This in honor of the recent birthday of my youngest, seen here in Fifth Grade, impersonating America’s tubbiest President, William Howard Taft.
For a while there, we were in danger of some real solemnity in this family; of growing downright grave what with practicing the quieter virtues. We had two children at first, both females, and I can tell you we all floated along on a great river of calm.
Even when a third child had come and was, of all things, a boy, we still moved with tranquility, and for a while the baby seemed to do so too – until the day at about 12 months old when he stood up in his crib and began hollering to his stuffed animals. A certain vividness surfaced for us all then; and quiet understatement went down for the third time.
This little boy’s grandmother had been a wise-guy and we all loved that about her. She died when this third child was only three so he doesn’t remember her.
But I found myself calling my sister not much more than a year after her death. “I know this sounds weird, but I think Mom’s back!” is what I told her. Because this third child was a happy little wise-guy himself, and brought to the once-peaceful supper table of family life a level of hilarity we never would have predicted.
He fancied toilet plungers as a First Grader, and when, at the hardware store, he saw a display of very small ones, he cried out with joy and began promptly applying them, with great sucking sounds, to his ears, mouth, and bare tummy. He asked for half a dozen for his birthday.
He told us in Fourth Grade that the teacher said they would need string for that night’s homework.
“What if we have no string?” he asked her. “Use dental floss,” she replied, setting herself up for it. “I can’t,” he answered with mock-sadness. “My family doesn’t believe in oral hygiene.”
We dreaded the next parent-teacher conference.
Around this same time, he got a new jacket imprinted, as these jackets often are, with our town’s name. The nice man helping us pointed out that with so many jackets alike, it was a good idea to have his name stitched on the sleeve.
“OK!” he agreed readily “Only have it say ‘Fatty,’ he added, and three grownups could not talk him out of it.
At this point he was four foot eight inches tall and weighed 72 pounds. Every spring at his yearly checkup, the doctor would say, “Due for a growth spurt soon!’ And every year he would look ironically over at me.
But while we awaited this famous growth spurt, we had some dandy fun.
I recall the time he pulled some hair our of my hairbrush, glued it to his bare chest, sauntered into the living room and said in a theatrically deepened voice, “Dad, I’d like to use the car tonight.”
When he finally turned 11th, I remember we got him everything but more toilet plungers – and also a cake reading “Happy Birthday, Fatty.”
Of course he insisted on being the one to light its million candles; then rushed into the darkened next room and made us march in with it, singing.
“What did you wish?” one of his sisters asked after he blew out the candles.
He wouldn’t say – some things are serious, after all – but I knew what I wished: that night. I wished we could rewind the eleven years and run them clear through again.
And the 11 years that followed them too. Ah, those years too.