Our children and grandsons literally wore out their favorite plaything many times. It was inexpensive, not sold in stores, not shiny or colorful. It required no assembly, no batteries or electricity, and it produced no music or noise. For half of my life I’ve watched children enjoying this great plaything: sand.
At an ocean beach long ago, Chub and I watched people playing in sand. Babies shoveled dry sand into little buckets and dumped it on their parents. Growing children made big castles with tunnels, bridges, moats and dungeons. College students created intricate, detailed pictures and huge three-dimensional structures, hurrying to complete them before that "big one" came and washed it all back into the ocean.
When our Nancy and Walt were little tykes, we remembered the fun kids had at the beach; our children needed sand. Instead of umbrellas, our kids would have a shade tree. A worn-out tractor tire was given, to get rid of it, and it made an ideal sandbox for kids.
Driving home one spring day, I saw a 3-foot redbud sprout with a few purple buds on our fencerow. I stopped the car, found a coat hanger under the seat and slipped it over the sprout to mark a tree for Chub to move in early winter. Later, I located the coat hanger, and Chub dug and replanted the redbud just west of the tractor tire. Unloading the first sand was as much fun as playing in it.
For 40 years that redbud has shaded our children and their children. The wild tree grew fast and in strange shapes because of being climbed a lot.
Once on a hike my grandson Cole ran ahead to the little creek and yelled back, "Hey, Granny, look! Real sand!" It was a great time for four boys to learn that running water can carry tons of sand and deposit it in new places. We scooped and moved some "real" sand to the sand pile. However, real sand was dirty, and so were the four little boys. But they hunted real sand whenever we hiked along a creek. "Washed" sand shakes off clothing and easily brushes off bare feet and legs.
When the boys called, "Granny, come see our castle," I would stop whatever I was doing. Once they hooked up a hose and made a moat with water and wooden bridges. There also were dungeons and tunnels and "guests." The first guests were fishing worms. They placed the worms on the bridge and kept them facing across the bridge and into the castle until the guests finally moved in. Big green worms from tomato plants were anxious to cross the moat and hurry into the castle. Catalpa worms, colorful and harmless, were also cooperative guests. And our dog, Rosie, loved it when they almost covered her with dry sand.
One spring day the boys found toads in the dry swimming pool, but toads didn’t tolerate visiting in castles. They caught 21 toads and put them in a big tin tub, adding rocks for the toads to rest on, grass to eat and water in the bottom.
The guys wanted to take the toads home overnight, but their granny promised to feed and water them if they would put them back in the dry pool the next day. Of course I enjoyed all of this as much as the boys did.
But time marched on.
The boys are men, in jobs or schools in Missouri, Iowa, New York and Scotland.
When visiting, they hesitate and eye the gnarled redbud tree, remembering. They miss the tire and sand below.
And this granny hides a tear.