Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Time machine 

Hanging on a rusty nail behind the door in the garden shed is an odd shaped piece of blue plastic. Flat, and a bit smaller than your hand, it has two curved ends, one large and one small, both a bit like a flattened spoon, but asymmetrical. I wasn’t quite sure what it was at first, but according to the packaging it was a scraper – for spades, forks, boots or any garden tools that might need mud removing from them.

It would have been eighteen years ago when I opened the birthday present from my son, then seven years old, and tried to hide my slightly bemused look. He’d chosen it himself and bought it with his own money – even then he knew I prefer practical things to unnecessary extras – and was watching with an expectant smile on his face - that bright, wide-eyed look only ever seen on the faces of children - and waiting for my response.

I was, of course, suitably full of thanks – although for the life of me I couldn’t quite see why it was such an odd shape. I think I felt embarrassed for him; he’d clearly wanted so much to give me something I’d appreciate, and in my supposedly superior adult wisdom I thought could see it wasn’t going to be particularly useful. So to hide my inner confusion and show gratitude I immediately went and banged the nail into the frame of the shed and hung it up ready for use.

Funny thing was, that odd shape really did turn out to be highly practical – excellent for cleaning the underneath of the lawnmower, and the narrower end was perfect for getting into the corners of the nylon line trimmer. It was good too for spades and forks; those odd curves seemed to fit just about anywhere. So it has hung there on its nail and gets used most weekends every summer when I cut the grass.

I noticed it the other day. Not just used it, but noticed it, and as I stood there holding this little piece of odd shaped blue plastic I remembered that birthday eighteen years ago; remembered that look of pure unselfish pleasure as a seven year old experienced for himself the joy of giving; remembered those expectant eyes and my own awkwardness – it was such a simple gift, but so lovingly given – and the memory brought tears to my eyes. Bittersweet tears; a touch of mourning for lost innocence, for precious childhood years now only a memory – but more than a memory; the physical presence in my hand was a tangible link, to the me and the him from eighteen years ago, like having a time machine and going back to meet yourself. The clarity of the past view, a direct link without the fogging of the intervening years, made the contrast between than and now seem so much greater. Eighteen years; I don’t suppose I have many other presents from that long ago that are still in regular use.

An old piece of blue plastic or a shiny new motorcycle; do you know, I’d be hard pressed to say which I value more?

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