On the natural history of destruction

By Brian Doyle | May 8, 2015
Ahmed Hashim/Flickr
Ahmed Hashim/Flickr


Strolling through the store the other day, I found myself once again in the Small People Aisle, where you can buy diapers and pull-up pants and whirled peas and squash muck and apple soup, and binkies and rattles and plastic rings filled with oversize plastic keys in various colors—who buys those and why? What does that say about our cultural obsession with access and security, that you can buy toy keys for your child? Toy keys?—and every sort of medicinal panacea for the travails of toddlers, but what jumped out at me this time was the small section of underclothing, at the very end of the aisle, just before you turn the corner into oils and carbohydrates, to the right, or toward wine and beer, to the left.

All briefs and no boxers, I noticed; and all in white, and all in packets of three or six or nine. This latter calculus fascinates me. Why the divisibility by three? Who made that decision, and when? Were mothers of toddlers consulted? Me, I bought smallclothes for our small twin sons by the dozens, because unaccountably the boys went through them at a shocking pace; many is the time I unloaded the dryer, and separated the pile first into Girls and Guys, and then put my measly contributions to one side, consisting mostly of socks, and then I divvied up my sons’ stuff, and gaped to find tattered smallclothes. How could boys three years old destroy smallclothes so thoroughly and at such a rapid rate? Were they sprinting through thickets of blackberry bushes in their smallclothes while I slept? Were blackberry vines seeking the boys from some sort of vendetta? What could they possibly have done to make the blackberry bushes so vindictive? What is it with blackberry bushes and their long memory for insult?

One great thing about having twin sons when they are small is that Christmas and their birthdays produced mounds of socks and smallclothes and handkerchiefs for the boys; my mom alone must have sent a hundred sets of smallclothes through the mail, two at a time, which is three new smallclothes each per boy per gift-producing holiday, but as I remember, sometimes as soon as a week later, there I would be in the laundry room, staring at shredded smallclothes, and again wondering how this could possibly have come to pass, did they have a mulching machine in their room upstairs, or what? I understand general wear and tear, and slow degradation, and gradual fraying, and finally fenestration, and then assignment to the rag bag in the pantry, but this instant destruction, as if the smallclothes themselves, after a day or two of service, decided to just surrender altogether, was unnerving.

Not that I ever got any explanation or excuse from my sons, who would burst out laughing as soon as I dramatically produced shards of smallclothes and tersely asked for testimony, and their mother was no help whatsoever in the investigation, as she would be giggling helplessly also, and our daughter was of no assistance at all, even though she has a lawyerly cast of mind, as she would sprint out of the room mortified that her father was waving tattered tiny smallclothes in the air, and mumbling incoherently about blackberry bushes, so we never did solve this pressing mystery, and all too soon the boys grew up, and now they are away at college, and, I hope, doing their own laundry. But for a moment, the other day, in the Small People aisle, it all came back to me, and I started laughing, and kept right on laughing until I got to the Aisle of Cereals and Cookies, where I saw a dad with twin sons in a stroller, which set me to laughing again, this time all the way home, and into today.

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