Mud and Sand

stafford“It was all the clods at once become
Precious…”
-William Stafford

My kids don’t know about dirt clods.

The realization hit me this weekend as I read Learning to Live in the World, a posthumous collection from the Oregonian poet William Stafford. So many of Stafford’s poems brought me back to the untamed acre at the edge of the urban growth boundary where I grew up.

Mine was a childhood of mud and tansy ragwort, of blackberries and tree sap. I remember a lot of digging as a boy, often with my hands, an upbringing that would appear feral to my own kids.

Careful not to sentimentalize, or at least not overly much, I made myself put the volume of Stafford down long enough to consider the opportunities my kids have that I didn’t.

My kids go to a great school, where they can learn coding, recreate “Gold Rush Days,” and go on field trips to museums. When I was in elementary school, student enrichment meant going to the music room once a week to sing “The Streets of Laredo.” We live ten minutes from the beach, and have weather that allows them to put on swimsuits almost all year round. Growing up in Oregon meant that when my folks said we were going to “the coast” I sensibly grabbed a sweater.

My kids know sand, but they don’t know dirt clods.

They don’t understand the unfettered joy of mud.

“The coast” is something they see in Irish movies, and rain is an anticipated event, not the moist reality of October through April.

…and maybe that’s overwhelming okay.

They are not me. Their lives are their own. Their childhood memories, so different from mine, are theirs, as mine are different from my mother’s Minnesotan youth or my dad’s childhood in Los Angeles.

It’s a reality that I’m wise to understand as a high school principal; these amazing students at my school are constructing their own high school experiences, independent of their parents’ or grandparents’ experiences. Or mine.

Every generation, every graduating class, has its own personality, its own memories, and its own impact on the world. The schools they return to visit on class reunions aren’t the same as the schools they attended, even if some of the buildings, or even teachers, haven’t changed.

704The world around us is constantly in flux, altering in little ways and large, at different rates and with differing results. I might return to a driveway where at ten I’d written my name in wet cement and find my initials still there but the house and yard around it changed past understanding.

Our memories may be able to hold a constancy, albeit romanticized, but time has no soft heart.

Still, I do.

And Stafford’s precious clods are my own, those moist, crumbling handfuls of childhood. That they do not belong to my kids sobers me, and challenges me to embrace that for them the most precious memories are their own.

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