In my family, we called those little plastic army men “barricader guys”. Being an army man wasn’t what made a toy a “barricader guy”: being small, plastic, and having the little stand for your feet did. We also had cowboy and Indian “barricader guys.”
You might be wondering why we called them barricader guys. Well, it was because when I and my brothers would play with them, we would throw all the other toys (Noah’s ark, lincoln logs etc.) into haphazard barricades for the barricader guys to defend and attack.
In 1996, when I was 5 years old, my family went on a road trip to California. One night we stayed at a motel with a pool, but the pool was closed for the season. It was a multi-level motel; our room was up on the second story and had a metal balcony overlooking the closed pool. In the morning, while we were preparing to go, I was out on the balcony playing with a knight and a barricader guy. I don’t remember if they were fighting or not, but I do remember that, whatever they were doing, they wanted to do it on the very edge of the balcony over the pool. “I’m trying to be careful” was my motto when I was young. “What if one of them fell?” I thought.
Somehow, the barricader guy slipped and fell off the edge, plunging into the clear water of the pool far below. I remember seeing him suspended there in the translucent water. He was a cowboy, red and shiny. He had a tall hat, a long beard, and held a rifle across his legs.
I went and cried to my parents, and my dad even went and asked the motel owner to open the pool and allow us to retrieve it, but the owner, suspecting a trick, would not open the pool. We headed off down the road with me crying and the barricader guy lying in the water. Poor barricader guy. Poor parents.
Sometimes in the years after I thought of him, as I last had seen him, in the water.
In 2007, when I was 16, my family went on a road trip to Washington D.C. to attend my sister Margaret’s graduation. After she graduated, we went and camped off the coast of Virginia on Assateaugue Island. Assateaugue Island is a beautiful place, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a place to camp. Aside from the novelty for us Oregonians of a gentle-seeming ocean that softly caresses the beach, and the novelty of a sun that rises out of the ocean, Assateague has the special charm of roaming wild horses. We saw them meandering through our sandy campground, near the great water of the Atlantic ocean.
But what was most memorable for me from Assateague was what I found half buried in the sand. He had a tall hat, a long beard, and held a rifle across his legs. He was a dull, weathered red.