Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Very Last Day of School

Richie decided yesterday morning that this would be his last year at his school.

His friend Emil had moved to Minnesota in the winter, and apparently, everything was shot to hell after that. Richie added that three of Johnny's friends weren't nice to him. (One by my count, but who am I to begrudge a good old fashioned exaggeration.)

And, also, he said, when Emil left, the class took pictures and made a special scrapbook and everyone was really sad.

I said, "So you would like that to happen again, only this time with you being the center of attention."

He nodded his head earnestly. "Yeah," he said. "I would."

So he told his friends yesterday he wouldn't be back next year. He'd be going to J.J.'s school, where everybody is nice and kids don't move to Minnesota.

When he came home from school, I asked him how his friends reacted when he broke the news. (Richie is going back to his old school, by the way, but again, who am I to begrudge a good old-fashioned going away party in which the person isn't actually going anywhere?)

They took it hard, Richie said. At first, his friend Jackson cheered because he hadn't been listening carefully. Then when Richie repeated himself, Jackson exclaimed, "Oh, no!" Richie smiled widely as he re-enacted Jackson's utter disappointment.

I asked Richie, "Do you think they'll be surprised next year when you show up on the first day of school?"

"Yeah," he said. "But I'll probably wait nine years. Then I'll go back."

Later, as he, J.J. and I sat on the couch, he said, "My friends are going to the big school next year. You know why they call it the big school? Because there are big kids."

He added, "At my new school, I'll probably just be friends with J.J.'s friends."

As an armchair psychiatrist, I'd say Richie is nervous about leaving the small kindergarten building to attend the big bad big kid school across the street. So he's decided to go to a new school altogether. A school he's never been to, but apparently sees as a perpetual preschool, where even the big kids don't have a snarky bone in their body.

I suppose the change he can see coming is scarier than the one that's only in his imagination.

Or maybe he just wants that going away party. If only to remind himself he never wanted to leave in the first place.

Monday, May 11, 2009

He Loved Love Songs and Dressed Well

Of my grandpa who passed away recently, there is so much to say and so much has been said. He had ten kids and lots of friends.

Some would tell you he was a sharp businessman and a great salesperson. (Remember on The Office when Ryan said, 'It's not personal. It's business.' And Michael said, 'Business is personal. It's the most personal thing in the world.' That made me think of my grandpa.

Others would tell you he loved babies and children and big families and hamburgers.

But the two things that stand out most in my memory are that he loved love songs and he dressed well.

People are hard to understand and harder to describe. But every once in a while, you see someone, and the image becomes like a picture you carry in your pocket. Mine is of Papa ironing shirts and listening to love songs.

He loved to iron. He ironed shirts long after he retired and no longer needed to wear a suit, and in fact, long after most people stopped wearing suits to the office at all.

(He also took suits and shirts to several dry cleaners around town. He enjoyed finding the right workmanship at the right price in seemingly the worst neighborhood. After he passed away, tracking down his suits became something of a family sport.)

There's something to be said for looking nice, and I don't just mean presentable. I mean looking like you're going someplace, whether it be in half an hour or 15 years. People take notice.

It's like seeing a limo. Chances are, it's a bunch of kids on their way to prom, but you always look, don't you? You always wonder who it is.

Not long ago, I went with Papa to visit my Nana in the hospital. He was dressed in a well-taylored gray suit. He wore cuff links and wing tips. As I pushed him through the hall in his wheelchair, people parted like he was Moses and they were the Red Sea. Taking a step back, they nodded their heads. They said hello. They said, "Excuse me."

All the while, he smiled and waved like an Irish politician in a St. Patrick's Day parade.

It struck me that perhaps he dressed well so that people would take notice. Not because he wanted attention. But because he wanted to say hello. He liked meeting people.

On trips I took with my grandparents to Colorado, he was never a stranger, no matter what town we were in. There was always somebody my grandpa struck up a conversation with. My favorite "ice breaker" was when he leaned over to a table of ladies and said, "Excuse me, are you nuns?"

Why, yes, they said.

"I thought so," he said, and they talked and talked. Papa loved nuns. But, then, he loved most people.

On these trips we'd listen to the love songs of John Denver and Anne Murray.

This probably won't paint me in the coolest light, but as a kid, my favorite singer was Anne Murray. You know how some kids hung up posters of the New Kids on the Block? Or wore torn T-shirts depicting Guns n' Roses. Or wept at Bon Jovi's "You Give Love a Bad Name." Well, that's how I felt about Anne Murray.

We'd be driving through Western Kansas in Papa's four-door sedan, "You Needed Me" blasting on the stereo, Papa sound asleep behind the wheel.

Nana would look up from her mystery and bag of fresh cauliflower to say, "John, wake up. You're going 90 miles an hour."

He'd come to and reset the cruise control. Sometimes he'd doze off again.

None of this worried me. As a former Air Force pilot, Papa was a better driver in his sleep than most people were wide awake.

Instead, I'd be day dreaming. I'd imagine twisting my ankle on the playground and the only person strong enough to carry me to the nurse's office just so happened to be the cutest eighth grader in the school.

Anne Murray would of course be playing in the background.

And then...he would ask me to marry him.

And since I was only in second grade, I'd tell him I'd have to think about it.

Nana gave me Papa's old CDs. He must have owned 50 Reader's Digest volumes dedicated to love. "The Music We Fell in Love To." "Songs to Listen to on a Winter Night by the Fire." "A Volume That if Your Friends Ever See in Your Possession You'll Never Hear the End of It."

Of course, Anne Murray's Greatest Hits were in there. Justin came home when I was listening to them, and I thought he'd laugh at how cheesy they were. But instead he was like, "Who is this? She is really good." What can I say? Birds of a feather.

You'd think that loving love songs and dressing well are two very different things.

Love, most think, is the most important thing in the world. Those who know that live a happy life, as Papa did.

Dressing well, on the other hand, is considered one of those "only skin deep" things. But to those who dress well on a daily basis (and I so wish I was one of them), I think it means something more. It means being ready to go anywhere. It means being ready to meet people wherever you are. It means seeing every day as a special occasion.

You can't reduce a person, and certainly not my grandpa, to two characteristics. But two seemingly small characteristics can have such an effect on your life, and the lives of those around you. My grandpa always talked about my Grandma with such love and romance.

I remember him listening to an Anne Murray song and nodding his head, as if agreeing with a newscaster. Then he repeated the lyrics verbatim to my grandma, only saying, "You." I can't remember now which lyrics they were. Something like, "That's right. You are on a pedestal to me. So high that I can almost see eternity."

So, you see, every day was a special occassion to him. Because it was another day to be in love.