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  • Writer's pictureBrandon Spars

Byron’s Twenty-Second Birthday

Admittedly, the second child doesn’t get the same kind of intense anticipation… we’ve been through it once with his sister. Everything he does has a reference point. During delivery, we didn’t, for a second, hold off on the epidural drugs, we requested a private room, and we let the nurses take him away from us so that his mom could sleep. We were doing things based on experience, not on advice or rational thought. Whereas his sister had a book in which her first steps were logged, her first words were transcribed, the songs we thought she liked were noted, and vast amounts of biodata was scribbled in charts, Byron didn’t even have a baby book…

Oh, but we remember. I think we were trying to take more mental postcards than pictures and tell more stories about him than log data. It may have been an adjustment we consciously made after becoming a bit over obsessive with his sister’s baby book. Whereas Clara has a chart with numbers, Byron has anecdotal records stored in our heads of his physical progress…

There was a certain “in the moment” enthusiasm around Byron, often characterized by cheering. If a truck drove by, all of us would shout “truck!” whether we were in the car, on the sidewalk, or just watching television. A bingo game that featured truck cards would be suspended while everyone, including his grandparents had to shout repeatedly. Another big event was my arrival home each day. I was commuting to Santa Rosa from Richmond every day, so I would usually roll in around five or six pm. By this point, Byron had a partner in crime in the form of a German Shepherd puppy who was also very excited. There would be a rush to the front door, shouting and barking. I often relate the anecdote how the puppy lost control and skidded into a houseplant knocking it over. A rock rolled out of the dirt, and Byron picked it up and threw it through the front window. This was before I had even set foot inside.

In a way, Byron’s arrival had a greater impact than Clara’s because he was impacting three people, and not just two. With Byron’s arrival, everyone was recontextualized and re-defined. This was most noticeable in his sister, who was promoted from just being “Clara” to “Sissy.” The whole family was re-imagined through Byron’s eyes. Bath time became all about “seeing the lolok” (Balinese word for male genitalia, which was shouted with as much enthusiasm as the word “truck”), and the new high point of the week was garbage pickup at 4 am on Thursday mornings. The driver would really put on a show for Byron, slamming buckets up and down, sounding the horn, and waving as Byron and I shouted “truck” at the top of our lungs. The neighbors were less than amused.

Of course, Middle School came and went, and Byron adopted two new hobbies, baseball and fly fishing, which became central in my life, too, because of Byron. Byron was a natural at both of them. I have never seen anyone make such solid contact with the bat. His quirky nature seemed to lend itself to his becoming one of the rarest of players, a knuckleball pitcher. Some of the balls he threw to me were uncatchable. I remember trying to capture the strange sudden jigs and dives the ball would make with my camera by filming the ball as it came to me. Of course I ended up not catching the ball and getting smashed in the face with it.

I think his talents were (and still are) most noticeable with a fly rod in his hands, and I wasn’t the only one to notice. A guide based in Redding took us out so many times that we began to simply consider him our friend, Jeremy Baker. It was Jeremy who referred to Byron as “the natural.” This was in reference to his casting. The cinematography of A River Runs Through It is beautiful, but it doesn’t really match what fly casting truly is. It is timing. It is a dance with the rod and the line. It is effortless power. It is short, precise movements translating into long, billowing flight. I am silent with awe when I watch Byron cast (thanks to Jeremy and Andrew Hoodenpyle, his guides/teachers).

I think that the greatest feeling I have had as a father has been when my children have surpassed me… and this includes just about every activity I can think of. I wrote about this when I blogged about my daughter’s birthday last December. I’ll mention it again here. It felt great to hit a homerun in Little League, but it felt even better to watch Byron hit one… then another and another. It felt great to catch a fish on the Gasconade River during one of the many summers I spent there while in Middle School and High School, but I am speechless when I watch Byron make a hundred feet of line flow like the murmurations of starlings back and forth, back and forth…

His mother has been experiencing the same thing. Byron has taken up Taiko drumming, which Irma has been playing for eighteen years. I would like to think that when he and his mother are playing together, perfectly in sync, their arms flowing, their knees bent at the same angles… and their bushy hair tossing here and there… that maybe Byron and I look like that casting on a river together. Wishful thinking, of course. It took the expertise of fishing guides to teach Byron, whereas his mother is directly passing on her knowledge while modeling the grace of a dancer. I got to tag along to the North American Taiko Conference - Regional at Hilo where they did a workshop with Kenny Endo Sensei. I can only imagine that this master saw the same thing as Byron and Irma played together. I catch my breath when they play. They become two beautiful creatures, not mother and son, but more like two of the same breed of graceful animal, moving with instinct and intuition rather than muscle memory. Kenny Endo Sensei approached them after his workshop and told them they were good. He then asked if they were siblings. (His mother loved that!)

Byron is on his own path. How could the road of a knuckleballer be remotely conventional? He has put college on hold to work at a Healdsburg winery, where I imagine the machinery in the cellar there responds to his touch just like a baseball, or fly rod. Byron has become a quiet, sensitive, kind, hardworking person… and all of this seems to stem from a deep wisdom at his core. I don’t know where the wisdom came from because neither his mother nor I seem to possess any of it. For him, growth is slow and deep, like the rings of width that bolster the upward progress of a redwood tree. Change in him is almost unnoticeable, but indelible and permanent… abiding like the forest that surrounds the rivers in which he fishes… and as sure and resounding as the strike of the drum he plays.


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