Brenda and I had just stepped out of our car into the bright sunlight when a young boy waved and started running at full speed toward us from the playground. “Hi, Jack!” I yelled as the youngster approached the street that separated us.
The blonde-haired boy with bangs across his forehead was about 60 feet away when he came to an abrupt stop. We must have come to the same conclusion simultaneously — he wasn’t my grandson, and I wasn’t his grandpa.
Realizing his error, he sheepishly returned to his group of classmates inside the fenced-in playground area, who were already laughing at him, hoping no one else would notice his mistake.
I smiled at him and continued into the school building. He didn’t return the smile. There was something about him. I sensed sadness in his pale, pleasant face, like someone who had been aching for a time.
The fifth-grader seemed embarrassed now, for being so caught up in a moment.
Today was Grandparents Day at Saints Peter and Paul Regional Catholic School. Held annually, this was our fifth year in a row to visit grandson, Jack. The two hours spent during the celebration is a special time, particularly for grandparents.
The percussionist’s loud cymbal crash commenced the segment of military music. It was also Veterans Day and the fifth-grade band honored our heroes in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Marines with individual military themes. Grandparents who had served in the military stood proudly.
Suddenly, a petite young girl approached the microphone, and began to sing our National Anthem. Surprisingly, her youthful melodic voice resounded throughout the auditorium. The fifth-grade choir then sang a special rendition of the Navy Hymn. The room fell quiet before erupting into applause as the concert concluded.
Following the concert, the teachers escorted everyone up to their grandchildren’s rooms.
“Please give your grandparents your chairs so they may sit down,” the teacher instructed. I had just sat down when a boy who resembled Jack immediately walked over to me and started a conversation. It was the same young man who had run toward me earlier outside in the parking lot.
“I really like your Bengals hat!” he said excitedly with a delightful southern accent.
“Thank you,” I replied with a smile. “I’m afraid the Bengals might have a long year.”
The boy laughed.
“Did you used to be a sheriff?” the boy asked.
“Yes. It was in my younger days, but I was a sheriff,” I responded with a chuckle.
The boy then said he knew we were from Wilmington, and said he had heard I had been a baseball pitcher. “You played drums just like Jack does now, didn’t you?” the boy asked.
“How did you know all of these things about me?” I asked him.
“Jack told me,” the boy said brightly.
As we talked, the boy walked around to my side and stretched his arm around my shoulder, occasionally patting me affectionately. Jack does this frequently to me when we are together.
I looked around the room and saw most of the grandparents were sitting with their grandchildren. Then, it dawned on me. The young man didn’t have any grandparents to share this day with him.
“Are your grandparents here?” I asked softly.
“No, I’m by myself today,” he whispered.
I really didn’t know what to say. But, I knew what to do. I put my arm around the young boy and asked him if he would like to sit to next to Jack, Brenda, and me.
“Yes, sir. I would like to do that,” he replied, his lip beginning to tremble.
The teacher must have heard our whispers. She looked up from her desk, as she probably does countless times during the week. She saw the four of us sitting around the table working on the interview questions together. She nodded and smiled.
This year, the students were assigned to interview their grandparents. Surprisingly, the boy asked me the same questions Jack did.
Throughout the visit, the boy continued to pat me on the back or the shoulder ever so slightly. Brenda and I noticed him take in deep breaths a couple of times. The questions were stirring his memories. When it was over, the boy stood and hugged me.
As we walked back to the car I asked Jack about his friend. “He told me his Grandma died ten years ago, and his Pawpaw died on Labor Day just a couple of months ago,” Jack said. “He told me last week his Pawpaw was a policeman, and played drums in a band, too. I told him he could sit with us today.”
Grandparents Day is a time for making special memories. This particular day will remain with Brenda and me for the rest of our lives, as we look back on this chance encounter with great fondness.
Many years from now, we hope “the boy with no grandparents” does, too.
Pat Haley is a Clinton County Commissioner.