13: Everybody Knows Everybody

13: Everybody Knows Everybody

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grand and Great

Everybody Knows Everybody

Some things have to be believed to be seen.

~Ralph Hodgson

Today was a special day, the type of day that restores a faith of sorts.

And in that faith I found a lesson, taught to me by my six-year-old son, Brandon.

I watched him at the kitchen table carefully packing his lunch bag. I was going to take him along with me to work. As he put it, “I’m going to be a worker-man.”

Carefully laid out before him was an arrangement of everything he required to get him through the day — a small coloring book, crayons, a small box of Smarties, a blueberry muffin, an egg salad “samich” (as he called it) and three small Easter eggs.

To know Brandon is to understand that time has no meaning. I was running late and implored Brandon to “hurry up!” (I’m sure he feels the watch is a confidence trick, invented by the Swiss.)

Hurry he did. In fact, he forgot his well-packed lunch, a mistake I was painfully aware of on the forty-minute drive to town. He admonished me several times, saying, “Dad, you made me rush. Now I have no lunch.” He changed the words over the duration of the scolding, but the meaning remained the same, “I need a lunch because you made me forget mine.”

I purchased a sandwich and another muffin at a restaurant in town. Satisfied, he carried the bag to the van, and soon his mutinous thoughts of “no lunch, no work” vanished.

We arrived at a small bungalow in the suburbs of Kingston (Ontario, Canada). Our job: to install indooroutdoor carpet on the porch and steps.

I rang the doorbell. I could hear the deadbolt being released, then the handle-lock and security chain. The door swung slowly open revealing an old, thin man. He looked ill. His white hair covered his head in patches. The powder-blue shirt hung from his shoulders as though on a hanger — his belt, several sizes too big.

I smiled, asking if he was Mr. Burch.

“Yes. Are you here to do the porch and steps?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Okay, I will leave this door open.” “Okay, I will get to work.”

“Do you have a ‘flidge?’” blurted Brandon. The old man looked down at Brandon, who extended his lunch.

“Yes, I do. Do you know where to find the fridge?”

“Yes, I do,” said Brandon, walking past the man. “It’s in the kitchen.”

I was about to suggest to Brandon that he was being too bold by walking in, but before I could, the old man held his finger to his lips, gesturing it was okay.

“He’ll be all right. He can’t get into anything at all. Does he really help you?”

I nodded yes. Brandon returned, asking, in his most elf-like voice, “Do you have a coloring book?”

Again, I was about to suggest to Brandon that he was perhaps being bold. I extended my hand, beckoning him outside. The old man grasped my hand feebly. He looked at Brandon.

“Your father tells me you help him.”

“Yes. I’m a worker-man,” Brandon replied with pride.

I looked down, adding, “Apparently his job today is to keep the customer busy.”

The old man looked at Brandon and released my hand, a faint smile appearing.

“Maybe you could do some work and show me how to color?”

With a most serious look, Brandon asked, “Dad, will you be okay?”

“Will Mr. Burch be okay?” I answered.

“We will be fine. We will be right here at the table. Come help me get out the book, worker-man.”

I walked to the truck, returning with material and my notepad in time to hear Brandon comment, “You have already colored in this book. You are a good colorer.”

“No, I didn’t color these pictures. My grandchildren did.”

“What are grandchildren?” Brandon asked curiously. “They are my children’s children. I am a grandfather.”

“What’s a grandfather?”

“Well, when you grow up and get married, then have children of your own, your dad will be a grandpa. Then your mother will be a grandma. They will be grandparents. Do you understand?”

Brandon paused. “Yes, Grandpa.”

“Oh, I don’t think I’m your grandpa,” the old man suggested.

Brandon rubbed his hair from his eyes. Studying the crayons, he selected one and continued to color.

Brandon said, “Everybody knows everybody, you know?”

“Well, I’m not sure they do. Why do you say that?” The old man looked curiously at Brandon, who was diligently coloring.

“We all comed from God. He made us all. We are fambily.”

“Yes, God made everything,” the old man confirmed.

