When I was about 4 years old, we moved in to an old white house with a big backyard. Well it wasn’t exactly a “big” backyard by today’s standards but to my 4 year old eyes it looked huge. What was wonderful about that back yard is that it connected to neighboring houses yards so it created a huge playground. It had a detached garage that sat along one side and it made for the perfect backstop for kicking a soccer ball or playing kickball or baseball.
Shortly after I moved in, I met a boy who was my same age that lived in the house behind me and it was beginning of a lifelong friendship. Our bond has grown over the years and I think of him more like a brother than a friend. Our early years, we spent a ton of time in that backyard and broke quite a few windows on that garage. Which eventually lead to my dad deciding that our “backstop” needed to have something other than glass in that window and installed wire mesh over the opening. Our neighborhood group of kids grew over time and our connected back yards became the hub of all our childhood friends.
Recently, I finished reading A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving at its heart it’s a book about a lifelong friendship and growing up together and then tackling challenges that adulthood brings. Irving gets right to the heart of the story of the book with his very first sentence which he comments in his notes is one of his very favorite first sentences he’s ever written:
“I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice-not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.”
And don’t worry – his mother’s death is not a spoiler; it literally says it on the back cover.
The setting takes place over several time periods from the 50’s to the late 80’s. The beginning focuses on their early childhood with description of games and conversations that the boys had from their grade school days and then expands to the Vietnam Era and ends in the books “present” day Reagan Era. Some of the conversations the boys have were spot on reminders from my childhood. The main character lives in an old house and talks of playing hide and seek in all the various hidden nooks and crannies. As they age so do their conversation and Irving does an excellent job capturing each time period.
I highly recommend this book. If you enjoyed some of his other works, like The Cider House Rules or The World According to Garp, you will definitely enjoy this one.
After I finished the book, it reminded me of a photo that my lifelong friend texted me a while ago. It had a picture of a bunch of kids playing outside, and it said something similar to “At some point, you and your friends played outside for the last time together and didn’t know it was the last time.” I thought about that a lot and wondered what that last time was. What were we playing? Why was it the last time? I’m guessing it was due to our families moving and our lives transitioning in to our tweens/teens. But I will always think fondly of that time in our big back yards, and sorry, Dad for all the broken windows.
Published by Ryan’s wife, Karen, on his behalf.