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Barry Smith: Irrelativity

Barry Smith
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
Jordan Curet The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

I had a favorite stuffed animal as a kid. Spot, he was called. He was a dog.

Except that he wasn’t really a stuffed animal. Spot was a small pillowcase with a picture of a dog on it. On one side was a picture of the front of an awkwardly two-dimensional dog, and on the other side was his equally flat back. Spot had a special pillow inside him, and was sealed all around, so his fluffy guts couldn’t slip out during a fitful night of security blanket detail.

Short of writing “DOG FRONT” and “DOG BACK” on a white pillow case with a magic marker, Spot was as low budget a stuffed animal as you could get.

But when I think back on Spot, I don’t remember him as a cheap imitation. I remember love, and warmth, and security, and having a chum to fall asleep with. There is no hardship associated with Spot, yet if I saw a kid today with a Spot of his own I would probably feel a little bit sorry for him. In fact, I’d probably buy him a real stuffed animal and offer it to him in exchange for his lame Spot. Having relieved this poor child of his faux-toy, I’d take this Spot home with me, curl up on the couch and watch old Scooby Doo (pre-Scrappy) cartoons. And no, as a matter of fact, I HAVEN’T been able to find a replacement Spot on eBay. Why do you ask?

Whenever I think of my childhood revisionism around Spot, my thoughts naturally turn to The Lake.

In back of my Aunt’s house in Mississippi was a lake. Except that it wasn’t a lake. It was a ditch filled with some scummy water supporting an ecosystem of crawdads, snapping turtles and at least three different species of highly poisonous snakes. Occasionally the chemical plant across the way would decide to dump some excess toxic waste, which would flow into this ditch, and then everything would die. Eventually the water would clear up a bit and deadly things would move back in. Such is the beautiful cycle of life.

Today this would be a class action suit waiting to happen. I don’t know exactly what this “chemical company” made, but they had no qualms about dumping their mistakes out the back window and into our yard. Once, the grass around the water turned purple. No kidding. What turns grass purple? Can’t be good. Luckily for this chemical company, it was the Mississippi in the early 1970s, so whatever …

To us, though, it was just The Lake. We spent many a carefree childhood day down by the lake. “By” being the operative word. We knew, even without having to be told, not to actually go “in” this lake. But that didn’t keep us from being around it.

I was vaguely aware that other kids had lakes that they could actually swim in, or fish in, or float around on inner tubes in. I guess you just make the best of what you have, right?

Though it never really occurred to me to make the best of anything. I just loved the lake. We all did.

Uncle Satch put up a rope swing for us, tied it to the branch of the old pecan tree at the top of this ditch. No tire at the end ” just a knot. We’d swing out over the lake, hang on for dear life, and then momentum would carry us back to our starting point, safely back on shore. You would never, EVER let go of the rope and go splashing into the lake ” basic survival instinct would not allow it. It got real hot in Mississippi in the summer, but there was clearly no refreshment waiting for you in that water.

You may as well have been swinging over a crocodile pit filled with used syringes. Awesome.

The day the rope swing finally broke my cousin Donna was taking her turn on it. As the frayed rope gave way, I watched her plummet to the ground with a thud, hitting her head on the side of a log. Not good.

She was crying as I helped her up, and we hurried to the house for some adult assistance. Turns out she was OK. Kind of a miracle, actually.

I remember thinking, “Man, it’s a good thing she didn’t land in the water.”


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