A Last Game of Tag

Fall is a time for endings.

The evening is pleasant. The scorching heat of summer has passed and winter’s chill and wet has not yet arrived. The sun sets slowly across a clear sky. We’ve had a couple of weeks of such evenings.

My son and I have spent the day happily tinkering away in our little garage workshop, repairing his bike and turning perfectly good pieces of scrap wood into sawdust and odd gizmos. As we work, I see flickers of the man he will be. He works competently and with good humor, laughing off the inevitable mistakes. I am proud but pained also. For the man to come, the boy must pass and selfishly, I do not wish to lose the boy. I have already sent his sister out into the world and as proud as I am of the women she is, I miss the little girl terribly.

Electronic entertainments forgotten, the neighborhood children play the ancient game of tag in the cul-de-sac. We watch them through the open garage door. Suddenly, they all appear in our driveway and ask my son to join them. He demurs. He will be fifteen in a few days and thinks himself to old for such games. After a little pleading he relents, just to be neighborly.

I watch them play. It’s an American scene. No two of the children share the same genetic heritage. It is doubtful that their families go to the same churches or social organizations either. Yet here they play, following the unbreakable law of the American street game, “What’s your name and do you want to play?” I realize its as close to a Norman Rockwell moment that I will ever see.

My son forgets himself and actually has fun. At some point in our lives we step across some line from childhood to young-adulthood. We seldom see the line when we cross it and only decades later do we wonder when and where it was. I wonder as I watch if this is the last time he will really play tag. I’m sure he will play it in the silly adult form or to entertain young children but will he ever again play with that unconscious seriousness that children bring to the game? Am I witnessing my son stepping up to his line? Is this his last game of tag?

Finally, our lone sentinel street light flickers to life creating the universal signal that all children should scurry home. My son walks the oldest girl home. As I wait for him to return I straighten up the workshop putting things back in their place. As I do so, my hands begin to tremble and I realize that my own treacherous body will soon trap me back inside the house in front of the computer. My tools will grow dusty and lonely once again. My furlough from my personal prison is drawing to an end along with the pleasant evening.

My son returns out of the dark having completed his chivalrous mission. We roll down the garage door, turn out the lights and go inside.

The next day it rains.

Fall is a time for endings.