God bless you, Tom Hanks

By Dave Williams

My youngest grandson called last evening. He was so excited and so am I.

Tyler Williams has achieved a thrill that eluded me when I was his age; his hero has made amends for mine.

Here’s the story:

Tom & Tyler

A few nights ago my son and daughter-in-law took their son, Tyler, to see a production of Shakespeare’s Henry IV starring Tom Hanks. Though he’s only 13 Tyler loves Tom Hanks. He told me he’s been a big fan of Tom Hanks his entire life!

Well… since he was three.

While looking around before the show a stagehand apparently asked him if he was a Shakespeare fan, or words to that effect, and Tyler said yes, but mostly he’s a Tom Hanks fan.

The guy said maybe he could arrange for Tyler to meet Tom Hanks after the show.  You can’t imagine how excited my grandson was.

And you also can’t imagine how disappointed he was when the show ended and they couldn’t find that stagehand. Tyler and his parents headed toward the parking lot but then the miracle happened:

A large, black SUV pulled up alongside my family. The driver rolled down the window and said, “Hey, Kid! Did you like the show?”

Tom Hanks had found him.

Tyler was over the moon!

They talked for a few minutes. Tyler told his superstar hero that he, too, was an actor. Tom told him to keep practicing and offered some funny suggestions about how to enunciate properly.

A personal autograph followed and then, a big hug.

Tyler will be walking on that cloud his entire life. And how much time did it take Tom Hanks to give a kid a thrill and maybe some lifelong inspiration?

Hanks hug

Five minutes, maybe.

When I was about Tyler’s age I had a chance to talk to my hero, too. I was the only kid there when Willie Mays left the San Francisco Giants clubhouse following a game.

“Mr. Mays,” I stammered breathlessly, “will you sign my glove?”

I looked at him as if he was a god. But he didn’t look at me, not even a glance. He ignored me as if I didn’t exist. Without breaking stride he walked straight to his car.

It took me a lot of years to forgive Willie for my crushing disappointment. As I got older I did forgive him but I never forgot the pain of thinking my hero was not a nice man. It shattered my feelings for him.

But now, more than 50 years later Tom Hanks has made up for it.

I guess you could argue that I learned a valuable lesson that day so many years ago. Maybe. All I know is it hurt real bad and some of that stayed with me for decades.

Tyler will never feel that way.

God bless you, Tom Hanks.

 

Above is the program that Tom Hanks autographed for Tyler. Kinda hard to read here. It says, “Tyler, speak the speech. – T. Hanks” It’s a line from Hamlet in which Shakespeare tells actors to speak as real people do, not with florid exagerration as actors frequently do, especially while reciting his works. That’s my interpretation, at least. It is an amazing gift from a wonderful actor to a greatful young fan.

A note to my grandsons

Dear Isaiah and Tyler,

I’d like you both to know that though I don’t get to be with you very often I think of you every single day. I really do.

When I wake up in the morning my first thought is to be grateful for a new day. I thank God for it. If you don’t believe in God that’s your right but you should give it some serious thought before you dismiss the possibility that you are alive for a good reason, not just by accident.

Either way, you should start each day happy to be alive. Be grateful for sunrise, blue skies, cold rain and for puppies and bugs.

Be grateful for the people you love.

That’s when I think of you, first thing each day.

Start your day happy.

When you’re happy it makes everyone around you happy. It’s contagious. They spread their happiness to other people. We need more happy people in the world.

As you get older you will learn a great many things about life. You’ll learn most of them from experience but you can get a lot of good tips from your parents, grandparents and other people who are older and carry your life in their hearts.

I’d like to share some of my life lessons with you. I’ll just do one at a time.

My dad taught me what I think is the single most important thing in life:

  1. “If you don’t love yourself you’ll never be worth a damn to anyone else.” – Don Williams, 1981

If you can’t love yourself, who will?

I’ll have some more of these from time to time. You can take them to heart or just consider them and decide later what you think.

