Nathan was born near Washington, D.C., two weeks prior to the 9/11 attacks. He is the first-born of my first-born. He is here with his nine-year-old brother, Josh, and their seven-year-old cousin, Reese. Following our twelve-hour drive/tour here yesterday, I was hopeful they all would sleep in a bit and give me an hour or two of extra sleep. Reese had other plans.
After waking up at six-thirty, he rouses the others from their sleep. Gramma Randa makes her famous tailored-shape pancakes for breakfast: horses for the boys and a tractor for me. Afterwards, we go out to work on the deck. While sorting through the small stack of trim pieces right beside the construction project, I am startled by a large toad that has taken to the shaded space below the boards. Nathan laughs at my response, “I bet if you were eighty years old, you’d have had a heart attack!”
A custody battle immediately ensues between Reese and Josh that is resolved quickly with a joint arrangement. They accept with appropriate enthusiasm my offer of the scrap boards and quickly set out building a toad house/fort/prison. Being much too old and mature for such nonsense, except for occasional inspections of the younger boys’ work, Nathan helps me with the deck building.
We begin with finishing the sleepers, four-by-fours laid in on the gravel to provide a floating foundation for the low platform. He comes to see, eventually, that the pattern of string stretching across from center to edge is to help keep the sleepers even. When the last one is laid in and leveled, we start the flooring.
With some effort, he lifts the treated two-by-eights and places them one at a time on the sawhorses. We chalkline for the tapered cuts. Using the worm drive saw, I rip them into tapered pieces for the fan pattern. Then, I show Nathan how to check for cup. “Cup side down,” I tell him, showing him the space that shows below the edge of the square as I hold it across the surface of the board. He figures out for himself that the narrow end goes toward the tree in the middle of the deck, wide end toward the corner.
He drills starter holes for the screws and helps pry or clamp as needed to make a straight edge on each board, then sets the next board up for sawing. Throughout the morning, Josh and Reese bring us updates on the toad. Nathan goes over, slightly disdainful but always interested. We manage to get about half of the remaining boards fastened in before the shade has shifted away from us and it is too hot to work here.
Lord willing, we will finish this part in the morning. For now, there is lemonade to drink and a toad to tend. And, after lunch, remote controlled Hummers to be raced.
It is in the careful blending of work and play that boys become healthy men. And the men who can still be boys at the right time just might become the kind of Granpa’s that boys want to visit again. Even when they’re old.