The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Archive for August, 2010

The boy who watched

Just the other day I happened to be traveling through the Boston airport. The shuttle bus I was riding was packed with people when I got on, and so, I stood. I was tired, spent from a full day of traveling, and didn’t notice just exactly how packed the luggage section was.

On the shuttle’s third stop, a man stood up in anticipation of his exit. But it was not his alone, and this became clear quickly. I had moved to let him pass, but he did not want past. He wanted his wife to be able to leave, so I quickly shuffled another direction, and realized she didn’t want to pass, either. She wanted her children to pass. And so – I shuffled again, and smiled to see the diminutive travelers disembark on their adventure, each with their own backpack and toy.  I thought perhaps somewhere in my mind they were going to Orlando on holiday, or to Oklahoma to visit Grandparents. But mother shuffled the children to a bench, not to the door. And then the work began.

The Father handed a bag down to the mother. Then another. Then a stroller, and a car seat. Another bag followed, then a suitcase, two, then three. Through all this, at first I watched the father. But it became clear by the bemused comments and crescendo of gasps of other passengers that they were keeping an eye on him – my eye fell to the kids.

The girl looked around at her new surroundings with some interest, but no concern.  She absent-mindedly turned her stuffed toy over and over in her hands, and looked at precisely nothing, waiting for the next, unknowable step in this journey.   Parents were handling things, it was expected – no problem. But the boy, perhaps a year older, watched his father intently. He heard the bemused murmurings of the other passengers, and realized in that way that a child will that his dad was engaged in an Epic Task.   And so – he studied. He studied as every boy will, to see exactly how his Hero does what is done. He watched the look of determination. He noted the respect and dignity his father afforded his mother, while at the same time taking charge, doing the heavy lifting, literally, and expecting her to be in charge of organizing the landing zone. His father wasn’t necessarily a big man, in fact, he was perhaps on the small side. But he knew his job as husband and father of this Adventure, and he took it seriously. I imagined the family being permanently transferred overseas, perhaps to Italy, saying goodbye to the only language they’d ever known, and the father, as they headed into that dark tunnel of New Experience, being more than usually serious.

And the boy watched.

His watching made me think of my own father.  There were times when what he did needed watching, if ever I was to become as great a Hero as I thought he was. The funniest things needed watching. The way he operated the controls of a car. His use of words, and laughter. The way he threw flat rocks into the lake to make them skip. His methodical visual check left and right before releasing the clutch and riding away on his motorcycle to school. And so I watched, and practiced. And I learned.

Until last week, I thought maybe I was the only one who ever watched that hard. But now I realize, my own children, grown now, must have watched too. Sometimes it makes me shudder to think what they’ve seen. But kids don’t necessarily look for the bad. They want to know how to be Heroes, and that’s what they watch for. It isn’t what I do for them, or to them, but just…what I do.   And now, as a foster parent, it is no different. I doubt I can teach them anything by telling them I’m going to teach them something. I can only do what needs to be done, and do it well.

Farewell young boy. Thanks for the lesson. I hope Italy treats you well.

A Way of Beginning

A new Blog is a clean, pure thing, undefiled by the clumsiness of its owner.  I don‘t specialize in the pure, nor of the undefiled.  What comes to me is usually broken down, beat up, disabled, creatively oxidized, antiquated – and always, always full of stories.  This goes for cars, motorcycles, bicycles, tools, things that look like they used to be tools, electronics, jobs – they are always well-used, and often not well-loved before their arrival.  This seems to hold true of the children my wife and I have taken to also – children who have not had the smoothest of rides often come our way, each with a garbage-bag full of clothes, and another full of stories they either cannot or wish not to tell.  Between my wife and I, we have collected some really good stories.  I hope to have enough time to tell them to you.

It all started when I was 9 years old, sitting on the veranda with my Great-Grandpa Keller.  Playing checkers would be normally two speeds below my Minimum Sustainable Velocity (MSV), but on this July day, with him over there, and me on this side, and our red and black patterns between us, I decided I pretty much had the greatest grandpa ever.  And so, being 9, I told him so.  And I told him that when I grew up, I wanted to be a great grandpa, like him.  He thought about this for a moment, always taciturn, and then he started to laugh.  It was an unexpected response, but such was the strength of his mirth that I had to wait for the hanky to come out, the tears to be dabbed, and the Moment to subside in order to learn what I had said that had caused such an eruption.  When he could speak again, the first thing he said was, “I don‘t think “Great” Grandpa means what you think it means, Glenn…”

Yes it did Grandpa.  Oh yes, it did.