December 4, 2009

Child-speak…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:46 pm

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All the children say:
We don’t need another hero.
We don’t need to know the way home.
All we want is life beyond the Thunderdome.

—Tina Turner, lyrics: Thunderdome
_____________________________

My cell phone rang the other evening, as I was tooling down the road in Big Blue. My brother Titus, calling from the local schoolhouse phone in Bloomfield, Iowa. Just to chat. He checks in with me once in awhile, usually about every week or two.

I answered. We talked. He’d enjoyed my last blog. Someone usually stops by and gives him a hard copy. As we wound down, he allowed that his son Robert had a question for me. A pause, as someone picked up on the other line. Then seven-year-old Robert’s eager slightly raspy voice.

“Hi, uncle Ira.”

“Hi, Robert. How are you?”

“Good.” Then right to the point. “May I ask you something?”

“Sure,” I said. “Go ahead.”

A brief pause. The question tumbled out, the words tripping over each other. “Do you think you’ll ever find yourself a wife?”

Whoa. Don’t know where that came from. “A wife?” I chuckled, taken aback. “No, I don’t think so.”

“Don’t you think you need a wife? He persisted. “Me and Thomas think you should have a wife.” Obviously, it was a matter of grave concern to him. To both of them. They probably felt bad for me.

On the other line, Titus chuckled, a bit awkwardly. “The boys have been discussing this quite a lot lately. It’s a big issue and they’re very preoccupied with it. And concerned for you,” he said. “They weren’t really satisfied with our replies. So I told them they could just ask you themselves.”

Ah, good parenting, that. “Yes, yes,” I agreed. “The only way to get the real answer. Go right to the source.”

Back to little Robert, and his important question. “No,” I assured him kindly. “I don’t think I need a wife. I’m pretty happy living by myself. I’m used to it, to living alone. So I think I’ll be alright.”

“OK. Bye.” He said abruptly. He didn’t seem convinced. He would discuss it at length, I’m sure, with his younger brother Thomas. The two of them would grapple with it. After chatting a bit more with their father, I hung up.

And it was fine. Other than a slight twinge of sadness, I thought the whole thing frankly humorous. And I was touched that my two little nephews concerned themselves with my well being. Children, in their innocence, will come right out and tell you what many adults think, but can’t bring themselves to say.

And in a young Amish kid’s world, it must be a strange and frightening thing. To have an uncle, Daddy’s brother, who used to be married, but now lives alone. They can’t fathom such a thing, turn it in their young minds and grasp it. A concept wholly foreign to their world.

And that, I suppose, is how it should be. I’m glad it’s still that way somewhere.

But I reflected on the conversation. Mulled a bit. Children say the darnedest things. And their conclusions are usually more true than not. Which got me thinking about an incident years ago, when I myself was a little boy, younger even than Robert.

Not that I’m remotely comparing the two disparate incidents. Just that Robert’s childish wisdom roused my own long dormant memories from decades of slumber.

It was a Sunday morning in Aylmer, a sunny summer day. I was four, maybe five years old. Church was at Alva Eichers’ place, a mile north and west of our home.

We left for church that morning, rattling down the road in Dad’s great old topbuggy. I stayed with Dad as he stood around with the men out by the barn, visiting before the service. A family of strangers from another community attended that morning as well. I don’t remember whose company they were. Probably relatives of someone or other. The father looked slick, cleaned up. Trimmed beard. He may not even have been wearing galluses, I’m not sure. They were from Nappanee, Indiana, I heard later. A couple of young boys hovered close to the slicked up man from Nappanee. One of the boys was about my age. I stared at him, fascinated. Inordinately rotund, his little body was about as round as tall.

Around noon, the church service ended. After Uncle Pete or Nicky Stoltzfus or Jake Eicher had preached the main sermon. The final slow drawn out song. The children were released. We ran out to play.

And somewhere in the course of our play that afternoon, I approached the little boy. The rotund one. Round-cheeked, he wore glasses, perched on his pudgy nose. We stood there, sizing each other up. Hands in pants pockets. Awkwardly scuffed the dirt with our bare feet. At least I was barefoot. He probably wore shoes, coming from Nappanee and all.

We stood there, face to face. I was on my home turf. He was a stranger in a strange land. He smiled hesitantly.

“What’s your name? I asked.

“Ernest,” he said shyly. He smiled again, almost pleadingly.

Ernest. Never heard of a name like that before. I looked him up and down. Then into his eyes. Then I spoke.

“You are fat.” I said. Flatly. Matter-of-factly. Little rancor involved. I had never before seen someone so young so heavy.

His face fell. The smile vanished. His eyes widened with dismay and pain. He seemed to shrink into himself. Without a word, he turned and lumbered away.