We never know how much time we have left so I’ll give you the end of these lessons here and now.

This is the point and purpose of life, in my opinion:

“We are game-playing, fun-having creatures;
we are the otters of the universe.”
Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

With much love,
Your Grandpa Dave

Copyright 2018, David L. Williams. All rights reserved.

Scrooge

This week on Facebook a friend posted a picture of a ghost of Christmas past. It was me.

The picture is thirty-five years old but I never saw it until this past Monday.

I had the great honor and pleasure of being cast as the ghost of Jacob Marley in the McFadyen/Hoopman production of Scrooge, the musical version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Now, here’s the untold story: I had to put on those chains and hook up to the harness more than a half hour before my entrance. They had to haul me up to the rafters above the stage before the curtain opened and the show started. There I hung, suspended 20 feet above the stage, chains and all, while the audience enjoyed this long overture and then a wonderful scene with a crowd of men, women and child actors in costume singing a beautiful Christmas song.

?And when that was over and the thunderous applause died down…another song started as I continued to dangle overhead.

More applause. More music…

Ebeneezer Scrooge watches a rousing musical number by the kids.

Occasionally, one of the kids would glance up at me wondering if I was about to come crashing down on top of them. I never did of course but I’ll tell you this – the next number I hung around for was Scrooge himself, singing a song called “I Hate People”. By that time I was beginning to understand how he felt. I’d been drifting overhead for half an hour, chains and all. I was anxious to float down through a cloud of roiling fog as Marley and give old Scrooge what-for.

Those were great times. And it’s fun to see the pictures again and to realize how special a relatively few afternoons and evenings of my life have meant to me in the long run.

To paraphrase Charles Dickens, “the spirit of Christmases past, present and future will always live within me,” in great thanks to the wonderful theater family I was invited to join more than a generation ago.

Tiny Tim nailed it: “God bless us, every one.”

Music and lyrics for "Sing A Christmas Carol" by Leslie Bricusse, performance by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir & Orchestra.

The Dumas Kid

Driving northwest from Dallas into the desolate Texas panhandle we finally came upon a sign announcing our entrance into a place called Dumas.

The boy read it aloud.

“DOO-mahs,” he said correctly.

“That’s not quite right,” I told him seriously. “You’re mispronouncing it but it’s not your fault.  The name of the town used to have a ‘B’ in the middle.  This is the town of Dumbass.”

Well, being eleven years old our grandson, Isaiah, thought that was very funny and he giggled for a long time. We all did.

Then, for the rest of the trip to Wyoming and back to Dallas, Isaiah, CarolAnn and I called each other “Dumas” from time to time and then we all giggled and snorted for a few more miles.

Shared laughs of our own creation are moments we enshrine in our hearts.

It’s the stuff a boy will remember his entire life. ?

Today is the Dumas Kid’s 15th birthday.?

We’re going to phone him and tickle his memory.

You’re not supposed to bury your children

jt772
Jeremy and his mom, 1977

If people were born with warranties we’d all be guaranteed a certain number of years of good to reasonable health. Untimely death by accident or an act of God would be the only exemptions.

This week my son returned home from the hospital, a week mostly spent in the ICU.

He was very sick. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say we could have lost him and they still don’t know why. Jeremy’s doctors were skilled enough to revive his failing internal organs, reduce his fever and send him home, yet vials of his blood are still being spun in small centrifuges and smeared onto slides in a lab at the CDC in Atlanta.

JT & me, Fairytale Town2
Jeremy and me, 1982

A couple of weeks from now my kid will turn 39 and while we all try to make sense of the numbers that log our own existence and constantly inform of us how much time we may have left to live, the number of years of JT’s life are completely meaningless to me. I’m his father and all my son’s birthdays are equal from my perspective. They are all scattered moments of his life, the nearly four decades of memories of him that I keep in my heart, timeless and eternal.

Beach wedding dance_edited-1
Jeremy and Emily, 1997

He’s still five days old to me, five years old, the teenager, the joyful college student; the remarkable husband and father to his own son that he has grown to become.

