A thoughtful fellow and I were walking down a dead-end road the other day when I noticed that our ambling had become more of a stroll down memory lane than a literal walk.
I grew up in California, a place that all through its modern history has been a fading beauty to those lucky enough to have known it a generation earlier.
Certainly the Miwok people were heartsick to see what their land had become once ranchers started running cattle over that exquisite Yosemite Valley. I have a friend who remembers living in a beach neighborhood as a high-school girl in the 1940s that sounds more like a fairytale than the crowded place I knew when I was a teenager decades later. And I think everyone could have done without the goldrushers, thank you very much.
So it’s never surprising to find two guys steeping themselves in nostalgia for a California that once was, talking with regret of the open freeways that used to be able to zip a person from one postcard view to another in about an hour. These days, it takes that long just to fight your way to the next suburb over if you don’t plan it right.
At least, it wouldn’t have been surprising if I’d been talking to one of the guys I grew up with.
But my companion that morning was just 10 years old. Nevertheless, he insists that he’s nostalgic for sights that vanished long before he had eyes to see them.
That’s how he is, my younger kid. He lets himself fall into people’s stories until he’s completely wrapped in suspense or laughter or even schmaltz for glory days he’s only heard tell of.
My wife and I made our living telling people’s stories for years as newspaper reporters before we married and had children, so, naturally, both of our boys showed an early knack for good listening and spinning stories of their own. They’ve both held onto that trait, but you can tell it’s a deeper part of the little one.
Everyone likes a bedtime story. For this kid, though, it’s a rare day that he doesn’t warm up with a wake-up story. He doesn’t seem to care if he’s the storyteller or the audience, only that someone rolls out a tale.
“Did you have any dreams last night?” he’ll ask my wife or me.
If neither of us can recall what our minds spun while our bodies lay still, he’s good for a thriller or bizarre comedy from his own dreams. And once the dreams have all been told, he’ll usually steer the conversation to family history, maybe teasing out a retelling of a great-great-uncle’s hunting trip or some adventure from my college days, and then share a story of his own.
But having lived so few years — and all of those under the eyes of his mom and me — the boy is a little light on fresh material.
So for most of this week, I’ve spent a good part of every morning hearing about the dragons-and-elves video game that he’s been playing while he waits for his big brother to wake up.
Now that I think on it, his character’s quests and treacheries really aren’t that interesting. When he’s telling those stories, though, they seem like the most fascinating sagas in the world.
It’s not the fate of those dragons and elves that draw me in, it’s simply the fun of watching a little boy building up his storytelling chops as he works to wrap his listeners in some suspense or laughter of his own creation.
When he does that, he manages to make some schmaltziness of his own, too, as the kid who’s somehow nostalgic for memories he never lived quietly makes his old man realize how much he’ll miss these wake-up stories when there’s not a little one in the house to tell them one day.
Richard Espinoza is a former editor of the Johnson County Neighborhood News. You can reach him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @respinozakc.