Tony Woodlief | Author

As the Crow Flies

I’ve been away on a top secret mission. I want to tell you more but then I would have to hunt all of you down and kill you, and I don’t need that on my conscience. I wish I had a coherent essay or thought to share, but everything floating around in my head lately falls into one of the non-Sand topics, which are:

1) Things that will anger people who can hurt my career
2) Things that will offend my relatives
3) Things I’d rather hone and sell for cash

So you get the inoffensive dregs. Don’t fret; it won’t always be this way, I think. As the Greek saying goes: “First, secure an independent income, then practice virtue.” Not that utter frankness is ever considered virtuous, of course. Much like daily exercise, it wears better as an aspiration than as a practice, and we generally despise the people who do it regularly.

I could always blog anonymously, I suppose, but website polygamy just doesn’t work for me, for the same reason that the real thing would be impossible, which is that I can barely keep up with the one I have.

Fortunately, there are the children to discuss, which is how it is in person as well, when I find myself thinking only things that nobody else in the room really wants to hear, even though they like the idea of wild thoughts, and if you think I’m talking about you then of course you are the exception, and I’m really talking about that other person who as we all know is the worst of small-thinking small talkers.

Anyway, the children. Eli came to me recently, water running off his soft hair that can’t make up its mind whether to be blonde or red. “Eli, I asked, why is your head wet?”

“I baptized him!” shouted Caleb from the bathroom. Well then. Hallelujah, I guess.

Eli has invented a word that I really like, because it relieves one of the responsibility for remembering exactly when something happened. The word is lasternight, and it means “some time other than right now.” Two recent examples:

“Lasternight, I had a dream that a boy took my sandwich.” The meaning here was literally last night; I know this because he woke me up at 3 a.m. to tell me about it.

“Lasternight we went on the volcano slide and it was scary and I don’t like the volcano.” He’s referring in this case to an incident that happened last summer. He will be telling his grandchildren about it, as they visit the grave into which I will be planted early as a result of being worn down by the mercilessly frequent recountings of the volcano slide incident. Eli, I’m sorry we went down the volcano slide. For the love of the holy mother and all the angelic host, please let it go.

Caleb continues to burnish his superhero credentials. A couple Saturdays ago we were hiking in the Shenandoahs when a black bear crashed through the brush and across our path, about forty yards away, trailed by a couple of cubs. Yes, I know black bears are more afraid of us than we are of them, it’s their home not ours, blah blah blabbity blah. But as I stood there completely helpless, all I could think was that I am never going into bear country again without a .45. Screw the park rangers, screw the federal government, and screw every tree hugging, Sierra Club membering, I-learned-about-nature-from-an-encyclopedia-during-long-asthmatic-summers-cooped-up-in-my-daddy’s-beach-house-on-Rehobeth save-the-whales granola-cruncher who takes offense at my inclination to shoot any animal that gets close enough for me to see the color of its fangs.

I looked down at Caleb and saw that he had fished a little red squirt gun from his pocket, and he was holding it with a grim look on his face. Unlike his law-abiding father, the boy was packing heat. Fortunately for the bears, they went on about their business.

Fast-forward to this weekend. We drove down to Sperryville, where you can stop at a little roadside joint for one of the most delicious grilled burgers you’ll find anywhere. The boys and I all went to the restroom, and while I was helping Eli wash his hands I could hear Caleb around the corner at the door. I knew he hadn’t washed his hands yet, so I fussed at him to come back and wash up. It was one of those extended fussings, the kind you let out when you have the time and the presence of mind to do so, about the importance of washing our hands, of always staying where I can see him, of not piddling about in the restroom but doing our business, washing up, and getting out.

When I was done, he said, “Dad, I was holding open the door for that old man with the cane.”

Yes, the old man with the walking cane and barely enough strength to work the paper towel dispenser. The one I had not given a second thought because I was so intent on policing the boys through an efficient and effective bathroom visit. So while the family all had burgers, I had an order of crow.

Which is why, to bring us back to the theme with which I started this missive, sometimes it’s better to keep your thoughts to yourself.

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