He’s still the young man who stunned me by asking that I stand beside him as Best Man in his wedding. When I choked back the lump in my throat and stammered, “Why me instead of one of your buddies?”, he answered as if it was obvious, “Because you’re my best friend”.

For the past week I’ve tried to understand why our children’s lives, regardless of their age and ours, mean more to us than life itself. I suppose it has to do with our own survival instinct, the fierce insistence that above all else we will live forever or at least, in the end, to have mattered.

jt & tyler
Jeremy and his son, Tyler.

It’s a spiritual rabbit hole that I can’t enter and that’s probably a good thing.

All I know for sure is all that will ever matter to me:

My son is alive.

He’s back and getting stronger.

“… and it does the rest!”

I swear to you, this is a true story. I’m telling it with no embellishment, exactly as it happened not five minutes ago.

You think advertising isn’t effective?

It’s 6:13 on a Saturday morning. I know that precisely because I was starting my coffee maker and it has a clock on it.

Seven-year-old Isaiah appears, rubbing his eyes and telling me he sprained his groin while sleeping.

I don’t know. I didn’t ask.

A moment later he’s in our TV room as usual for a Saturday morning but instead of cartoons I hear something that sounds like an infomercial. I expect that to change to Spongebob Squarepants momentarily but it doesn’t. It’s too loud. I go into the TV room and ask him to turn it down. He does, but he still doesn’t change the channel and he is transfixed on whatever he’s watching.

“Isaiah,” I say, “why are you watching a commercial for a floor sweeper?”

“It’s a very good floor sweeper!” he explains, with a great deal of animation. “It’s very lightweight and with the Haan© steam cleaner you just add water and it does the rest!”

As the dogs are my witness.

© 2010 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Kids just don’t get it.

Life is difficult. It’s complicated. Kids don’t understand that.

Well, why would they? We handle all the complicated stuff for them. They just play. That’s their job and most of them do it exceedingly well. You can even say they’re experts at it. The sad thing is that we were all kids once but for some reason as we get older and the world gets more complex we think we need to find more complex ways of having fun. It usually involves a lot of money and frequently a lot of time and planning.

Now you’re thinking, “Oh, fiddle-faddle! I don’t need a fancy vacation or dinner at an expensive restaurant to have fun.” Maybe not but I’ll bet I can’t get you to giggle your way through an afternoon by playing in a cardboard box.

Forgive me for saying so but I can’t imagine you and your closest friend squealing with delight for hours while running through a sprinkler.

And I’ll bet most of us would consider planting flowers a job rather than a pleasure. Maybe both if gardening is a hobby or one of your particular adult pleasures but it is still definitely a chore.

My grandsons just don’t know how complicated life is.

Please don’t tell them. They’ll figure it out in their own time.

© 2010 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Surviving childhood

One of the things we aging boomers love to talk about is how much safer the world used to be when we were kids.

It was in some respects. Mostly, though, I wonder how we survived.

As kids in the 1950s and 60s we were allowed to roam our entire neighborhoods from sunup to sundown free and unfettered from fear of death or abduction. Nobody was ever snatched off the street. That possibility never even crossed our minds.

We didn’t have drive-by shootings. Hell, we didn’t have drive-thru hamburger joints. Back then if you wanted to buy a burger or shoot somebody you had to park the car and get out first.

It was a simpler, more forgiving time. But it was also a daily horror show we never imagined.

Cars didn’t have seat belts until the mid-sixties and by then they seemed silly to those of us who grew up literally bouncing between the back and front seats everywhere our parents drove us. They didn’t mind in the least as long as we didn’t start fighting.

 

We had house fans with no protective cage to keep little fingers out of the whirling steel blades. If you had invented the electric fan doesn’t a protective cage over the front just seem like a natural piece of the big picture? How did they not think of that?

I never heard of a single injury.

I could go on and on…

The heat in our homes came up from the floor through metal grates that got hot enough to sear a waffle pattern into tender toddler feet and butts.

