Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Mary's boys

I am frequently, no constantly, amazed at Mary's affect on high school age teenage boys and her continuing that affect as those boys become college students, growing into their young manhood. She has demonstrated an uncanny control in many different situations during her many years of teaching high school English to them, getting them to accept that Satire, Short stories, Science Fiction, American lit, and even English Literature are worth studying and knowing. Many of her former male students realize that they are better off because Mrs. C had the patience and ability to get them interested.
How do I know this? I know these things because they have told her so, with me standing, or often sitting as a witness beside her, after they have spotted her and run up to her to give her a big hug, while asking her at the same time, "Mrs C, do you remember me?" Her young men are never reluctant to approach her to express their joy at running into her at the mall, or at a restaurant where they are waiting tables, or at any public place where it is not unlawful to give your former favorite English teacher a big hug. Oddly enough, she once encountered one of those admirers in the back of an ambulance. The young man was a paramedic who was part of the response team that answered my call for help. When he recognized Mrs. C, I, the suffering patient lying on the ambulance's gurney, became an after thought. Such is her influence over them.
I bring all this up because we recently vacationed in Florida where she had occasion to exercise her abilities once again. I shouldn't be surprised at her handling of the "situation" that arose, since we have encountered the same thing on previous vacations at the same place. For the past three years we have rented a "cottage" that is next door to what we, and everyone else who has been in the vicinity, call "the party house." It is a large house with a small pool and a spa that will sleep, I expect uncomfortably, up to fifteen people who invariably turn out to be college kids on Spring Break.
Now we all know that when you get a gang of male college students on Spring Break wedged into an inadequate space for them to exist comfortably, mix in a quarter barrel or two or three, add in a few bikini clad coeds found on the beach who are, shall we say, pliable and willing to brave that churning cauldron of testosterone, then crank up the volume on the earth shaking music machine (they were playing classic rock,my favorite genre, so I can cut them some slack on the volume) and if you don't notice all hell breaking loose, then you are obviously dead.
In years past when our neighbor's in the party house were more than a little raucous into the wee hours, we just turned over in bed, put the pillow over our ears, and slept late the next morning. This year the fraternity brothers who took over the house that had made its reputation as THE PLACE TO PARTY, thought they were being clever by launching a preemptive strike at us before their turn to party got started. The afternoon they arrived, two of their more charming members, Robert and Stuart, came knocking on our door intending to reassure us that they were not a pack of rowdy hooligans who were unaware of the finer social mores that we, as members of their grandparents generation, were likely to practice. They actually had a pretty good idea--ingratiate yourself to the neighbor's, get them on your side from the get go so that they wouldn't immediately call the cops when the party was at its apex, teetering on the razor edge of sanity and total chaos. They came forward with the promise that they would not be noisy past midnight so we wouldn't be deprived of our much needed sleep. Mary, however, thought 11:00 PM was a better idea. She gave them her best "this is my world and you are welcome here as long as you obey my rules" look, which served her so well in the classroom all those years.

They never knew what hit them. Smiling all the while, Mary assured them that their mothers would be proud of them if they did as she expected. They were also informed that she would contact them each with a text right at 11:00 to remind them of their self-imposed curfew. To that end, she elicited each of their phone numbers, which they gave up willingly without another thought. By that point all that Robert and Stuart wanted to do was get away while they still had their balls in the right place.
While Mary, their new best friend, was laying down the law, I couldn't help noticing the sweat on their brows and the moistening of their armpits as they stood silently, in rapt attention. Nodding dutifully, agreeing to adhere religiously to the tenets presented to them by this most admirable of teachers, they were convinced that every thing they were hearing from this supreme being had been their idea. When Mary finally dismissed them with her motherly smile and a soft touch on each arm, they didn't realize how they had been manipulated, or how they had come to be in the presence of this motherly, nay, grandmotherly goddess of the Psyche. She had used her myriad magical psychological gambits to convince Robert and Stuart that this was all their idea: the 11:00PM curfew, the lowering of the music volume, the awareness of their language (Mary had indicated to them that the vulgar cussing so common in their conversation was unacceptical even though she could out cuss a horde of Huns if need be), that their clever opening move had succeeded beyond anything they had imagined, and that they had put one over on the nice, but simple, elderly couple next door. Mary had allowed them to leave with their dignity intact, their sense of manhood unscathed, and a feeling of accomplishment that will boost their confidence the next time they enter into negotiations with somebody.
From that moment on we had a great relationship. Every time they saw one of us, they were quick with a smiling greeting and a willingness to talk with the "elderly couple next door," whom they showered with "sirs" and "maams." They got a life lesson in communication with someone of another generation that in the past they might have been reluctant to approach. You can bet that if our paths ever cross again in some far away place and when we least expect it, Robert or Stuart will run up to Mary, embrace her with a monster hug, and say, "remember me?"
And best of all, the party noise never crossed the line into objectionable territory. We all got plenty of sleep, and Mary had provided those two young men a lesson in getting along with others, even the elderly couple next door. And I got material for another Mary C story. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

