Monday, October 15, 2012

On A Day A Smile Is Needed (Or How I Survived My Fourth Grade Year)

Kind of in a funk today. I'm finding that the post sermon letdown is lasting longer than it did a decade ago. It makes it harder to shake off the fog and get things done on Monday. But that's a post for another day. Today, I just thought I'd write about something good. An experience I go back to on days like today to find a little clarity, and maybe even a smile.

My fourth grade year was, looking back now, a strange one. My father took a job in a Lima with the firm he is still with, so for the duration of the fourth grade he traveled back and forth between Charleston, West Virginia (where we lived) and his job (where he lived during the week with his mother). 

To complicate matters, right before this job change, for reasons still never fully explained to me, Mom and Dad bought a house in Charleston in what was for us a new neighborhood. There was a kid who lived there, Brad Lesher, who simply hated my guts. I don't know the reason why I threatened him, or irritated him, so much. All I know is that all I wanted was somebody to play basketball with, and Brad made that, if not wholly impossible, somewhat unpleasant. So we were apart as a family for a whole year while my parents tried to sell a house they had just bought in a neighborhood populated by one complete ass. 

It was a crappy year.

My mom did her best. The two of us living alone must have felt as strange to her as it did to me. Dad usually took the pressure off when he came home from work. We'd throw a baseball or something, and as a parent who understands the need for one now, she could get a break from her adorable yet demanding son. But that dynamic, and so many others, were all thrown off that year. Mom rose to the occasion to keep thing as normal as possible (we'd even occasionally toss a baseball around), but it had to be tough for her.

For any younger readers out there, I must inform you that in 1979 Al Gore hadn't invented the internet yet so there was no Skyping, or endless minutes on a cell phone. People could only look at one another on a screen while talking in the world of cartoons, like "The Jetsons". You didn't have all the vehicles for communication you have now, so there was no digital way to help bridge this gap. 

But I digress...

The entire year for me had this pall hanging over it. Life without Dad was strange enough, but from the first moment he took that job, just like in the movies, the time clock was set on the bomb that was about to destroy life as I knew it. 

No more days at Elkland Pool. No more feeding "Midnight" ice cubes while my parents played cards with Pam and Harry. No more sledding at the Powelsons. No more camping, or for that matter no more anything (worshipping, basketball, softball, picnics, etc...) with our church family who had become such a huge part of our lives. No more Shoals Elementary School. No more hanging out with the only friends I'd ever known. 

In many ways, in my little 9-year old brain, that whole year felt like an ending. A period. The end.  

Now don't get me wrong.... I've grown to love what I now call my hometown, and realize how in so many ways the move was the very best gift my parents could have ever given me. I would have never have known my grandparents. I would have never have made so many long-lasting and important friendships. I never would have never met Aimee and welcomed my sons into this world. My life is all the richer for the decision my parents made to move home closer to family and friends.

But all of that during the 79-80 school year meant squat, so it was hard to enjoy anything. Everything we experienced was "the last one". The last basketball game. The last spelling bee. The last trip on my bike down the trails to Olin's Market. The last Charlies game. The year was just a series of "lasts".

If Friday night (usually after "The Incredible Hulk" and "The Dukes of Hazzard" were over) was the best day of the week because it was when Dad would return from Lima, then you would assume Sunday nights - when we left to go back to work - should have been the worst. And they probably would have been, except this is the part of the story where I begin to smile. Into this mixed up world, our friends reached into our lives, and in small ways helped ease the burden.

When we first moved to Charleston (when I was two or three) we lived down the street from The Reeves. Jason Reeves and I were same age, so our mothers, I suppose, saw an opportunity. One of my earliest memories was taking turns riding Jason's little battery operated plastic motorcycle down the street from our house to his as our mothers walked slowly behind us. We were northern transplants, Buckeyes planted in a place where we didn't know anybody. Nancy's family lived on land given to them by George Washington. Jason still lives on that land, and it wouldn't surprise me if at some point, at least one of his children will do the same.

I guess pretty quickly the Reeves, and Nancy's parents, Arthur and Louise Connor, decided they needed to take us under their wing. As strangers in a strange land, they welcomed us. Most of my fondest childhood memories in one way or another involve the Reeves family because they showed us wonderful hospitality and friendship.

It should probably come as no surprise that the Reeves, who had done much to try to help us integrate into the Charleston social scene, saw an opportunity to serve us on Sunday nights as we made our slow exit from the mountains that had become our home. On his way out of town, Dad would take us to their house and instead of Mom and I sitting at home missing him after he left, we'd have pizza with the Reeves. 

It's hard when you are nine to be upset while you eat pizza. It's pretty much impossible, actually. And that, I think, was the idea.

Jason's dad, Jack, did the best he could that year to fill in for Dad where he could. I remember him even telling me if I needed a Dad when my own Dad just couldn't be there, all I had to do was call him. When someone says something like that you don't forget it. When that same person does what he can - like get a pizza on Sunday nights to divert your attention from the pending changes that are coming, no matter what, in your life - you tend to treasure those words. Keep them safe in your heart. 

And when you are acting like a jerk, even go back to them and wonder if you can't do a better job living up to the example set for and investment made in, you. 

Jack and Nancy are gone now, both of them taken too early by cancer and disease. I was married with kids of my own when Dad and I drove down for Jack's funeral. I remember telling Nancy how much their kindness that year - my fourth grade year - still meant to me.

"Well, we love you Beano", she said. "We did then, and we do now."

They did, and that makes me smile.