Everybody smoked cigarettes, cigars and pipes everywhere. I mean everywhere: on buses and trains; in grocery stores, movie theaters, restaurants, churches and in every room of every home in America. That’s where this attachment to “fresh air” started, you know. Think about it. No matter where you live these days, big city or wide-open spaces, the air is no fresher outside than it is inside. But you still say, “I need some fresh air,” and then you step out of a filtered, air conditioned room into downtown San Bernardino.

Dogs ran free when we were kids.

You let the dog out of the house and he was gone, who knows where, until he came back to the porch and demanded re-entry. That might be the next day or the day after that. If he bit somebody while he was out you never knew about it. If he tangled with another dog you’d see him trot back into the house at dinner time, tongue and tail wagging happily, with one bloody ear and a mangled eyeball. You didn’t take him to the vet unless he’d been hit by a car and even then if he could hobble out of the street on two of his four legs Skippy was good to go.

We had killer toys. 

When I was a kid we would choose up sides and have wars using toy guns that were nearly as deadly as real ones. We had air-powered BB-rifles and pistols that allowed us to fire tiny steel balls with enough velocity to embed them under the skin of another kid, a dog or a cat. It stung but we loved it. This is where we first heard the sentence, “You could put an eye out with that!” Nobody ever stopped us from trying but the warning was issued occasionally and apparently it was heeded. Nobody ever lost an eye to a BB-gun assault.

If there weren’t enough BB-guns to go around, we’d just throw rocks.

Seriously, rock fights. And worse…

We had toy bows and arrows. Oh sure, the arrows had rubber cups on the end. You just took those off and whittled the wooden shaft into a pencil-sharp point.

And mind you, this was all going on shortly after World War II ended.

We had firecrackers. We made bottle rockets out of wooden match heads cautiously jammed tightly together into glass aspirin bottles. If you weren’t as careful as a brain surgeon they became instantaneous bombs, igniting in hand and shooting shards of red-hot glass dozens of feet in all directions.

I’m not making this up!

One idiot kid I remember used to lie down on the ground and have the rest of us drop a huge rock — say, the size and weight of a bowling ball — right over his face.

We weren’t very tall, maybe four feet. He’d always roll out of the way before the rock hit the ground. He never failed.

We climbed trees, great cottonwoods, scampering twenty or thirty feet above the ground. Once I fell, skinning my bare back as I slid down the trunk of that great tree, landing hard on its exposed roots. My grandma sprayed Bactine on my injuries and gave me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on Wonder white bread. I watched Popeye on TV and felt a lot better.

We jumped off the roof of my grandparents’ house with completely ineffective home-made parachutes.

One of my goofy uncles used to bounce on the roof on a pogo stick.

And we wondered why Grandpa drank.

Nobody died. We seldom cried. And now we worry about our own kids and theirs.

They missed so much.

© Copyright 2010, Dave Williams. All rights reserved.

 

“I have diabetes.”

Isaiah King, age 5, 2008

While shopping in Target the other day our five-year-old grandson, Isaiah, told his grandmother and me he needed to go to the bathroom. I took him into the men’s room and waited while he finished his business in the stall. After washing his hands we went off to find my wife.

“Nana,” Isaiah told her earnestly, “I have diabetes.”

The British have the best description of the confused look Carolann and I gave each other. We were, as they say, “at sea.”

We had no earthly idea what he was talking about.

“What do you mean?” Carolann asked.

“I had to go potty real bad,” the five-year-old explained. “I have diabetes.”

My wife and I stared at each other blankly for another moment or two until, as the Brits also say, “the penny dropped.”

“You mean you have DIARRHEA?”

Carolann said this. I was too busy trying to choke back a guffaw that was leaking out my nose as barely stifled snorts.

“Yeah. Diarrhea.”

Then, in the spirit of Art Linkletter she issued a follow-up question. “Do you know what diarrhea is?”

“Yeah. That’s when it’s all flat.”

© 2008 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved