Walter Mencken 11 a.m., May 24
- Community Blog
The Kid Who Cried
For the past fourteen years, I've complained about the commute from the SDSU area to the community college in North County where I teach part time. Everything else about the job is alright, though, and I've developed a routine that makes it tolerable, involving a flashy traffic-beating motorcycle and a converted Honda Element that I camp out of sometimes during the work week.
Like all institutions of the type, we get a lot of campus-wide emails filling up our inboxes, and as a part timer especially I regard almost all of them as junk. I don't know how many of them I've received over the years from a particular administrative assistant with an unusual last name, and this particular message was of no more interest than most, but for some reason this time I focused on the name.
After thinking about it for a minute I composed a polite reply, hoping she wouldn't mind what I was asking. I knew a kid half a century ago with that last name. We were in the early grades together, but I don't remember him beyond elementary school and we were never real close buddies anyway. We laughed about stuff, and if memory serves got sent to the corner coat rack once together with a couple of other boys for some sort of infraction that our grumpy kindergarten teacher had treated as a major big deal.
I asked her if she were related to that kid I once knew. His family had a house along Solita Avenue, and every once in awhile I'll drive past it, idly wondering whatever happened to him. That's not a major thing in itself, of course; some of us who stayed in the area have all kinds of landmarks identifiable through the cryptic language of long acquaintance. There's Butlers' Canyon, Orange's Storm Drain, Nose Man's Hill, the A&W Tunnels (or just "A-Dubs"), Hammerhead's Cul de Sac, and Behind Shakey's. These are all named for families or businesses--often decades gone from the area--that once resided nearby and provided a nice shorthand description for places where we'd play army, cowboys, sandlot ball games, and such.
That kid's house served as such a landmark, and maybe that's why I remembered him all this time and still think of him occasionally when passing by. So, after reading over the email and letting my finger linger over Send, I watched my message vanish into cyberspace.
A few hours later I checked back, and sure enough there was a reply. The lady said it sounded like I'd gone to school with her husband. Well, a few years ago I'd provided my old elementary school class photos to a website dedicated to my high school, and it was easy to find the link. I sent the link to her, and by the end of the day she'd replied again. Yes, she could see her husband in the top row of the kindergarten photos, grinning with a carefree little kid's smile. She thanked me for the link, and that was that.
Over the next few days, I'd try to recall what I remembered about that kid. His main claim to fame in the earliest years was that he'd cried during the first few days of kindergarten, and at one point tried to leave the room to walk home. The teacher was an older lady, not particularly patient or nice. She certainly didn't look athletic, but I'll never forget how she seemed to leap halfway across the room to grab him and drag him back inside as he moaned in discontent.
A couple of years later, his new claim to fame around our school was that he got held back a grade. Perhaps that's why I don't remember much about him after the early years. There was quite a stigma to that at the time, I guess, but I suppose after half a century he's lived it down. I wonder a little what his life is like now, if he has kids of his own and if he's by now a grandfather... but not that much.
Our department isn't far from his wife's office, and perhaps we've walked by each other any number of times or even met before. I'm not sure. I think, though, I'm just going to let this moment when another of life's little mysteries was unraveled--the question of whatever happened to one of those people who was once a small but memorable part of your life a long long time ago--rest as it is.