“I know,” said Brandon in a lighthearted voice. “He told me.”

I had never heard Brandon talk of such things before, other than one time when we had gone to church to watch a Christmas play. While waiting for the play to start, Brandon had asked which door God would be coming through and if he would be sitting with us.

“He told you?” The old man was clearly curious.

“Yes, he did. He lives up there.” Brandon pointed to the ceiling, looking up with reverence. “I b-member being there and talking to him.”

“What did he say to you?” The old man placed his crayon on the table, focusing on Brandon.

“He said we are all fambily.” Brandon paused, then added logically, “So you’re my grandpa.”

The old man looked to me through the screen door. He smiled. I was embarrassed that he saw me watching them. He told Brandon to keep coloring; he was going to check on the job.

The old man made his way slowly to the door. Opening it, he stepped onto the porch.

“How’s it going?” he asked.

“It’s going okay,” I said. “I won’t be long.” The old man smiled slightly.

“Does the boy have a grandfather?”

I paused. “No, he doesn’t. They were gone when he was born. He has a nanny, you know, a grandmother, but she is frail and not well.”

“I understand what you’re saying. I have cancer. I’m not long for this Earth, either.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, Mr. Burch. I lost my mother to cancer.”

He looked at me with tired, smiling eyes. “Every boy needs a grandfather,” he said softly.

I agreed, adding, “It’s just not in the cards for Brandon.”

The old man looked back to Brandon, who was coloring vigorously. Turning back to me, he asked, “How often do you come to town, Son?”

“Me?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“I come in almost every day.”

The old man looked back to me. “Perhaps you could bring Brandon by from time to time, when you’re in the area that is, for thirty minutes or so. What do you think?”

I looked in at Brandon. He had stopped coloring and was listening to us. “Could we, Dad? We are fliends. We can have lunch together.”

“Well, if it’s okay with Mr. Burch.”

The old man opened the door, returning to the table. Brandon slid from his chair and walked to the fridge. “It’s lunch time, Grandpa. I got enough for both of us.” Brandon returned to the table. He removed the contents from the paper bag. “Do you have a knife?” asked Brandon.

The old man started to get up.

“I can find it. Tell me where to look,” instructed Brandon.

“The butter knives are next to the corner of the counter, in the drawer.”

“Found it!”

Brandon returned to the table. He unwrapped his muffin. With the care of a diamond-cutter, he cleaved two perfect portions. Brandon placed one portion on the plastic the muffin was wrapped in. He pushed it toward Mr. Burch.

“This is yours.” He carefully unwrapped the sandwich next and cut it in half. “This is yours, too. We have to eat the samich first. Mom says.”

“Okay,” replied Mr. Burch.

“Do you like juice, Brandon?”

“Yep, apple juice.”

Mr. Burch walked slowly to the fridge. He removed a can of apple juice and poured two small glasses. He placed one in front of Brandon. “This is yours.”

“Thank you, Grandpa.” Brandon punctuated his eating with questions to Mr. Burch and fits of coloring.

“Do you play hockey, Brandon?”

“Yep,” said Brandon, studying the end of his sandwich before biting into it. “Dad took me, Tyler and Adam in the wintertime.”

“Years ago,” Mr. Burch started, “I used to play for a Senior-A-team. I was almost ready to play for the NHL, but I was never called up. I did play once with a man who was called up, though. He was a fine player. Bill Moore. That was his name.”

My heart leapt to my throat. “Tutter Moore?” I asked through the screen.

The old man was startled. He looked at me. “Yes, that’s him... was called up to Boston a few times. You’ve heard of him?”

“Yes,” I said, my voice cracking. “You’re eating lunch with his grandson.”

The old man looked back to Brandon. He stared for a few moments. Brandon looked innocently at Mr. Burch.

“Yes... I see now. He looks very much like Tutter. And the nanny is Lillian?”

“Yes,” I replied.

The old man clasped Brandon’s hand.

“Brandon, I owe you an apology. You were right, and I was wrong. Everybody does know everybody.”

~Lea MacDonald
Chicken Soup for the Grandparent’s Soul

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