Father’s Day was this past Sunday, so if you didn’t remember, don’t worry, your dad didn’t either, and you have plenty of time to get him a gift and give it to him on a random Sunday in the future.
In 36 years of Father’s Day gifts, my dad’s favorite was the time we got him four custom pints of ice cream called “The Bo-didian.” It had all his favorite flavors (vanilla, chocolate bits, and caramel swirls), and the title was a reference to when he used to joke that he was going to start his own religion and his people would be called the “Branch Bo-didians.” I pity the people who don’t have nicknames that can be slotted into just about all history and pop culture references.
My dad’s gifts to us? Sometimes, not great. He once got me a woven green poncho because in his mind, every 14 year old girl in 1996 should be wearing woven green ponchos (You are welcome to google the year “1996” and try and find this trend. I’ll wait.). For a few years, his favorite time to shop was the day before Christmas, and his favorite place to shop was a farm store. And if he didn’t want to explain where he got a gift, he gave it a fantastical back story. I am currently in possession of two pairs of earrings, one of gold that he said were “made from metal from Mars,” which I believed for an embarrassingly long amount of time, and a pair he said were made of “Montana sapphires,” of which there is no such thing.
But one of the best gifts my dad ever gave me and my brother was The Sandpile. Located on the relatively flattest part of our yard, we were probably ages 10 and 4 when a dump truck rumbled up the hollow, across the yard, and dumped a load of sand. For kids who didn’t often visit a beach and whose yard was rocky red clay, this soft, diggable substance was a revelation. Within minutes, we were jumping in it with shovels, with plastic horses and tiny green army men, while the dog laid at edge, belly down on the cool sand.
Some of you readers will notice that I have used the word “Sandpile” and not “Sandbox.” And that is intentional, because there was no box. Kids nowadays have plastic pools of sand that come with lids so the cats don’t get in. Even back in my day, the other kids I knew had sandboxes that were made out of old railroad ties or old boards; you know, just anything to keep the sand and children contained in one space.
Oh, not the Bo Ranson children. We’d waller that mountain of mica around for months, until there wasn’t more than an inch of sand left between us and the actual yard, and what was left was ten feet across in the yard. At which point in time, my dad would call up the dump truck and bring us a fresh load of sand, right on top of whatever toys were left out, because digging for treasure is half the fun of sand, am I right?!?
I don’t actually remember the year that we stopped getting more sand, just that gradually we were in the pile less, then there was less and less sand, and then one day, it was just grass again. I can look out of my window and see the exact spot where my brother and I played for hours on end, and it’s just green grass, growing over the burial places of thousands of tiny green army men, plastic toy animals, and more Matchbox cars than Toys R Us ever had.
But I do remember talking to my dad about The Sandpile. I’m not an engineering or economic wiz by any means, but one day my high-school education reared it head when I realized we were spending money and time on sand when we could have just built a box to keep it from escaping. Perfectly reasonable, and I am still very proud for having used my Critical Thinking Skills.
And Mr. “Metal from Mars” could have easily said “Because it’s easier just to dump a bunch of sand in a spot.” Or “Because my wood-working skills aren’t quite up to building a box yet.” Or the ever-popular “What do you care? You aren’t paying for sand!” Any of that would have been an acceptable way to explain why he half-did this very basic project (side note: “half-did” is one of my favorite Appalachian phrases, and judging from the number of times she used it when I was growing up, my mom’s absolute favorite Appalachian phrase).
But Dad looked me dead in the eye and in all sincerity said, “I didn’t put a box around The Sandpile on purpose. I didn’t want you and your brother to think you have limits.”
Someday, I’m going to put The Sandpile back, when my niece and my brother’s follow-up children are old enough for digging. I’m going to stir the earth up a little bit, then Valley Stone will back that dump truck up the yard, and a mountain of sand will pile up, and I’ll let them go crazy with shovels and hope they uncover all the treasures that have been buried in that spot for years. And it will have no railroad tie borders, and when it gets low, we’ll dump some more and when everyone’s grown, it’ll be grass again. Another generation of fun, buried at the corner of the flattest part of the yard.
And my niece will grow up, knowing what I know now. That parents are allowed to half-do something because as long as the fun is there, kids don’t care about the packaging. That if you want to make a gift feel magical, a good story will work wonders. But mostly, I want her to know what my Dad always believed, in us, in his own nephews and nieces, in everyone he met that showed him they had passion for life: You have no limits, so don’t go looking for a box when you have the chance to live without one.
Also, don’t tell her, but I’m leaving her both those pairs of earrings in my estate. So if she ever asks any of you how they got metal from Mars, just make up your own story that Bo Ranson would be proud of.