friendship

I was sitting here thinking about all the people we know, the people we call friends, and the people we consider special in our life. We, of course, have some very longstanding friendships that are significant because of their longevity. Those are the people who are essential to our life story, the narrative that defines us now and how we got to this moment. Then there are the more recent relationships that have entered our life and are held there by a rather tenuous thread that can grow stronger with time or shred into strands of memory. Such temporary friendships are more common and can blossom into full friends of lofty status or remain as acquaintances, pushed to the sidelines and easily forgotten when the next new friend appears. We, of course, have experienced all those different kinds of friends, from the dearest of friends to the slight acquaintance, through the years and have enjoyed being one of those different kinds of friend, from "best" to "barely know them" to them in return.
We are very fortunate because we make friends easily. Smile at me as you pass me on the sidewalk and you are close to being my new best friend. Once we get to talking, you're mine. Mary has the real gift, though, that attracts people to her like metal shavings to a magnet. For some reason, total strangers feel compelled to confide in her. If given 5 minutes with her, she will know that person's life story, the names of all her family members down to her cousins, all their husbands and wives, all their birthdays, their political leanings, how many devout Christians and how many devout Muslims are in their family, and how regular they all are. Mary was in Kohls one day, standing in the checkout line when she struck up a conversation with the woman behind her in line. Five minutes later they had made a lunch date and a promise to get together frequently. That was nearly three years ago and they are still meeting for lunch. Not the same lunch, obviously.
Then there are the friends who get separated by living their lives and putting all their effort into the necessities of that life. They get married, have 2.5 children, change jobs a half dozen times, settle in a city far across the country and only occasionally, think of you. Then one sun shining day, without warning, the fates nudge them to look to their left instead of to the right. And there the friends cross paths 40 yrs down the road, quickly get reacquainted, and pick up their friendship right where they left off those many years ago as if there was no intervening hiatus. I have had that happen to me twice in my life, and feel enriched and thankful to God for giving me back my friends.
If I had to guess, I would say that at least half of you have had a so-called friend who hurt you by doing or saying something stupid that made you question the value of that friend. Friends can usually get away with an occasional insult or observation that cuts to the bone, like a razor sharp stiletto stuck between your ribs and twisted more than once. That hurts. But hurts will heal if given time and the cause of that hurt will mercifully be forgotten. Tolerance for the idiosyncrasies that made you want to have that person be your friend, is the key to the door that opens into the room that holds all the good attributes that drew you into that friendship in the first place.
It is important to remember that there are good friends and bad friends. Remember how often your parents questioned you about who you were hanging with and what you were doing with them? Isn't it amazing how right your parents were, how much they knew and how intelligent they became as you got older. Parents' duty is to protect their children from the hazards of life. Vetting your friends may seem to be an invasion of privacy at times, but how grateful were you when Mom warned you to stay way from that kid you thought was your friend who ended up in jail for dealing drugs. That is the quintessential bad friend. Of course, Moms and Dads can be

wrong at times. When the kid who would be your friend that they didn't want you to associate with turns out to President of the US, they will brag about your taste in friends and they will have to admit their error and eat their words.
Let's not forget the steadfast friend who has always been there for you from the first time you met. He is the guy who will always show up to help you move, to shovel that 4 yards of topsoil, to babysit your kids on a moment's notice, to lend you his car when yours is in the shop. He's the designated driver the night of your stag party. He's the epitome of "best friend." Everyone should have a friend like that, if only to use as contrast and to make you appreciate all those others who would claim friendship with you.
So there you have it, friends. I hope this little essay will stir your appreciation for your friends. I hope you all are blessed with fine friends. Feel free to count me among them.