Put aside the saxophone, forget about the midterms for now; think about that essay later. It’s crisp and icy cold outside and the late day sun has softened the snow. Grab the shovels, pull out the wheel barrow (he’s using the wheel barrow?) slip into some boots and hope the gloves have dried by now. The path, the mighty path is calling its creator to the backyard. The magnificent walls swoop and turn, rise and dip, and flow gracefully from one into the other until they gently open up to the flat and icy hard-packed snow near the edge of the woods. The play equipment used to stand in that very spot, but that was another day, another era.
No one would believe it, I’m sure of that. No one could possibly imagine a tube path fashioned after a toboggan run created on this slightest of slopes. “It’s not much of a hill,” I told him, “I’m not sure you’ll be able to get enough speed to create a decent run. You need to get a lot of speed if you want to ride the walls.” But this is how it is. His dreams are big, his expectations as high as the sky. I worry, of course, about the inevitable crash when his sweet dreams run up against brutal reality. I should know better by now; he’s turning seventeen so I’ve seen it enough. I should know that he never stops dreaming, he never lets the harsh reality get in his way, and if it doesn’t quite work out (but usually it does), well, he always does just fine. He is the most easy going person I know, and everybody who knows him likes him (or they should).
“I don’t know if there’s enough snow to build something like that,” I caution. Of course, that’s all he needs to hear. Now he’s even more determined to do it. He had heard “the uncles” talk (that’s how he affectionately refers to them, my brothers) of years ago, of the legendary deep snow, of steep icy walls and hair raising rides on a saucer path down a steep embankment right in their own front yard. It sounded like a huge thrill, I’m sure, the adventure, the wild ride; but I know this young man, he was drawn to the camaraderie, the family coming together and working side-by-side, enjoying each other, and exaggerating their stories about it years later.
He piled the snow high over the stairs leading from the yard up onto the wooden deck attached to the back of the house, and he kept piling, higher still, from the deck to the top of the picnic table that he had moved over closer to the stairs. A four-foot high snow chute emerged and turned a little hill into a steep slope (I wanted to say a six-foot high snow chute, but I promised myself I wouldn’t exaggerate. To be fair, this young man requires no exaggeration). Now that takes a lot of snow, and it isn’t all right there ready to be piled up, but that is just the beginning, because the first wall took just as much snow. What could not be shoveled into place was piled into the wheel barrow and brought to where it was needed. The work was started before breakfast on some days and completed on other days with the outside lights on in the early evening. It was quite impressive, that steep ramp and wide sweeping wall, but one thing led to another and day by day additional walls were added until the path wound down the hill around the house and ended by the woods.
I watched this process for a short while, and of course I had a lot to do besides building a tube path in the back yard (did I mention that we’ve never owned a snow tube, and while this path was being constructed that detail never really surfaced until the path was complete and needed to be tested, and then, well . . . ?). As I watched out the window and saw the path take shape, I lost sight of the path and instead I noticed this young man building his dream, following his heart, and while I stood there watching I thought back over forty years, and then I knew, this was not something to miss. I had just shoveled the driveway and my neighbor’s driveway (twice each) and my back was telling me to stay inside where it was warm. I told my back that the creator of the path would soon be turning seventeen years old, and another chance like the one I could see that day out my dining room window might never come along. Looking back now on the whole experience, it’s interesting how the young man knew this before I did. He never said anything like that, but I worked by his side, hours upon hours of shoveling snow, hauling snow across the yard, packing walls until they were perfect, and I could tell. The whole time he knew what this experience meant and what it might mean to both of us some day. He never mentioned it, of course, but it was hard to miss when he wrapped his arms around me at the end of the day and remarked about what we had created together.
We did buy a tube, and when that one broke we bought another one (and that one broke as well). Right now we are waiting for the mail to bring a commercial grade snow tube. This is what this guy does to you. Of course we sent away for a commercial grade tube. I would do anything to help this young man follow his dream, and you would do the same if he were your son.
The path is complete. Well, every day some of the walls need to be built back to replace what the sun or the rain took the day before, and constant modifications are necessary to keep the tube on the path. Part of me hopes that the path is never finished because I want to keep this picture of my son for as long as I can. Did I tell you he is turning seventeen? Man oh man this is tough, where did the time go? Where will his path take him and how much longer will I be able to work with him on his path? Not much longer now, I suppose. Of course, he will never stop working on the path, his path, and all along I’ve known, as I’ve worked by his side, that his path would eventually take him to another place. I’ll be watching, though, as he rides his path and follows his dream.
I love you buddy. I am more fortunate than words can describe that you are my son. Safeguard your dreams, and remember; a great path takes hard work and constant rebuilding.
Watch that last turn, your stomach will drop and your heart will jump into your throat. There he goes, my beautiful boy. He’s turning seventeen, did I already mention that?