Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Picnic Table, Throwing Knives, and Childhood

There's an old target in our yard, rain lashed over the years so that the paint is worn down to a skin-thin layer. Years of sun have burned away the colorful concentric circles around each red bullseye. 

It once was our picnic table, the one that sat on the back deck of our old house. On the rare occasions when it snowed, my brother and I would make snow angels on top of it. We could fit a couple of them on there since we were so small. Years ago it had been replaced in its capacity as a table, but frugal Dad wouldn't let it go to waste. (He's the one who saves every plastic container that comes into our home to re-purpose as a nail, battery, or drill bit holder.) He believed in upcycling way before Thornton Kay. So the old picnic table was upcycled into an archery target for my brother and me. We'd been using hay bales, which didn't offer much of a challenge, and then a block of Styrofoam which crumbled all over the yard. This was much better. Dad erected it in the yard, leaning it up against a tree with the spray-painted tabletop serving as a lovely target.

We were budding archers, destined for the Olympics, the battlefield, or Sherwood forest, depending on the day and weather. My little brother liked to practice wearing camo, whereas I preferred my Robin Hood-esque cape that flowed majestically behind me when I strode over to wrench my arrows from the bullseye (which I'll admit didn't happen too often).

It's been a long time since I'd worn that cape. My archery days are over; I've moved on to other things. My brother kept it up longer than I did. He graduated from recurve to crossbow, the kind that grown men use to shoot deer. Then that phase came to an end and he took up throwing knives. He became good with practice, but he still missed targets, and one day he threw a knife somewhere beyond the table and our family spent an hour hunting for it in the brown grass. It should have been easy to find--a foot-long throwing knife--but we never recovered it. He stopped throwing knives after that. It gets expensive if you keep losing your weapons, and I guess he lost interest. The target remains, however, something of a bulky eyesore in the middle of our front lawn. We never think about it. It is a fixture.

I did notice it this morning, though, when I ate breakfast out on our porch in the sticky, close morning air that hangs after a summer rain. I noticed the target looking solid against its tree, despite the years of wear. The storms have lashed off the paint, and the pointy ends of a hundred stainless steel knives have gouged the wood into a battle-scarred testament to a teenage boy's wild aim. Robin Hood's cloak is packed away in the attic, and the crossbow waits for deer season, but the target hasn't budged.

The hulk seemed a symbol. I was conscious that, like the knife, something had been lost and this was all we had left. An era gone, perhaps, or at least a childhood for two kids who no longer have time for such things. Maybe Dad will find a way to reuse the old table. Maybe it will roast marshmallows as a campfire one day.

Either way, it served its purpose. Hanging on as a reminder of the past, it brings up memories and a smile, but perhaps it's time to be rid of it. Perhaps it's time to haul the old thing away, with thanks for the joy it brought us. The past and the present shouldn't coexist; where they do there is stagnation. The picnic table becomes an archery target, the target becomes firewood. And we put those things behind us. Some knives can never be found.

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