Last week I catalogued a few of my favorite (summertime) things—fresh peaches, corn on the cob, the sound of a baseball meeting a bat), and so forth. This week I’d like to visit ever-so-briefly the topic of things I miss, things that have faded from my personal field of vision either because they no longer exist, having been supplanted by updates of one sort or another, or because I’ve aged and they belonged necessarily to a younger Tim Swensen.
I do not stay up nights grieving over these things, mind you—many wonderful things have taken their place. Moreover, I count myself fortunate to have experienced these bygone sensations, events, and practices in the first place. Still, from time to time a mild wistfulness nudges its way into my consciousness and I recall—usually fondly—things that are no more.
I miss the smell of a school building (particularly an elementary school building) in September, the aroma of freshly waxed floors and Elmer’s glue. I miss the ricocheting sounds of laughter and teacher instructions and chairs sliding underneath tables. I miss the not-quite-extinct feel and smell of books made of paper and ink and binding. I miss the feel of a properly struck kick-ball on my left foot and the slow, soft arc it made as it soared over the poor schlep playing right field.
I miss sleeping over at a friend’s house and spending hours in his bedroom poring over old Sports Illustrated magazines, marveling at the pictures—most in black-and-white—and stories of athletes like Bill Russell, Johnny Unitas, Mickey Mantle, Vince Lombardi, Jim Ryun, Muhammad Ali, Elgin Baylor, Jim Brown, and Lew Alcindor. I miss spelling tests and brown, ruled note paper. I miss walking to school in the rain. I miss trick-or-treating. I miss sledding down Kingston Hill on a pilfered lunch tray during lunch hour. I miss pick-up games of baseball in my back yard, pick-up games of basketball in Blair Claflin’s driveway, and pick-up games of football (especially in the snow) anywhere we could find a fairly level patch of earth. I miss the feel of my mother’s arms around my 8-year-old body and the sensation of my father’s stubbly cheek (mixed with the smell of cheap after shave and cheap pipe tobacco) against my 5-year-old palm. I miss eavesdropping on the soap-opera-review-dominated conversations of the two old ladies that shared a party line with us in the 1960s. I miss riding my bike on a blistering summer day to dad’s office on the Purdue campus, sliding down the fire escape of the building where it was located, and trying to wheedle a quarter out of him for a bottle of Coke or Orange Crush from the Education Building’s vending machine. I miss the excitement of devouring a two or three day old International Herald Tribune newspaper when I lived abroad as a teenager and was thirsty for news of the 1976 Presidential election and the Pirates (foiled) drive to win the East Division of the National League.
I miss my children in footed felt pajamas, reading to (or with) them as they sat on my lap, and picking them up from a crib. I miss walking hand-in-hand with them on the beach, playing outrageous games of hide-and-seek inside and outside our different homes, singing and dancing with them in our living rooms or on the driveway of the farmhouse we lived in when we first moved back to Darke County. I miss pushing them in a stroller or pulling them in a little red wagon around Pa-Pa’s car lot. Bizarre as it surely sounds, I miss changing their diapers. I miss inspecting insects and plants with the Amigos, delighting in specific ones they encountered—like “Speedy,” a beetle they spotted in our backyard and adopted several years ago. I miss their relative innocence and their depleting sense of wonder, and hope they retain some of each.
I miss the ability to run without a limp, to serve a tennis ball without a sharp pain, to toss a baseball for an hour without protesting how sore my arm is becoming, and the physical stamina I had when I was twenty. I miss (just a little) the presence of volumes of dark brown hair on top of my head even as I regret the emergence of hair in other locations. Indeed, this circumstance elicited an unintentionally comical announcement from Daniel just last week: “Dad,” he told me as he inspected my face one evening, “I think you need to shave your ears.”
I miss my father-in-law. I miss my grandparents. I miss my first-born son.
Timothy Swensen can be reached at [email protected]