Ethan’s Gift

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Some of the stone “castles” my grand-nephew Ethan likes to be the “King” of.

There is nothing more precious than the snuggling-in and holding-on kind of hug a three-year-old will sometimes give when it comes unsought for, unrequested, just plain out of the blue.

Sure, we had been playing hard outside all afternoon together, what with racing back and forth in the bright sunshine across the brown lawn as he gleefully stepped on my poor slow shadow’s head numerous times to my once on his— a game he always delights in.

And then, I had willingly taken a seat on the too-small bench at the window of his pretend hamburger joint, a little playhouse under a backyard spruce tree. I “enjoyed” with gusto the takeout fries and burger he prepared— somehow magically transformed from the pieces of cedar mulch and the dried out pine cones he hurriedly gathered for my order.

Later he picked a fist-full of yellow miniature daffodils, and nodding Snowdrops and placed them on a crumb-covered plate on the patio table— a gift for Mummy. Next to it was a scattering of small coloured stones from the driveway— collected for Daddy.

A screeching flock of black grackles dispersed in a flapping rush at the sound of his shouts of “Go! Go! Go!”. This he accompanied with the clatter of two old dented cake tins that he banged together beneath the locust tree each time the birds returned. The bespattered backyard deck, under the tree’s budding branches, revealed their other annoying habit, and he did not want them to mess on the table where his treasures lay. Beside those lay the pile of coloured paper clips and magnets he had abandoned there earlier— all but the red ones, his favourites, which were protruding from the cracks between the deck boards under his chair, next to his yellow bulldozer.

We capped the afternoon with a game of King of the Castle played on every boulder and berm around the three acre yard with me doing all of the boosting up and him doing all of the boasting down: “I’m de King of de castle! You’re de dirty rascal!” I chose not to protest my perpetual “dirty rascal” position, even as he clung tightly to my uplifted hands while teetering four feet off the ground on slippery granite, his chubby little fingers drawn into tight little fists around my own.

Looking up into his laughing eyes, as he looked down at me from his elevated position, I said to him “You know Ethan, you are growing bigger and bigger every day. One day when you are all grown up you will be as big as this all of the time, and then you will have to look down at your old Aunt Vonnie all of the time.” Just then he let go of my fingers and bent down a little to get his arms around me. He snuggled in close and gave me a hug so tight it practically took my breath away. Or perhaps it was not really so very tight at all, but it had the same effect. I realized then, that I had just experienced one of life’s unforgettable moments and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

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