Fireflies darted across his face, daring him to chase them. He was content in the back of the truck; the soggy pillow below his head doubled up where he could watch the dancing cigarettes and hear the laughter and high pitched voices of the moms.
He was 8 years old. He had been to a handful of these church socials. He didn’t know why the church members gathered in a city park on Friday nights. They would all sleep in the park tonight, on cots and in the back of pick-up trucks. He knew the small frame house where he lived next to the railroad tracks was hot and that maybe that is why they gathered in the park on these nights. It was also noisy at his house as the trains roared by through the night no more than 50 yards from his open window. Late at night the hobos that walked the tracks and rode the trains would appear at one of the windows and wake him up by knocking on the wooden window sill. It always scared him, but he tried to not let on. He just told them they only had enough food and stuff for themselves, sorry. That’s what his dad said to tell them.
The vacation from the small hot house and the productive railroad tracks was what made these Friday nights so much fun. There was laughter. There were games before the picnic dinners, men playing dominoes and smoking, moms laughing and preparing food. Now the stars above him were glowing with a full brightness through the leaves of the oak trees. The leaves moved gently in the cooling breeze of the evening, a breeze that had begun to make the sweat on his face feel cool. The same breeze brought the distinctive aroma of smoke from the group of men and also seemed to heighten the sound of the ducks near the pond, their constant quacking mimicking the back and forth voices of the group of women.
He lost himself in thought about Rebecca. She was confusing to think about. Small freckles decorated her nose and cheeks, the freckles were almost the same muted red color as her hair. He liked the way her hair would fall across her face when she ran. She would have to slow down and move it behind her ears before she could continue running. Her red canvas shoes were always topped by white socks that sagged to her ankles when she played with the boys. He didn’t know why he liked to think about her but it made him feel good to remember her running and tending to her hair. He liked it when she smiled right at him and he imagined holding her hand, but he also knew he would never dare.
He was happy. No hobos and no trains, just laughter and stars and ducks on a pond. He swatted a mosquito away from his ear. He thought about Rebecca’s freckles and smiled. His eyelids grew heavy and he drifted into sleep.
Years later when he had all the things of value that life could bring him, when a generation of time had separated him from the boy and his personal wealth had grown, he would sit in his study and think about the happiness of the boy. He did it again tonight.
When we have so little, only dreams and an image of what comfort might be, why are we so happy? When poverty stricken children in third world countries chase a soccer ball across a barren field dotted with skinny cows, why does an enormous smile play across their face and why do their eyes dance with the fullness of life? Does ignorance of plenty enhance satisfaction with little? And if its true………….how do we return to the place where the leaves rustle in front of the stars and we care only about our dreams and the play that begins in the morning? Where do we find the place that we chase a soccer ball across a field of skinny cows, grinning like a child?