Wednesday 28 Sep 2016

Wooden Bricks
AJ Robinson

My parents didn't take me to church with them right away. Back in the mid 60s, few tolerated a baby crying in church. Although, I guess to be fair, it wasn't tolerated anywhere - and still isn't.

When I was about three or four years old, my parents finally decided it was time to bring me along to church. Of course, I still wasn't going to join them for the main services. Such an idea was unheard! No, I'd go to Sunday school. When I first heard that, I wondered if it was going to be like my "regular" school, which was preschool, on Sundays. Nevertheless, they, when you're that age, and you're learning to wash your hands and stand in line, you are just so sure that you're getting educated.

We went down to the Pleasant Street Congregational Church. My mom was in a very nice dress and had a little hat on, and my dad was in his very best suit. He took me down a long, long - long - hallway; it seemed to go on forever. I began to get a little nervous; just how far away from mom and dad was I going to be?

Yet, I was a "big" boy, so I was going to be brave and not show how scared I was. Of course, at that age, what kid can do that? My dad saw at once that I was nervous. Once at the classroom, I was scared. It was big, and full of lots of noisy kids - older kids! From my point of view, I was the tiniest one there.

Again, dad came to the rescue. The room had lots of toys and activities, and off in one corner was a pile of wooden bricks. Well, I call them that because that's what they looked like to me. Actually, they were cardboard folded into the shape of building blocks. They were hollow inside - so they were very light - and they were huge. Well, that is, from my point of view.

Dad led me over to the corner, and we started building. He helped my place the blocks so that we build a little fortress in the corner, a place where I'd feel safe. The teacher came over and spoke to him, and then she helped too - while her assistant kept the other kids busy.

Eventually, the teacher sat with me in the fort, and read me a story - from the Bible, of course - and dad quietly slipped out of the room. Gradually, some of the other kids, the ones closest to my age, made their way into the fort. I started playing with them. It was much later that I finally realized dad wasn't there!

After the services, we all went to the main dining hall - where I was reunited with mom and dad - and got to have some milk and cookies. Not too many mind you, we still had Sunday dinner to eat!

The next Sunday, dad was able to drop me off at the class, and I was fine. Well, I did sometimes feel a little overwhelmed by all the kids, but the teacher was always helpful in getting me over that. Anytime I needed, I could always build my fort, and get a "private" moment away from everyone. I say "private" and not private because the wall separating me from them was all of two feet high and mere inches wide. It wasn't much of a barrier. Yet, to a scared four-year-old, it was all I needed.

In time, I no longer needed the fort. I moved on; the other kids and I would build other things with those blocks. Moreover, eventually, I would move on to the older classes - the ones that had a more focused biblical study program.

Then, just last summer, I chanced to visit my mother in her cottage on Martha's Vineyard. One day, she took me and my wife and daughter to the "Dumptique." Quite the odd name, isn't it? It is a little shop set up at the city dump. The idea is things that people didn't want any more, they could just drop off there. It's set up like a shop, but volunteers staff it, and nothing is - technically - for sale. You can take anything you want; they merely ask that you leave a donation, or donate things that you no longer want.

We milled about, browsing, sort of, and that's when I saw them - a pile of those old cardboard blocks. Just seeing the boxes took me back to that day with my dad, and it was a very happy memory.

I grabbed a couple of them, stuffed a few dollars in the donation jar and took them back to my mom's cottage. Later, when it was time to leave, I tucked them in my suitcase for the journey home.

They now sit on a shelf, along with my old Tinkertoy set, and my Viewmaster; simple mementoes of childhood, and I wouldn't sell them for anything.

Each is a symbol of a cherished memory, and how do you put a price on those?

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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