. Sure, I will make it in the now — though a more wounded, less playful version of myself. And when I need to “run” on the playground again with Max, my memories come alive, the grass is green, and we are laughing.

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