I don’t remember ever having been fascinated by war. I was never that kid with a big plastic bag full of toy soldiers, or the kid who wore camouflage pants weeks on end. I knew both those kids, and I also knew a third kid, who wore camouflage pants when he made short war movies, and taped firecrackers to his toy soldiers.
But not me.
I only had three toy soldiers, and mostly I made toiler paper parachutes for them, and threw them down the balcony. Or, to be honest, I threw them from my parents’ bed, but I always wanted to throw one down from our second-floor balcony to see how they’d fare. I knew I wasn’t supposed to throw stuff from the balcony so I didn’t. The only did I ever threw down was a brown, six-month-old Xmas tree which I didn’t want to carry down the stairs, but instead I just lifted it over the rail and let it drop onto the backyard parking area.
By then, I was already almost thirty.
But a couple of decades earlier, my main focus was hockey. I played hockey, I read hockey, and I wrote hockey. I had a little pad that used to write my long World Championship play-by-plays in which the Soviets always played against those pesky Swedes. The Soviets sent out their best players, from Kharlamov on, but the Swedish defense pushed back.
Make plays, not war, I said.
Or, with hindsight, that’s what I should have said. That would have been a good thing to say back then.
But my point is that since I’ve never been interested in wars, Son’s fascination with World War II is foreign territory for me.
Now, I actually didn’t have such tunnel vision about hockey, either, I liked to read about other things, and I played other sports, and watched the Love Boat and Mork, and Happy Days, and I listened to music, and for a brief moment, even tried to learn to play an instrument.
And it’s the latter, playing an instrument, that still sort of bothers me. Since I quit my piano lessons in my pre-teens, I have, in vain, made several attempts to learn to play something. I’ve bought numerous harmonicas because I wanted to be the guy that sits on a window sill playing the harmonica, and two guitars because I’ve thought I could be the guy who can play the guitar.
Turns out, I can be the guy who can sit on a window sill.
The other day, when I was riding the subway with Son and Daughter, and Son started to ask me questions about World War II – not because he thinks I was there but because he thinks I know everything, a bubble I’m hesitant to burst – I decided to distract him with a question of my own.
“Hey, guys, would you wanna pick up an instrument? Which one?” I said, also trying to pull Daughter into the conversation.
“Drums,” said Daughter, fully engaged in the conversation. (She always says drums).
“Naw, I don’t think I’d like to play an instrument,” said Son.
“Guitar, maybe?” I still tried.
“Don’t think so.”
“You may not think that now, but maybe when you’re thirty you’ll think it’d be nice to pick up the guitar and play a little. Don’t you want to learn to play the guitar like your grandpa? Don’t you think it’s cool when Uncle J walks around the apartment playing the tunes?” I said.
“But I don’t want to play the guitar. I want to become a professor of Soviet history,” Son said.
I may have sighed. But then I saw his happy face in front of me, so I just said:
“Well, maybe you do now, but you never know what you’ll like later. See, when I was your age, all I wanted was to play hockey, read hockey and write about hockey,” I said.
“And what is it that you do know?” Son said, and looked even happier.
“I write about hockey,” I said, after a pause.
Then we got off the train, I walked the kids to the school, and on my way back home, I bought myself a guitar, and decided to give my old one to Son. One day soon we’ll sit on a window sill somewhere and we’ll jam. And we won’t be jamming old Soviet folk songs.