every other weekend, we- my older brother and i- would go to our dad's house in gardena. this was just a few miles away from our mom's house- but in most other ways it was worlds away. my folks divorced when i was a toddler so i have no memories of family life that didn't involve separate homes, rules, adventures. while my mom did the week-in, week-out school life, time with my dad was more about doing chores outside and going on adventures.
sometimes the chores were the adventures.
i mean, we had the typical chores like taking out trash and mowing the lawn, but since we weren't there very often there wasn't a lot of our mess to deal with. my dad grew up on a farm in ohio and his work ethic is as strong as his back. i half-jokingly told my oldest son "grandpa is part beaver- he never stops working." which is mostly true. in his recent years i have seen him sit down to watch the odd episode of "matlock" but that only lasts so long before he goes off to do something- even if it's to walk the dog.
so i know why dad wanted to find things for us to do. it was, and it still is, important for him to pass along that skill. growing up in a rural area your own skills are your best resources, and my dad has got some mad skills. he can speak to motors like some speak spanish- fluently. he has fixed almost every type of motor we have around the house. i know he tried to teach this to me and my brother with limited success. my brain doesn't seem to understand motor-talk so well. although i think i'm good on computers because he bought a texas-instrument computer and had me take summer classes on programming when i was about eleven in a stale classroom on the second floor of a church compound.
he also encouraged me to write. in fact, he was the first one to pay me for my writing. since we weren't there to do the daily dishes and sweeping- on weekends he'd have me write stories to earn allowance which i did blissfully. i'd write about anything, but liked fiction best, and then watch the machine run from left to right over and over- the dot matrix printer forming my words. magic.
there's two chores though that stand out in my memory. the first- picking up the dog shit.
that's just how he'd say it too. "nancy, go pick up the dog shit." i admit, my brother got this task more than i did because...well, maybe it's a boy thing. i do remember rolling pooh onto the old rusty shovel and flinging it into the metal garbage can. the thing is that you can't not look at the crap while you scrap it off the dried californian grass. after a while you get over the shit-of-it and become almost scientific in your observations, making reports back to your dad about the contents- looks like duke has been eating tennis balls again- or the consistency of the turd. dog shit can be fascinating when that's all you got in your afternoon plans on a sleepy sunday. you see, boredom is a choice.
however, there was nothing boring about the other chore: fireman. this was in the 70s before we became "firefighters." it was a simple task: hold the hose and if the fire got too crazy squirt it out with the water.
it was the drama that made it fun.
my dad's lot was surrounded by chain link fence- still is- about eight feet tall in most sections. while one length of it has thick ivy on it- oh, memory flash of weaving the young ivy in and out of the chain link!- the others lengths were concrete to concrete and in the cracks is where the weeds grew. in theory, you could kneel there and pluck out the grass and such but it would be painstakingly slow. my dad, being an engineer, had a quicker solution: fire.
of course, you usually used a little bit of gasoline first to give it some juice. i remember the smell of it under the hot sun. no doubt, being so fair, i was squinting at the yellow-orange flames shriveling the green blades into toothpicks of ash and watching how the heat rising up from the fire made the air wavy. my tiny hand gripping the hose as a trickle of water dripped from the end.
pretty sure now and then my dad would feign concern and call over the fireman to put out the flames before they raged out of control and melted the whole fence down just to make sure i wasn't slacking on the job.
just to make sure i knew how important my work was to the whole operation.
now and then, i still need that reminder.