By David Daniel

Lucy is in Boston for a three-day conference on commercial architecture. She grew up in the city’s suburbs, and although she has not been back in twenty-five years and no longer has family in the area, she nevertheless finds herself experiencing an unexpected sense of return. On the final day, she takes advantage of a break in the schedule to view a display of futuristic buildings made from Lego blocks by local school children. It sets her thinking about her own childhood experiments with construction toys.

While her older brother and his friends were into Erector Sets and her sister played with Lincoln Logs, Lucy favored Tinkertoys, those spindly wooden sticks and the little perforated hubs into which you inserted them. They seemed more graceful, possessed of imaginative potential that the Erector Set and Lincoln Logs lacked. The one seemed rigid and mechanical, the other limited (okay, you’ve got a nifty cabin, but where do you go from there?). With Tinkertoys, the design possibilities spoked off in all directions. Lucy would assemble something, bask briefly in her parents’ praise, then take the thing apart, gather the pieces, slide them back into their tall cylindrical box, and next time fashion something entirely different.

On her ninth birthday Lucy began a design that she did not dismantle right away. For days she labored at it. Her dad brought home more boxes of Tinkertoys. Over a course of summer months, what she was making grew in complexity and beauty—and size. Her brother and sister, indifferent at first, cheered her on. Her mom, beaming with patient approval, said that the structure was taking over Lucy’s bedroom. Maybe Lucy could move it out to the backyard?

She did, and it continued to expand. “No limits for Lucy! No limits for Lucy!” became a family chant.

The contrivance stretched to the property lines, grew so tall that Lucy worked standing on stepladders. Soon the town insisted she apply for a building permit, which her dad did. Lucy kept at it. By then the fabrication was already topping the tallest trees in the neighborhood. Someone remarked that planes flying out of Logan could see it from the air! A joke, no doubt, but the point was made. A local TV station ran a feel-good feature on the six o’clock news. Someone from the Army Corps of Engineers praised the project as showing refreshing initiative. Town selectmen discussed passing an ordinance against structures over a hundred feet tall.

But Lucy, twelve years old by then, had nothing more to prove and stopped building. She had created what her imagination had shown her was possible, and there it stood, a thing of rickety backyard wonder: monumental, majestic, grand.

In junior high school she became engrossed in the stories of ancient civilizations and the structures they left behind—great temples, stadiums, stone ziggurats in the brooding Aztec jungles. By senior year she’d been accepted at UCal, Berkeley. There, majoring in architecture, she met her future husband and upon graduation they moved to Seattle, had two children, and Lucy nursed a dream of building something worthy of history. Of course, life often demands that we scale down dreams, and if some of hers seemed out of reach then, she could take some pride in her award-winning designs of supermarkets and shopping malls. . .

Such are Lucy’s thoughts in Boston, upon seeing what school kids have done with Lego blocks.

Later, as her plane takes off for Seattle, she peers out the window, scanning the once familiar landscape and . . . astonishing. There, overgrown with trees, its slender spokes laced with thick vines that have evidently kept the structure upright and intact these many-odd years, is her masterpiece.

All but invisible, you wouldn’t even think to look if you didn’t know it was there. The trees, moving in the wind, seem to be alight with green fire. As she gazes down, tears mist Lucy’s eyes, for the only thing on fire these days, she thinks, is time, blazing away all around her. Yet there is her Tinkertoy structure, the child of her own childhood’s imagination, like . . . like a . . . a . . .  She seeks to find the right comparison. The airplane moves on.

8 Responses to Tinkertoys

  1. Jason Trask says:

    I really like this story. The rich imagination that powers this story reminds me of that of Italo Calvino in such works of his as “The Baron in the Trees.” It’s a perfect little piece.

  2. Malcolm Sharps says:

    An eccentric and enchanting piece. Against the Nordic pessimism of The Master Builder, David Daniel shows us that our dreams don’t have to come tumbling down.

  3. Jayne Anthony says:

    Thanks for bringing a magic respite to difficult days. My imagination was invigorated and sparked. Your work is appreciated. Jayne Anthony

  4. David Cappella says:

    A well-wrought story with an ending that avoids the sentimental yet brings the reader face to face with the deep emotions that spring on us when seemingly typical moments evoke past experiences, which in turn lead to unintended and personal profound insights. Which is real sentiment.

  5. David Cappella says:

    A well-wrought story with an ending that avoids the sentimental yet brings the reader face to face with the deep emotions, which is real sentiment.