“Which one?” she would ask.
“The one with the rain barrel,” I would crow back. “The forever more song.”
And she would.
“Oh say o’ playmate
Come out and play with me
And bring your dolly three
Climb up my apple tree
Look down my rain barrel
Slide down my cellar door
And we’ll be jolly friends forever more (more, more, more).”
Her eyes danced. A smile lit her face as she sang. She would grab my hands and swing them as she continued.
With anticipation I waited for the shift in the child’s song.
“Oh say o’ playmate
I cannot play with you,
My dolly has the flu,
The mumps and measles too.”
As she sang, her voice would take on an exaggerated depressed inflection. With a furrowed brow and a slight pout she would impart the bad news.
“There is no rain barrel,
There is no cellar door.”
My grin was at odds with the downtrodden words. Except, I knew what was around the corner. So I waited with a smile.
“But, we’ll be jolly friends,
Forever more (more, more, more)!”
As an adult I still find myself belting out the lyrics — when I remember them. The child’s tune always fills my heart with happiness. A lightness lingers in the memory. Childhood, with all of its questions and yearnings, was infinitely easier than being an adult.
My dad used to tussle my two brothers and me to the ground.
Brynn, Devin and I were always so certain we would be able to take him down with our combined 250 pounds.
“Are you ready?” Brynn would demand loudly.
Always the commander in charge, he would give us our orders.
“OK, Delaney, you go for the legs, Devin grab him in the middle,” Brynn would say with mounting tension. “And I am going to jump on his back!”
With squeals of delight — I mean, a war cry — we would rush our formidable father. Who, by the way, would observe our planning with a small smirk on his face. As our bodies plowed into him, he would take on a mock-scary voice. Sometimes, he would just laugh.
“Are you going to attack back?” one of us would ask in hyped-up trepidation.
The small quirk of the lips would turn into a full-blown grin.
Now it might have been our louder-than-life plans, or our spindly bodies, but we never managed to win.
Often Dad caged two of us on the ground between his arms. Whoever was odd man out would then make a valiant effort by jumping on his back.
“Unhand them!” one of us would yell as we tried to put his shoulders in a stranglehold.
If it were Brynn, then orders naturally followed, “Devin, Delaney, I have his back, get out of there!”
Let me be very clear on this: Brynn had nothing. We were still very much in danger of being tickled or worse — becoming our father’s impromptu bedding.
“I’m so tired,” he would say with a fake yawn as Minion 1 banged on his back. “I think I’m going to take a nap.”
This was appropriately met with screams of “Nooooo!” from Minion 2 and 3.
He would then lay his head on one, or both, of us. Fake snores soon followed.
Cue the children turned taut bowstrings.
Our bodies immediately went still. We had learned struggling would “wake” him up. No amount of pleading would stop the tickling.
Our sudden stillness was for naught. Grumbling in his “sleep” my dad would adjust his “pillows.”
“Why are my pillows so lumpy?” He would ask as he grabbed our sides.
Usually his adjustments were met by loud bouts of laughter. He would wake up and say, always shocked and surprised, “You’re not pillows!”
As we got older the stress was too much for my younger brother to handle.
My father would go to “sleep” and Devin would lose it.
“I’m not a pillow! I’m not a pillow,” He would shout in his prepubescent pitched voice.
As if this would help our situation at all.
It’s funny. To this day all my father has to say is, “I’m just going to check things,” and all three of us immediately go on guard.
My brothers and I are all in our 20s now with Brynn making a sprint for the uncharted land of the 30-somethings.
The three of us have not played like that together in about 15 years (OK, 15 since the tickling; five since straight tussling; and about a week since it was just us siblings). And yet, as you may well know Readers, I am instantly transported to the moment.
Or rather, moments.
My childhood was golden. How did my parents manage to hit on those notes which would resound the longest?
I’m certain they made mistakes. After all, they are only human, but what were they?
Nothing — with the exception of the times my dad tried to teach Brynn stick shift and algebra — sticks out in my mind as much as the laughter, the joy, the safety, love and concern.
These are what I carry with me in my memory — precious cargo. I don’t have a hope chest in the literal sense, but I like to believe one is stored in my heart.
It is easy as a single 20-something female to store hopes for a great love. After all, Hollywood reminds us continually our slightly less attractive Zac Efron or wildly less suave Ryan Gosling is waiting out there for us.
But, I realize I am also saving up hopes and dreams for my children. Not necessarily what I want them to be, but what I hope they will have. Namely wild tickle-fests, a cocoon of love, silly songs and the overwhelming sense of security provided by superstar parents.
I only hope I manage to stumble on those notes, new or old, which will guide my children as they carry on through life.