A few years ago — 52 to be exact — a young boy spent the summer with his grandparents at their home in Upstate New York. It was a summer that firmly embedded a feeling of love in the child for … a wheelbarrow.
While spending time at his grandparents’ home, this little guy was consumed with days full of creating towns and roadways in the sandbox and having picnics in the backyard with his grandmother. Many evenings and weekends were filled with helping his grandfather with chores around the yard.
More times than not, those chores included the wheelbarrow.
Anything that needed carrying from one part of the yard to another was accomplished using the wheelbarrow. By the end of any day, it was the little boy who was being carted around the yard — something the grandfather did numerous times no matter how tired he was.
Sometimes, when it was especially hot, that wheelbarrow served as a makeshift swimming pool for the little feller. There wasn’t much room to splash around in, but as soon as his grandfather would finish filling the wheelbarrow with cool water, the grandson would hop right in and splash as best he could while his grandmother took photographs.
Several years later, the grandfather decided to put a new lawn in and his grandson wanted to help. Now about 15 years old, the teenager got to know the wheelbarrow in more of a workmanship way — spending hours hauling dirt from one place to another.
But the wheelbarrow fun wasn’t over.
Once the workday had ended, the wheelbarrow was filled with water and in hopped the boy’s younger brother for his time of splashing and photo-taking.
College and a move to another state separated the boy from his grandfather and the wheelbarrow for about 10 years. But by the hand of God, the three were reunited in Texas — the boy now married with a child of his own and quite surprised to see the old wheelbarrow still being used.
Where once it had been bright blue, it had since been painted John Deere green. And the tire seemed to go flat every once in a while. Those were the only differences, except that it looked so much smaller to the boy now. But it still got used extensively and, once reunited, the grandfather and grandson again worked together — hauling cut-up trees, piles of stone and other debris with that old wheelbarrow.
Some days, the grandfather’s dog Shep would be bathed in the wheelbarrow. It was a time that dog really enjoyed, even though his splashing space was limited. Some months later, however, that wheelbarrow would carry Shep to his final resting place.
It happened on a weekend when the grandfather and his grandson were back in the woods cutting trees. The wheelbarrow, of course, was by their side after carrying the chainsaws and other tools. Shep had been gone for a day or two, but that wasn’t unusual — he had often wandered off to explore the Hill Country’s vast countryside and always came home ready for some food and a wheelbarrow bath.
On this day, all of a sudden, the boy’s grandmother hollered that she’d seen Shep across the road near the railroad tracks, and he looked hurt.
The grandfather and his grandson grabbed the wheelbarrow and raced to the spot where Shep lay. He was alive, but only barely. While the grandfather steadied the wheelbarrow, the boy carefully lay Shep in and they took him to the car. A trip the veterinarian revealed that Shep had been bitten numerous times around the neck by rattlesnakes. He died relatively quickly and, when he was brought back home, the wheelbarrow carted him to a shady spot out back under a live oak where he was solemnly buried.
The happy times with that wheelbarrow were much more common, though. It became a source of fun for the grandson and his little girl, who enjoyed visiting her great-grandparents and getting rides and swimming in the old wheelbarrow as much as her father did.
Far too soon, fate again separated the boy from his grandparents and the wheelbarrow. And not terribly long after, the boy’s grandfather passed away.
The wheelbarrow remained hundreds of miles away in Texas with the boy’s grandmother and, after her passing a few years later, was adopted by the boy’s father who lived close by.
That’s when a moving van pulled up in front of the grandson’s home and, among such items like the grandfather’s desk, an 8-foot-long bookcase and other personal items once owned by the grandparents, was the wheelbarrow the boy — now a middle-aged man — had grown up with. It’s still green and the tire still goes flat too often.
For several weekends now, the two went to work in the grandson’s yard. They have put in a garden, hauled numerous fallen limbs and yard debris, carried countless bricks and toted a variety of tools around. There are no children to enjoy a makeshift pool or cart around the yard, but it’s still been a time of re-connection to a childhood and grandfather for the grandson.
I know because I’m that boy, and the wheelbarrow is now mine.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.