Of Blocks and Life

He stared at the blocks. Of course he didn’t know what they were, much less what they were called. To him, they were just colourful things that drew his attention, squishy and soft to touch (they were made of cloth you see) and they made tinkling sounds as he shook them (he remembered that much). And right now, all he wanted was to grab them and so with much concentrated effort, he reached out and smacked his hand on one. Then he remembered that in order to grab, he had to curl his fingers and so he did carefully, first his little thumb, then his forefinger. It fell out of his hand. His brows wrinkled in concentration. He tried again, this time closing all his fingers, digging the tiny digits into the material tight. Success! Slowly he brought it up towards himself.

He paused. He knew what he wanted but he didn’t know if he was going to be stopped. They stop him all the time, pulling things away just as he managed to bring them up to his mouth (all that effort wasted). He looked up from where he sat at the large figure sitting next to him — Milk-thing, The-One-That-Says-Mama-All-the-Time or, as he’d like to think of her most of the time, Comfort. She smelled faintly of milk but he was not going to be distracted by that. Oh no, not this time! Instead, he grinned up at her and she smiled and cooed at him in response. He had learned to do that a while ago. When he made the corners of his lips twitch up, it made Comfort happy and he liked that.

Since he hadn’t heard that stern tone of warning yet, he pulled the block to his mouth and bit down. Ah how it eased his aching gums. Still no protest from Comfort. He chewed again, grinding his gums and his two little front teeth in. Bits of drool escaped from the corner of one lip. It didn’t matter. He gurgled his pleasure.

He stared at the blocks. They sat forlornly, shoved in the far corner of his toy box. The blocks had lasted through his baby and toddler years, relatively intact, though the fabrics covering the blocks were a little worn here and there where he had chewed on them. His parents loved telling stories to everyone about how, when he was a baby, he loved to put everything he could get his hands on in his mouth. It was embarrassing.

He shook his head. 6 years old was too old to be playing with blocks. They were for babies and he was much more sophisticated now that he had grown up. He should be playing with the lego he got last Christmas, or that nerf gun his parents had given him (but cautioned that he should never actually shoot at anyone). In fact, he even got up and took two steps away. But he threw a glance over his shoulders and stared at the blocks. Even this old, he had faint memories of loving those blocks. For a moment, he had a very adult thought, wondering who decided that he was too old to be playing with them but he quickly dismissed that question. Maybe he’ll ask Mom later.

Still, those blocks sat there, calling to him. In his mind, he imagined little voices, in the sound of that tinkling rattle. “Come play with us!” He took one step, then another and finally, kneeling back down, he took out the blocks, one by one. They would make great targets for the nerf gun, he reasoned.

He stared at the blocks. His parents were selling their old house, moving into a smaller home and he had come back to help them pack and purge, especially since some of the things were actually his, left over from when he moved out. So here he was, kneeling in the dusty attic, going through box after box of old things that had been packed away, sorting through what to trash, what to give away and what to keep. It stirred up a lot of memories and it made him pensive and wistful at the same time.

Gently, he took one of the blocks out and gingerly, he gave it a shake. Still the same tinkling sound. Every child had that one toy that they didn’t outgrew until much later and for him, it was these blocks. He remembered pretending to be a circus clown, putting on a juggling show on for his parents (and failing miserably though how his parents had laughed and cheered him on). He remembered stacking them, pretending they were homes to aliens and making up nonsensical stories that he would tell his mother about. He remembered pretending they were fireballs and throwing them at enemy targets (including his mother’s vase). And he remembered a time when his imagination was wild and free.

Gathering the rest of the blocks, he rose and automatically turned to the trash pile. His parents wouldn’t have any use for these. Yet he hesitated, staring down at them. He took another step then, before his rational mind took over, he turned and dropped them into the keep pile.

He stared at the blocks. Worn and brown with age, he wondered at how his daughter still took so much glee in them. At what age do they start to disdain and discard old things? Her grandmother sat with her, stacking the blocks, which then the toddler would bat her hand at and knock them down. His daughter would then proceed to wave her hands in the air, laughing and looking up at him, so proud of her own efforts.

His mother had brought out the blocks with excitement shortly after their arrival for the visit. She had found them in a box labeled “keepsakes” and said she couldn’t wait to show her granddaughter. When his wife asked about them over dinner, his mother had delighted in telling everyone at the table stories about how much he loved his blocks. He had protested his embarrassment but secretly, he enjoyed the telling and wondered at when he could do the same to his own daughter.

He could not recall, but he’d like to think that his mother played with him the same way as she did his daughter now. His mind brought up the memory of the day when he had almost tossed the blocks away. Now he was glad he didn’t. There was something about letting his daughter interact with a piece of his own history that brought great joy. He watched as his mother lifted his daughter up once the toddler grew bored of the game, then leaned down to pick up and put away the blocks once more.

He stared at the blocks. Reaching down, he gingerly brushed one finger over the ragged material and struggled for composure. Grief nearly choked him and he swallowed several times as if he could swallow the emotion. Closing his eyes, he breathed deeply and remembered the joy the blocks brought him and his family. He remembered his mother when he was a child. He remembered his mother when he became a father.

His mother had passed away three weeks ago, and although he had been dreading it, he had finally come to start sorting through her things. She had lived a good long life but that didn’t make mourning any easier, didn’t make the heart ache any less. He missed her and he didn’t want to lose any precious memory of her. Yet, each time he recalled something, the memory would grow so bright it burned. Time, perhaps, will let him remember without the sharp pain but not right now.

Taking the blocks, he cradled them tenderly, closed his eyes and bowed his head. It wasn’t until he felt a hand on his shoulder that he looked up, eyes moist. His wife gave his shoulder a squeeze and knelt down beside him, a silent offer of support.

It took a little while longer before he found his voice.

“Life moves on.” His voice was hoarse with emotions that threatened to break.

“Yes, but we remember,” his wife offered in return gently.

“And sometimes things remember for us.” He gazed down at the blocks once more, precious treasures etched with stories.

His wife squeezed his shoulder again, stood up and gave him a small kiss on the forehead. She left the room, allowing him his moment of remembrance in solitude.

His eyes never left the blocks. Finally, after staring at them for a while longer, he lifted the blocks to his lips. “I’ll take good care of them, Mom.”

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