Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"The World is so Full of Such Wondrous Things..."

When I was in grade school, I learned to square dance, the American folk dance where the couples and groups of couples perform steps like dosey-do and promenade as they are announced by a "caller."  It was fun.  When I was in junior high I was taken to a symphony orchestra concert that featured singers doing the arias from "Carmen," and it was fun.  I learned to bowl in high school, and it was fun.  I've been to a heavy metal concert, I've seen an exhibition of Monet paintings, and I've seen and acted in live theater.  I've shot guns, planted gardens and even earned a living by doing hard physical work, and it was all fun.  OK, the hard physical work wasn't as much fun all of the time;  The point is, I've tried lots of things and found something to enjoy in most of them.  I try hard to not decide I don't like something before I have tried it.

Who is more foolish, someone who enjoys what we consider a foolish pastime, or someone who dismisses as foolish a pastime which they have never tried?  The world is so full of things to try that we can never try them all.  If we don't have enough of an open mind to give things a shot when they present themselves we may miss out on the best thing ever.  If someone invites you to try curling don't decide not to go because "sliding rocks on ice is dumb."  Enough people enjoy it to make curling an Olympic sport so there must be something to it.

Of course, common sense tells us not to try things that are stupidly dangerous;  I'm not advocating playing in traffic because it might be a thrill.  Bull riding and auto racing are probably best left to the pros and enjoyed as spectator sports.  What I'm saying is that activities/experiences that you haven't yet tried should not be subject to "condemnation prior to investigation."

Everyone knows (and many of us have been) a child who is a picky eater.  If you take them to a restaurant that doesn't have mac 'n cheese, you had better bring along a pbj.  We laugh, but still we try to change them because we know they are missing out on some good things.  Shrimp in lobster sauce sounds kinda weird, but as served at Jimmy Wong's restaurant in Chicago back when I was in my twenties, it was one of the most delicious things I ever ate.  Taste all the things life offers.  You will not like all of them, but you won't miss out on the good ones.


Monday, February 3, 2014


One of the things your dad suggested as a possible topic for these scribblings was "things you are proud of."  Looking back, that seems a topic far too soon exhausted, but I do have a few candidates for it.  One of these is a title given to me by your dad's preschool teacher, Miss Polly, when he was four years old.

For several months in early 1983 I was laid off from my job because of  a long strike by the union workers at Caterpillar.  Grandma B was pregnant with your Uncle Ryan, and since I had time on my hands it was easier for me than for her to take your dad to school and pick him up after.  Some mornings I would just stay at the school and watch the kids instead of driving home and coming back.  At some point, I noticed that some of the wooden chairs that the kids sat on were loose and wobbly and asked the teacher if she would like me to repair them.  She was happy to have me do it so the next day I showed up with some tools, glue, and clamps and started in.  I didn't have enough clamps to do a lot of chairs at once and most of the chairs were needed each day anyway, so I came back day after day until I had finished all the chairs.  Many of the kids found what I was doing fascinating to watch and I would try to explain to them what I was doing, why the chairs had to be clamped or bound with rope while the glue dried, and so forth.  When the chairs were done I asked if there were other projects she would like me to do, mostly because I was having so much fun being around the little kids each day.  She found other work for me (one I remember was making a large bulletin board) and before I knew it the school year was drawing to a close and so was the strike that had given me the freedom to be there.

The "title" came about because when other parents came into the classroom, the teacher would explain to them who I was and why I was there.  Her explanation was, "This is Zak's dad who fixes things."  I doubt that she remembers saying that, but it always makes me feel good about myself when I think of it.

Because I had always enjoyed making things, when your Uncle Josh "graduated" from his baby crib  (and we were about to need it for your dad) I had made a bed for him modelled after the famous "Radio Flyer" wagon.  This bed was about to be retired because we were getting bunk beds for the boys to make room for the newest baby, so I asked Miss Polly if the school could use it.  She thought it would make a perfect spot for kids to use for "reading" picture books by themselves.  Here is a picture of the wagon when it was being used as a bed.  
That's your dad sitting on it.

I don't know how long the school used the bed or the bulletin board or how long it was before the chairs needed repaired again.  I do know I am proud of the small contribution I made and cherish the memory of the affection those little kids showed me while I was there.

One other memory of that time sticks with me.  It was a song that the children learned.  I can't recreate the tune in a blog and I can't credit the author because I have no idea where the song came from, but the words went like this:

"I'm something special,
I'm the only one of my kind.
God gave me a body
and a bright healthy mind.
He had a special purpose
that he wanted me to find.
That's why I'm something special,
I'm the only one of my kind."

It was just a cute little song that they sang for the parents on the last day of school, but I've never forgotten it and the promise of young lives that it celebrated.  If someone had been watching me that day they would have noticed my eyes looking a little wet as I watched them sing.  Except for your dad,I don't know where any of those kids are today, but they are still "something special" to me.