My two sons live in the city that loves to play tricks on its visitors. Fog pretends to be ghostly spirits that haunt the city on days one would swear its supposed to be summer, as they shiver beneath layers of clothes.
At the end of a hot dry Colorado summer, my oldest son, the son who works 60-70 hours a week trying to find a piece of the elusive American pie, called me and told me he was coming out to stay for a week. He had a purposeful quality to his voice. He was on a mission.
He decided our 2-acre property needed, must have a fire pit and he was going to come out for a week to build one.
“Really, you’re taking a whole week off to build a fire pit? Um, do you even know what you’re doing or how to build a fire pit?”
“Mother, I’ve been on the Internet for weeks. I learned how to do it and I’ll also be adding an extension to the flagstone patio to encase the fire pit in. The property needs a fire pit and I want to put my special mark on the place.”
Well alrighty then. This was my lucky day. I am a big time sucker for anything that involves being able to spend time with my children. I loved the idea of a fire pit, but what I loved even more was that I would be able to slyly give my oldest the creepy mom stare for a week! I was beside myself with joy.
This particular son is a tall, strong and lanky young man. But can we be honest here? He was never schooled in the ways of crafting things from his own hands. He works a white-collar job where it would be rare to even find a smudge of ink on his hands. I wondered if he could pull this off in a week, or pull it off at all.
He arrived late at night, escaping the fog and took in the fresh clean air of God’s country in Boulder, Colorado.
Though it was late when he got to bed, he was up early. As the sun was lazily stretching into the early morning sky, Brent was standing out in our field with his hands on his hips surveying the area he intended to build the envisioned fire pit.
He was pondering the future pit, and I had a pit in my stomach. I didn’t want him to fail. It seemed like a grand idea, but could he pull it off, did he know what he was doing, and was he setting himself up for failure? I took in a deep clean breath and let it all go. He was a man and he would figure it out.
My son worked from dawn to dusk that week. We took visits to rock quarries and sand pits and Home Depot in between. The Colorado sun warmed up to my son quickly and his face and arms were tanned to a golden brown long before the week was up.
When he began to lay out the flagstone, he hit a solid spot of frustration. It wasn’t turning out the way he wanted. It was harder than he had expected. His back was aching, his hands were full of plump pulsating blisters. He paced around the outlined area, calculating, mumbling to himself and rearranging until he got it right. It became like a jigsaw puzzle to him.
I had never seen him look happier.
At the end of the week, we had a party to celebrate the well-earned arrival of the fire pit and patio and his friends came in packs, like the Boy Scout wolves they once were as children. Some of them brought wives and some brought six packs of ice cold beer. Fire torches were burning around the edges of the patio and the fire pit lit up the night sky with proud announcement. I looked at the glows of the faces of the friends since kindergarten, and my son in the center smiling and laughing. I could swear he had grown another couple of inches that week.
And as I stood there gazing at them on that dark night with the roaring fire, sparks and embers burning and dancing with abandon, I wondered about young men and the fires that burn in their minds. And I thought about my son who had taught me that week the importance of working with one’s hands, feeling the sweat pour down your back, not because you had just finished a triathathon or ran a marathon, but because you created something from scratch with your own bare hands.
And as I stood there watching the bright bold smile on my son’s face and his tan relaxed body stretched out on one of the patio chairs surrounding the fire, his laughter filled the night sky. His friends joined in, although I could tell they were actively searching their own minds to think of things to build, create, anything to put their mark on spaces to claim as only theirs.
My son calls from time to time to see how the patio is doing. Is the clear sheet of plastic he had so carefully laid down preventing the weeds from coming up? Is the cement keeping the rocks in place? Has our new puppy dismantled his carefully crafted stone work? The answers are always the same. It’s perfect.
There’s something primal, ancient and powerful about creating something from scratch. And I wonder about all the young men who spend their days in front of computer screens, breath in stale air and find days gone by without the hint of sun or fresh air.
It was good for the man soul of my son to depart the cement jungle where his fingernails stay clean and his pants are always pressed.
Until his return in December, I walk out to the fire pit and sit and look and think of the man who was once a boy, running around our backyard, playing with sticks and stones, dirt and mud with big wide-eyed grins on his face.
I saw that boy this August summer and the heart of this mother continues to burn with joy.