I can’t help but wonder what some of you modern guys and gals would think if I told you that back when I was a child, my favorite toy was a stick.
I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that some of you have never seen a stick. I like to imagine you turning a good old-fashioned stick over and over in your hands, looking for the on button. “How do I download my googles onto this thing?” you might cry out in frustration.
How well I recall the early mornings of youth. I could barely wait to get out of the house and into the sunshine and fresh air to start poking things with my stick. Are those wasps coming out of that hole? Is that hobo just resting? There’s only one way to find out! My stick also encouraged a lively interest in the arts, which abides in me to this day. We didn’t need your fancy twittering. Everything worth communicating could be drawn on the ground with a stick. If you can’t say it with a heart or a cat face, you’re doing something wrong. Best of all was running it down the length of a white picket fence to enjoy the melodious noise that only a stick can make. You should have seen me. I was so incredibly lovable.
My junior year in high school, all my former friends were paired up, every couple in a malt shop, mooning at each other over a single milkshake with two straws in it—or so I imagined based on my readings of the Archie comic books, which I found both blasphemous and indecent. I buried them in the backyard after I was finished with them. Was I a bored and lonely child? Quite the contrary. I had a fascinating after-school job to keep me busy, and I owed it all to my trusty stick.
It was down at the picket-fence factory that I whiled away many a golden afternoon, using my stick to test the individual pickets for consistency. The factory was also where I met my own first love, Alice Peabody.
She worked in the whitewash department. With her auburn locks, green eyes, and upturned nose lightly dusted with a fetching spray of freckles, she was the most wonderful vision I had ever seen, even in her severe whitewashing smock and hairnet. Alice P eabody was several years older than I was, and trapped in a loveless marriage. Her respected if walleyed husband, Deacon Erasmus Peabody, had recently purchased a huge life-insurance policy and a slippery marble staircase. Alice wanted me to help her murder him and make it look like an accident. I regretfully declined, and our relationship never made it past the light smooching stages.
Life sure is funny. I still get a Christmas card from her every year.
I only wish I could say that I had remained in touch as faithfully with my stick as I have with Alice Peabody.
On my twenty-first birthday, the day before I left home to learn a trade, I was walking over the old river bridge when my melancholy thoughts were disrupted by a sudden sharp pain. My stick had given me a splinter! Without so much as a thought, I hurled it into the rushing waters below. I never saw my stick again.
Looking back, that was the day I became a man. At first I was inconsolable. What was I going to roll a hoop with now? I tried other sticks, but they were no good. I am not ashamed to say I wept. But finally I realized that my stick had done me the greatest favor of my life. Old stick! I never gave you a name.
I went home that evening and used a pair of Mother’s pinking shears to snip the cascading ringlets from my long yellow hair. I set myself the task of finishing the enormous all-day sucker with its fancifully swirling hues, which I had been licking in vain for a number of years. And finish it I did—tummy-ache be damned! I took off my knee breeches and roller skates, and my hat with the propeller on top, and I never put them on again, except for formal portraits.