“What was that song you taught the kids?” There was amusement in the mother’s voice. I couldn’t remember the song I had taught Jack and Gaby Kiehl, some fourteen or fifteen years ago, but Julie must have been reminded of it after seeing me scrambling on the floor and through the rooms of the home we were visiting, chasing and playing with a four-year-old boy and his two sisters, aged 9 and 2-1/2. When I needed a break, I sat down, breathless, and taught the 9-year-old girl a song, while her sister mimicked the movements I was demonstrating.
Julie and Tom Kiel were two of the many people at a gathering of friends and former members of the advertising department of the St. Louis department store Famous-Barr. I had come to the St. Louis area with Paula, (the creative director of this publication) to visit our mutual friends, Miki and Mark Catron and to see their three grandchildren, whose pictures, taken by their mother, Maya, had delighted me when posted on a social networking site. I was surprised to find that the visit had grown into an impromptu reunion of advertising department personnel, most of whom had been laid off almost nine years ago. But while I was enjoying the rebuilding of memories with friends and former co-workers, I was keen on diving onto the floor to win the hearts of the three youngsters I had come to see.
A man I met recently told me that his granddaughter had given him a gift of a set of oil-painting brushes in an expensive leather case, asking him, “Do you remember painting with me?” The man told me that, when his granddaughter was young, he had taken up oil painting. He did not really remember painting with her, but the child, now grown, reminded him of that time, when she was five. She told him, “You used to let me sit beside you, and we would paint together.” Those moments granted to her five-year-old self were apparently so endearing that, when her adult self presented him with the brushes, she said to him, “I want you to do that with my son.” As he told his story, I remember thinking that we sow great gifts so casually. Almost in the way a farmer scatters seed, we broadcast onto the fertile fields of the young minds we encounter; the outgrowth can be memories of joy. The man could not recall the event that had made such a profound impression on his granddaughter that she wanted it duplicated for her own child.
I had been so excited about meeting my friend’s three grandchildren that I overstated my passion, saying that I did not want to die without seeing “that smile” on the 4-year-old boy’s face. When Mark and Miki heard that, they cautioned me that the boy was more reserved than his pictures indicated; his mother fretted that he might “ignore everyone.” So, I galloped across their social boundaries and squealed, whooped and sang my way into their consciousness. I saw the boy’s smile, heard the youngest girl’s laughter, and taught the oldest girl a song.
I could not recall the song that I taught Jack and Gaby, who are now in college, but their mother remembers that I taught them a song, and perhaps they remember it. I think that, at least, they remember the teacher of the song, and the moments of instruction, just as three small children in the St. Louis area will remember my gift, and the “funny man” who surfed across the floor to make them squeal with joy.
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