Of all my sons, Elisha with the dark brown eyes is, without a doubt, our strangest of ducks. From an early age, his actions confirmed our suspicions that the boy has talent for the peculiar.
At three, his mother caught him sitting on the floor near her bed, occupying himself among a pile of scattered pearls. He had found the tempting costume jewelry laying on a dresser in her room, and naturally took to disassembling the entire string. She, herself busy with loads of waiting laundry, interrupted his game fast by a curt order to stop destroying things. Hauling her basket of dirty clothes out of the bedroom, she left him sitting there.
Later, she found him still unmoved, but snapping the last one of the scores of plastic pearls back in place. This child, showing a sort of patience we had never seen registered by his older brother, then and there made a favorable impression on us both.
The combination of the crab apple tree out back and its rope swing, the large yard with its low tool shed and flat roof to climb and jump off, and the fort on stilts where spies gathered and plotted horrendous things all appealed to kids from our neighborhood, so loud noise became the backyard rule. Most often, Eli would be found sitting alone under a row of bushes, quietly following ants.
Any bug and all small creatures fascinated my son. If it crawled, hopped or flew, it qualified as a friend. A boy at church intentionally broke his heart once when, after opening a fist to share the joys of a common box elder, the other child slapped it from his hand. Eli began to bawl after the manly boy stomped the insect to death.
During Thanksgiving, deacons in our church took microphones out into the audience. Handing it to a person who signaled for a chance to speak, the congregation then sat and listened as dozens of parishioners told things they were most thankful for. Eli, five at one such event, shot his small hand into the air and held it there patiently while the first volunteer droned on. One deacon smiled heartily as he hurried over to our brave son.
From the overhead speakers, his sure and small voice boomed out, with a lengthy moment of silence following the lad’s brief statement.
“I am thankful for spiders, bats and cockroaches.”
After church, we usually spent up to an hour trying to locate him. The large modern building had many deep window wells out side where amphibians lived, so there the search began. No frog or toad or salamander felt safe with Eli around.
The wife and I sat in the living room one evening, watching television while Joel and Eli played in their room. Then Eli came and stood in the doorway to give a serious report.
“Joel said pee.”
From his room Joel yelled out,
“I meant the letter P!”
Before the next commercial Joel wandered in with his facts.
“Eli said poop.”
A tiny defensive voice loudly proclaimed,
“I meant the letter Poop!”
Life will never be dull with my children around.
One hot summer afternoon, I stood outside near the back door, watering a thirsty patch of wild flowers in bloom. Eli, six, wandered over and stood next to me, watching the rainbow dancing in the spray. He stood quiet for several minutes, and we seemed to be enjoying the moment when he asked me,
“What in the hell are you doing?”
It’s a reflex of mine. I asked him,
“What did you say?”
He never skipped a beat, but his emphasis changed slightly.
“What in the hell are you doing?”
All I could think to say then was,
He interpreted my parental tone correctly, so he rephrased his inquiry differently.
“What in the heck are you doing?”
Later, Ali told me she overheard the boy schooling his elder brother on proper language usage.
“ ‘What the heck’ is a bad word.”
Eli now towers over me. The 17-year-old currently dates girls, carries a cell phone and fills the air with vibrations from a violin. He wears a bowler hat everywhere, and some nights I worry for the world .