She must have been about ten, maybe a little younger. Holding her daddy’s hand she walked solemnly down Main Street next to me, surrounded by hundreds of other people, all headed toward the exit.
Bright colors fired both sides of the street; joyous music came from nowhere and yet everywhere. Imagineered snow flakes floated in the air all around us.
We all wore silly grins for no reason at all except that we were together, ageless and happy.
The little girl’s daddy leaned over and said, “Isn’t it pretty? It looks just like real snow, doesn’t it?”
Her reply was succinct, matter-of-fact and grown up:
“I think I’ve had enough.”
“The important thing is the family. If you can keep the family together — that’s what we hope to do.” – Walt Disney
CarolAnn and I celebrated our 30th anniversary at Disney World in Orlando this past week. For all the technological magic and excitement we found everywhere we looked our greatest pleasure was watching young families and remembering our own.
The small moments that bring families closer together work their magic on everyone nearby. We love being collateral beneficiaries of joy and sharing with each other the children we still are at heart.
“A dream is a wish your heart makes…”
Hang the expense, it’s worth every penny and more.
“You mean you want to say Grace?” Nana and I are both surprised but try not to show it.
“Uh-huh. Like at school.”
Isaiah goes to a Christian preschool so the fact that he’s used to a blessing at mealtime doesn’t surprise me but this is the first time he has offered it at home. Normally we don’t pray over meals, except at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter family gatherings but it’s nice. I like this new wrinkle to the developing man who is still our four-year-old grandson.
We all bow our heads and Isaiah begins:
“Thanks for the food we eat….um…the good food and, and…thank you for this beautiful day and….ummm….”
Isaiah has clearly been properly coached in the manners of Grace but he’s momentarily stuck for a big finish. I know the feeling.
“And….and….bless Nana and Grandpa and Daddy,” he continues, gathering steam, “And please make things grow and make things green and make Paige’s mom feel better and make Angela’s dog come back and make Nana’s bottom better! AMEN!”
I think Nana managed to mutter “Amen,” before her head snapped up and I started snickering.
“What did you say about Nana?” she asked with forced and admirable restraint.
He apparently thought she was hard of hearing so he answered very loudly, “I SAID MAKE NANA’S BOTTOM BETTER!”
Wise Grandpa and veteran husband that I am, I try to change the subject.
“Did Angela’s dog get lost?” I asked him.
“Yeah, he ran away.”
“And Paige’s mom is sick?”
Isaiah’s interest in explaining his prayer was fading quickly. I couldn’t drag it out any longer but I did fight back most of the grin as I asked my wife, “Honey, what’s wrong with your bottom?”
“He knows I fell on the stairs months ago. That’s what he’s talking about.” As she said this I clearly saw for the first time the look on a person’s face always described as “chagrined.”
A thought struck me.
“Isaiah,” I said, “Did you say that same prayer at school today?”
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:
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?
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.
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:
“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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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?”
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.