Archive for the ‘Childhood’ Category

Duck – Duck

One day while cruising Lake Whitehurst in my “Molly B” kit-built canvas canoe, I discovered an errant duck egg sitting in an abandoned nest on a weedy shoreline. There were perhaps six or seven broken and hatched eggshells scattered about. Later, library research revealed that a ninety-six degree incubation temperature was a great start for wannabe ducking hatchlings. Eventually a tiny duckbill poked out from the carefully manipulated and temperature-regulated heating-pad-environment egg. Two hours later a fuzzy “Duck-Duck” emerged — a bizarre chromosomal mixture of wild Mallard and white domestic genetics, no doubt the end product of confused parents. Duck-Duck immediately “imprinted” on my physical characteristics and in no time at all I was a — Mom!

“Peep, peep!”

Duck-Duck’s education included long swimming sessions paddling within Molly B’s wake. But no matter how hard I tried to ditch the duck in the months to come, no matter how fast I paddled, Duck-Duck managed to keep up.

Mom became quite fond of Duck-Duck; even our dog, Yankee, accepted this innocuous, feathered sibling as an equal at the dinner bowl. For nearly a year Duck-Duck protected our back yard from whatever encroachments and obtrusions Yankee — in her old age — neglected. Then one day I waddled Duck-Duck over to the Norfolk Botanical Gardens Petting Zoo (less than 1/2 mile away), where he was an immediate hit with the clamoring kiddies. Cleverly, and unnoticed by the petting zoo’s curators, I gently placed the too-overweight-to-fly Duck-Duck inside the duck pen and walked home. As his panicked quack attacks succumbed to distance, I knew I had moved through another important part of childhood: it was time to leave the duck behind.

That night Yankee waited patiently beside her dog bowl for her friend, but after a while she made the dog food disappear.

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Update: Five decades later when eyeballing multitudes of ducks as they swim past my dock, I often catch myself wondering about Duck-Duck. Could it be that one over there with the weird mixed coloring is a descendent of a Norfolk Botanical Gardens Petting Zoo escapee?

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The other day while sitting on the dock just after sunrise, I heard and then saw a bass boat stepping down off its plane way up at the mouth of my cove. After a while the boat trolled into view around a weedy point. Sitting in the rear seat was a young girl, maybe six or seven years old. She was so small that her pink tennis shoes dangled a foot above the carpeted platform of the boat. While dad manipulated the trolling motor and cast his lure into the edges of the weeds, the little girl was carefully watching him and casting her own lure in and out of tight areas of cover.

She was quite good at it.

I remember how excited I always became when Grandpa announced he’d be taking me fishing on the following day, and I recall how those long hours leading up to a sunrise fishing trip dragged on and on forever just like Christmas Eve. As I watched the young girl casting out her spinner bait and retrieving it slowly, I felt a connection to something infinitely pure, and for the briefest glimmer of time I was allowed to experience a gift: sharing the exact same thrill the young girl had surely felt when dad plopped her down in the boat and headed out into a day that would be profoundly remembered by the grown-up girl years later when she headed out with her own child for a glorious day of fishing with mom.

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Note: because my friend, Rich knows how much I enjoy fishing, and because he remembers the Little Girl Fishing story of mine from more than a decade ago, he sent me this outstanding viral video link: Little Girl Catches Bass on a Barbie Fishing Pole is what fishing is all about.

Thank you, Rich, and thank you Grandpa.

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This is a tribute of sorts to “Uncle Ray Hall”, who wasn’t really my uncle, but a good friend of Dad, both of whom came from a tiny area in corn and oil field country, Indiana. Uncle Ray went on to become a Naval aircraft carrier aviator, while Dad became an officer in the Army, retiring as a full colonel, which, I can tell you, gave a whole new meaning to the yearly Army-Navy football games. That’s right. My sister, Pat, and I were Army Brats, but that’s not what this story is all about. Instead, this story is about how important people in one’s life have a way of slipping away from you in bits and pieces that are years until it is too late to tell them how important they really were.

Uncle Ray should have become a cartoonist — he was that good, but I can appreciate that the thrill of being a 40s, 50s, and 60s pilot who launches his aircraft into a stiff headwind off the end of a carrier was much more exciting; Uncle Ray could  have easily become an Indy race car driver, too. He loved the Indy 500. And he loved fast cars, because that’s the way most aviators are. Uncle Ray was the quintessential bachelor. I remember his fancy Alpha Romero sports cars, his sleek Jaguars, and other European screamers.

A few weeks ago I received a letter from a close friend of Uncle Ray. In it were several snapshots of my family, many of which I had never seen. The fact that Uncle Ray had held on to them all these years warmed my heart: maybe he got caught up in letting important people in his life slip away, too.

Dad. The only photograph I've ever seen of Dad being relaxed.


One of only two photographs I’ve seen of Dad being truly relaxed. Most likely snapped during a commercial by Uncle Ray while watching an ARMY-NAVY game.

Probably taken around 1965, because I recognize our Norfolk, Virginia “TV” room and the comfortable, half-eggshell padded chairs you could get lost in. This is the same room I watched every Twilight Zone, Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Avengers episode. I — like every TV-watching male teenager in the world — was in love with “Emma Peel“. Maybe it was the tight leather outfit she wore. The one with the ZIPPER running seductively down the front, the same zipper that had a KA-zillion teenage virtual fingerprints embedded all over it. Maybe.

Me, circa 1962.

Me. Circa 1962, standing beside the Greek mini-villa my family lived in during Dad’s 3 years in Athens, Greece. This was probably taken by Uncle Ray. He had a way of suddenly appearing out of nowhere: “I happened to be in the neighborhood and decided to drop by.”

I can see Uncle Ray saying to me: “A little left. A little right. Put your right hand in your pocket. The other one on your hip…”

How about those rolled up Jeans legs? Can’t remember if that was STYLE or just Mom being frugal. White socks. Black shoes. An overcoat from hell. I actually WORE that stuff??!!


A typical Thanksgiving Dinner, with Dad carving the turkey. (The SECOND only picture of Dad I’ve seen with him looking relaxed.) That goofy kid front left is me. Still had red hair, but not as red as my sister, Pat, front right. Mom is behind Pat. She is now 93 years old. To the left of Dad is Claire. Uncle Ray’s lifelong “girlfriend”. Like Emma Peel, I had a crush on Claire back then. Back then I had a crush on almost every great-looking female I met.

This Thanksgiving Day photograph intrigues me: the wine bottle label I can’t read, and the empty place setting where Uncle Ray was sitting moments before standing up and taking this picture. Thank you, Uncle Ray. I will miss you.

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I don’t remember much about my kindergarten year in Yokohama, Japan, but I do recall I enjoyed every minute of it. That’s where I played hooky for the first time (I went fishing), and that’s where I was served my first fish that still had its head on it.  Minutes before the meal, I was lead to the restaurant’s indoor trout pond and waterfall, where I was given a bamboo pole with a dough ball neatly wrapped around a tiny hook. Three seconds after dipping the line in, I yanked a pan-sized trout out of the water. Zip, zang! The trout – – MY trout – – was clipped with a double, V-shaped identifying tail-notch. Flipping and flapping, the trout was quickly carried off into the restaurant’s steamy kitchen.

Thanks, kid -- I see you!

After a while, a waiter delivered the very same fish to our dining table. He pointed at the double, V-shaped tail-notch and grinned, but I was more interested in the fish’s head end, where a single, crispy-fried eyeball stared up at me from a bed of fluffy, white rice and lettuce.

I fiddled with my chopsticks.

“What’s the matter, young man?” asked my father. “You love fish.”

“Yes, sir,” I said. “But this one’s LOOKING at me!”

Mom reached across the table and sliced off the fish’s head with a knife. She wrapped the head in her napkin and placed it beside her plate. “There,” she said. “Just like the way Grandpa cooks them.”

Wink, Wink!

I ate the fish, but had a difficult time keeping my eyes from wandering to Mom’s folded napkin. The trout’s nose was sticking out of a corner, and I knew the rest of the head was waiting for the napkin to slip just so it could sneak another peek at me.

Soon, the meal was finished, the table cleared, and Mom’s napkin forgotten. Later that night I laid awake and thought about the trout.

I think that was the first time I realized there was a difference between the fish I caught back home — the headless and anonymous kind that Grandpa cleaned when nobody was looking — and the more personal one I had yanked out of that Japanese Restaurant’s trout pond. No doubt, if I had been that fish, I, too, would want to stare at whomever was eating me.

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Whenever I was having trouble sleeping as a child, my father would sit on the edge of my bed and recite the following poem:

“I’ll tell you a story
About David Corey,
Now my story’s begun…
I’ll tell you another
About his brother
Now my story’s done.”

After Dad left the bedroom, I would usually drift off to sleep quickly, my mind anesthetized inside that soft, protective cloud of circular logic.

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Tim says: I received a request the other day to rerun this past Simply Tim. Since the event mentioned here does not represent one of my finer moments, I’ve been rather hesitant. However, through the years, I have come to greatly appreciate Dad’s parenting abilities while under fire…

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Toy Bow & Arrow

One day Dad bought me a toy bow and arrow. It was the kind that had a blue and white pinstriped bowstring and several “safety” arrows capped with pink rubber suction cups. Yeah, right. It took me all of five minutes to remove the tips and sharpen the arrows on a rough patch of concrete. For hours I played with my new toy. By the end of the day there wasn’t a target in sight that didn’t have a hole or two punched in it.

The following morning, Dad was standing on our quarter’s back door fire escape, talking to a fellow Army officer. “Hey, Dad!” I pestered, over and over again. “Lookit ME!”

Well, Dad ignored me. To this day I don’t know why, but I shot my dad in the leg with my tiny, toy bow and arrow.

Hey, Dad -- lookit ME!

Dad looked down at his leg. “Excuse me,” he said to his friend, politely, pausing in mid conversation. “I have to go discipline my son.” Then, with the toy arrow sticking out of his calf, he walked down the iron steps, grabbed me by the nape of the neck, and snapped my bow in two. “Now, Tim, pull out the arrow!

The arrow made a sickening squishing sound that I will NEVER forget.

“Now, Tim, break the arrow in half!

Needless to say my bow and arrow days were over.

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Visit any household that has kids and chances are there’s a measuring door somewhere near the kitchen. Measuring doors can be identified easily by the progression of fingerprints and pencil marks measuring the growth rate of sprouting children. For me, seeing the miniscule gradations from week to week, month to month, year to year was probably my first realization that change happens, that — despite the seeming sameness of day-to-day comings and goings — we do in fact move through time and space towards a terrible and undefined vanishing point.

UN-philosophically speaking, however, what REALLY mattered to me about my family’s measuring door was the steadily diminishing distance between my sister, Pat’s growth rate and my own. And in particular, that very special day when MY pencil mark finally nestled one-sixteenth of an inch further from the kitchen baseboard than hers did.

I knocked on Pat’s bedroom door politely because she had her mocking DO NOT DISTURB sign displayed.

“Can’t you READ? she howled. The “Rubber Soul” Beatles album played in the background, its groves worn nearly smooth from continuous use.

“Yeah. . . BUT this is really IMPORTANT!

The door flew open. “What do you WANT?

“Nah, nah-na, NAH-na!” I hooted. I’M taller than YOU are!”

“Big, deal!” She slammed the door.

So much for diminishing vanishing points.

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