While making space in our garage for gardening tools this month I found an old toy truck that should go straight in the trash.
Scratches and rust mar its green metal frame and its plastic windows are an opaque yellow. Its trailer hitch is missing, the plastic broken where it belongs. Through the open sunroof and missing rear window you can glimpse a layer of dirt, dog hair and cobwebs coating its interior.
While the wheels still work and the “Bass Chaser” decal across the doors is readable, no child would want this toy today.
But it was once beloved.
My now 6-foot-2-inch son received it more than 12 years ago, along with a toy trailer and bass boat, for his third birthday.
That was a memorable birthday. He had only one desire for a day devoted to him, that it be green.
When asked what he’d like for his birthday, he said, “green.” When asked what kind of cake he wanted, he said, “green.” No amount of prodding and prying yielded any other answer.
So, I made a green cake with green frosting and served it with mint chocolate chip ice cream under green streamers and balloons.
As we sat down to eat he said a simple prayer. “Thank you, God, for green.”
That thanks was echoed over and over as each gift he opened held something in his favorite hue. The best gift of all was the green truck towing a green bass boat behind it.
Over the next several years my boy, who eschewed most toys, put a lot of miles on that truck. His hand gripping the top he pushed it all over the house, yard and sandbox, with its trailer and boat firmly in tow.
And each summer the toy trio accompanied him for a week at the lake with his grandparents. Just like Grandpa launched a life-size boat, Isaac launched his toy, backing it carefully into the water until the tips of the trailer submerged and the boat could float free.
Boy and boat bounced and buoyed on the waves, with the truck and trailer safely parked on the shore. At the end of the day he’d back the trailer into the water again and secure his boat, just like he’d seen Grandpa do with the big boat. Then he’d stow the toys under an end table in the cabin.
But one night this routine missed a step after the evening boat ride. Instead of carrying his toys to the cabin, Isaac left them on the beach, a little too close to the lapping waves. The boat floated away in the night.
The next day we launched a search party but came home empty-handed. Now only the truck remains, with its broken hitch a reminder of childhood sorrow.
When I found it behind a blue sled, I brought the little truck inside to show my son.
“Do you remember this?” I asked, holding it aloft.
He looked it over and smiled; then his eyes fixed on a faraway point for a moment.
“I think I cried for two days when I lost the boat at Priest Lake.”
Isaac left, moving on with his busy, teenage life, but I put his toy on my desk. I can’t throw the truck in the trash just yet.
Underneath the cobwebs and dirt it’s filled with happy memories of the unstructured summer days my son spent playing in the sun and water while basking and bathing in the patient love of his grandparents.
Eventually, I’ll take a picture of the truck and tuck it away but I want to hold this piece of Isaac’s childhood in sight a little while longer. It reminds me to look at life with the simple joy and gratitude of a child.
Thank you, God, for grandparents and for green.