Not long ago, my son Nicolas and I were doing what we often do after supper, when the long days of summer afford us the opportunity, looking for old golf balls in the field below our housing tract. Twenty-five years ago, it was the Corona National Golf Course. Today it is an old field at the bottom of a 25 or 30 foot slope leading to the end of my street. There are scattered trees across the field, reminding old golfers of what used to be. There also is a wash that runs through this field, which was the ruination of the golf course to begin with. It seems that the Army Corp of Engineers had taken control of the property to the west of the golf course and began to play around with the water table with less than desirable results. Thereafter, every winter it floods.
The wash grows to almost river proportions. It closes the street that cuts through the middle of it, forcing all who live to the north of the wash to drive around to a street that has a bridge to cross over. Nowadays, the field looks no doubt, a lot like it did before man ever decided that knocking a little white ball across hundreds of yards of grass and carefully placed trees was enjoyable. Where the wash runs through this field on its way to the pacific ocean, there is a lot of overgrown vegetation that serves as forts for little boys who like to imagine, and unfortunately also serves as cover for some older boy games... like bringing girls to the little sandy beaches along its banks.
So, it is like everything else, it has its good and it has its not so good. We attempt to capture some good from this field when we can by just being a father and son. Or as Nicolas says, "Best buddies together forever eh Dad?" Two buddies on a new adventure every time we have the chance to stomp around in the dirt for a while. This all started a couple of years back when Nicolas and I drove down there one day and got out to fly a kite. Nicolas found a golf ball and quickly entered it into his inventory of "treasures". His treasures are anything he finds that isn't nailed down. A leaf. A penny. A piece of string with a couple of costume pearls on it. Well, a golf ball was a great find for him. As we played out the string of the kite, we found another and another. It wasn't long before the kite was wound up and put away and we were hunting for golf balls. I figured that someone that lived at the top of the slope was using this as a practice range. But we started to notice that we would find more golf balls on the days after someone had plowed the field. I soon realized that these were balls that had landed in the water and left for dead. After the water dried up, and mud had covered them, they were resting peacefully until someone plowed them up.
We netted about 7 or 8 per day that we were there, until recently. That is when we changed sides and started exploring the field on the west side of the road that divides the field. The homeowners at the top of the slope decided to have the slope dragged or plowed in order to get the weeds down, thereby getting a jump on the fire season here in shake and bake country. This produced a bumper crop of golf balls. Nicolas convinced me to climb the slope with him to see if we could find even more. I did so reluctantly. By the time I got to the top of the steep slope, my legs were screaming at me for all the cigarettes I had ever smoked. The muscles on the top of my thighs needed oxygen in a big way, and let me know by a pulsing pain and almost locking up.
Well, I recovered quickly enough and we set out on our golf ball hunt, on the plateau at the top of the slope. It wasn't long before Nicolas wanted to go down the slope. Which we did a lot easier than going up I can tell you. As we walked along, I spotted a nice white golf ball with a black stripe about 20 feet up the slope just sitting there waiting for Nicolas to discover. I pointed it out and he ran like the wind up the slope to retrieve it. When he did, he threw it down to me, or more aptly, rolled it down, and began to laugh hysterically at me trying to outguess the destination of the ball.
Finally, I told him that we had to get going because the sun was at the horizon, and that meant it would be dark quickly. He said "okay" and began to run down the slope with blazing speed. So fast that I was afraid he would fall and tumble all the way down. Not only did he not fall, but he provided me with an image that I'll keep forever. A picture in my mind, found in a place I would not have thought I'd find one. As he ran down the slope, he was kicking up a huge rooster tail of dust. This was backlit by an orange sun like you see on postcards. His hands flailing, his body in an almost stumble, and laughing like nobody's business. This was a picture of a little boy having fun. No need for toys or games, or videos, or anything but his own arms and legs on a piece of dirt.
Well, back to the present, while watching Nicolas running down that slope, laughing , I think about the fact that he is a boy just like any other. Exercising his option on a male ritual... to run and get dirty. Now that's real fun. He was doing both as the sun splashed the sky and the silhouette of the landscape with a dusty orange. In my mind, I have a mental photograph of that moment. The reason this is so priceless to me, is that it was one of those moments that would not have been if I had been busy doing something else. If I had been working extra hours, Saturdays or had been overly involved in my own preoccupations as I have a habit of doing if given enough rope. It would not have taken place if I had been a weekend dad trying to squeeze a week into two days. It made everything I do worthwhile.
Nicolas and I have many memories like this...just him and me doing things that guys do, just hanging out. I was so worried about not being a good father to Nick because I never played sports or any of the things most other boys' dads do. But it turned out okay because Nick and I just loved hanging out being us. Like he used to say all the time, "Best buddies together forever right dad?" Right you are Nick.