You can't rush an arch

Andrew was an architect. He was not in a class with Frank Lloyd Wright, and might never be, but he was pretty good when you took into account the fact that he could not have been more than eight years old.

I met Andrew one day on the beach. He was struggling to transform shoreline sand into the castle delineated somewhere deep in his imagination. ''Nice fortress you've got there,'' I told him.

''Yeah,'' he agreed. ''I've been drawing it on paper all week.''

Andrew's father, not an architect, was an avid baseball fan. While his son strove to make soggy reality conform to spirited imagination, he sat in a nearby car, listening to a game on the radio. From time to time, he would glance at his son and frown, a man doubtless impatient with boyish dreams doomed to crumble. ''What is it you think you're doing, Andy?'' he called once. ''Just scoop up a glob of sand, and let it go at that.''

''I want to build an arch,'' Andrew quietly replied.

From my beach towel a short distance away I had a crab's-eye view of the construction site. The arch, as best I could make out, would rise above the drawbridge (a flattened paper cup) over the moat that periodically filled with the residue of particularly strong waves. The arch itself invariably filled the moat, too, on such occasions.

Sometimes after the arch collapsed, Andrew would turn his attention to some other part of his castle, adding another room or refining a turret ... of which there were eight, each finely sculptured, apparently with effortless grace, like domes of cotton candy. Then, he would suddenly return to the unsupported arch over the drawbridge.

Again, his father called. ''You shouldn't try building so near the water.'' Andrew looked up and declared, quite simply, ''This is where it needs to be.'' His father coddled exasperation for a while before muttering something about going ahead and being impractical, then.

I had watched Andrew pace up and down the beach for half an hour before he located exactly the spot he deemed perfect for his endeavor, and, actually, it was an excellent location in one sense. It afforded the best possible vantage on the beach for protecting its inhabitants (6 1/2 sand dollars, when I glanced in) from all potential invaders - surfers, swimmers, strollers, even dune buggies. Andrew was willing to risk the occasional, uncontrollable wave.

The baseball game blared from the car most of the afternoon as if that vehicle were a mobile megaphone, and by the seventh inning it was apparent dad's team stood no chance of grabbing a victory. Dad marched down the beach and grabbed up Andrew. ''We're going home,'' he announced. ''You've wasted enough time.''

''But my arch isn't finished,'' Andrew protested.

''We could stay here all night, Andy, and you'd never get an arch to span a gap that wide.''

''Yes, I could,'' claimed the determined architect. ''You can't rush it.''

''Why can't you get interested in something sensible, like other kids do? Tell me? Why?'' shouted dad. ''Like baseball - you could make a living, at least , playing baseball. One of these days you'll have to grow up and earn a living, you know. What good will sand castles do you then? Huh? You want to live in poverty the rest of your life? The important thing is you've got to outgrow the foolish things in life and concentrate on what makes the world tick.''

When they had driven away, I wandered over to inspect the abandoned castle. For a long time I simply stood and looked at it. Then, I don't know ... next thing I knew I was sitting in wet sand; wet sand was trickling through my fingers. It was in the afterglow of sunset that I saw, finally, two halves of an arch joined above a paper-cup drawbridge.

Gentle waves were now slapping the beach, and I asked one of them: Is the avoidance of poverty worth more than a spirit impoverished? Is earning a living all there is to the tick of life?

I gazed down the deserted beach where hours ago a car had disappeared, where a voice crying, ''I can, too, do it, daddy; I can do it'' had faded. Wouldn't it be nice, I thought, if shouts could span gaps the way wet sand does?

''Attaboy, Andy,'' I yelled, ''hang in there!''

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