I walked off. Didn’t really think anything of it. I didn’t despise him. Or laugh at him. He was just different. He was, well, fat.

That afternoon, after we had returned home, my sisters talked of the strangers from Nappanee. And the little boy. Ernest.

“Did you play with him?” One of them asked. Probably Maggie. She was always admonishing us to be nice.

“A little.” I answered innocently. “He was fat.”

Maggie looked sharply at me, startled and suspicious.

Utterly unaware of the effect my words would have, I blithely prattled on. “He was fat. I told him he was fat.”

It was a huge mistake. My three sisters instantly reacted with expressions of great horror and disbelief. Maggie, Naomi and Rachel. They gasped in unison. “Aaaaaaah.”

“You did WHAT?” They shrieked. Practically in unison again. And right there on the spot, an impromptu school session was called to order. Three screeching teachers. One poor little unwilling four-year-old student.

The tumultuous clamor of their voices echoed through the house in waves, loud, over-whelming. Next thing Dad would be awakened from his nap. And that wouldn’t be good for anyone. I stood there hunkered in the full force gale, perplexed. I honestly wasn’t quite sure what all the fuss was about.

“You can’t do that, make fun of someone because of how he looks,” they lectured sternly. “It’s not kind.”

Kind? What did that have to do with anything? Truth was truth. I saw what I saw. And I knew what I saw. Unwilling to concede without a defense, I bristled.

“But he WAS fat.” I said stoutly.

Alas, my rock-solid reasoning was promptly smashed and swept aside like so much dust. My retort triggered a great cascade of even more anguished screeching. Many ominous scenarios were trotted out. What if people made fun of the way you look? Laughed at your curly hair? How would you like that?

Although failing to see any connection between their ominous scenarios and my supposedly dark and apparently unforgivable sin, I nonetheless made a hasty tactical decision to shut up and retreat. Not say anything more. The screeching eventually subsided. Soundly admonished and feeling very chastised, I was released at last. Relieved, I dashed off to play.

Their lecturing must have sunk in somewhat. Penetrated the obtuse barriers in my subconscious mind. I’m sure I committed countless childish transgressions in the ensuing years. But none even remotely approached the level of my stark pure cruelty to a poor little overweight boy named Ernest on a long ago summer Sunday afternoon in Aylmer.

At least none that I remember.

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(7 Comments) »

  1. Ahhh, the same reaction I think I’ll get if I put my picture on Facebook!! I just cringe reading that, but know how things pop out of a youngster’s mouth. Hey, it is what it is! There are many ways of learning and unfortunately that’s one of ‘em. I’m sure we’ve all been on the giving and receiving end of things like that but never MEANT any harm. I love getting on the computer on Friday evenings and seeing a post ~ glad you’re taking some time off and still finding time to post every few weeks. Have a good weekend ~ :)

    Comment by Beth — December 4, 2009 @ 7:53 pm

  2. Hi! I came over from Joyful Chaos and am enjoying reading your blog…I have family that live right in the middle of Amish country in northern Michigan. I am learning a lot from you; such an excellent writer!
    Joni

    Comment by Joni-MI — December 4, 2009 @ 11:50 pm

  3. Kids are amazing all right! Your bro was brave to stand by and let the little guy ask his question! After all, you never can tell just how they’re going to phrase it or what else they’ll say.

    Comment by Ann — December 5, 2009 @ 9:01 am

  4. My deepest respect to your sisters. They did a screechingly fine job instilling in you the value of respecting other’s feelngs. Even now I see this trait exhibited in you, save the occasional politician. And God help that politician…

    Comment by Rhoda Snader — December 5, 2009 @ 6:42 pm

  5. Through the eyes of a child things are simple, God has give them a vision we all need… It sounds like your brother is a wise parent, channeling his son’s honesty in a sensitive manner. So sweet!!! Likewise children that are untaught and left to themselves are some of the cruelest. A standing ovation to you for another great post!

    Comment by Amy — December 5, 2009 @ 8:04 pm

  6. Reminds me of an incident when one of my younger sisters was born. Dat and Mem would send us off to the neighbors to stay overnight while the doctor came to the house to deliver the new baby. Upon arriving home the next morning, we had the first opportunity to see our newest sister. I took a look and her wrinkled face and misshapen head, as many newborns tend to have and reportedly said “she’s ugly”. (sie gooked hott). They never let me forget that. Live and learn.

    Comment by Eli Stutzman — December 7, 2009 @ 5:00 pm

  7. Dear me, I have the mind and tongue of a child. My prayers are for you to meet your Honey Baby Cutie Pie, but it’s God who makes the final decision. I suppose you have a say in the matter as well.

    Comment by Francine — January 19, 2013 @ 1:53 am

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