From Chicken Soup for the African American Soul

Remembering Eric

You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’m sure he never expected to see me there. He froze right in his tracks. His big green eyes looked like they might pop out of his head!

There he was—my eleven-year-old son Eric, standing among the crowd of children entering the cafeteria at his school. It was lunchtime. From a distance, I waved. I summoned him out of the lunch line, shaking the familiar fast-food bag I held in my hand. As he eagerly ran toward me with a huge grin on his face, I knew this would be a special time for us. As it turns out, it was one of the most rewarding experiences I remember with my son.

It was a Wednesday morning and probably one of the most hectic days in my office. The telephone was ringing off the hook; there were numerous reports due at the end of the day, and an important meeting to prepare for that afternoon. I had not yet had my first cup of coffee. As I reached into my pocket, searching for my favorite mint, I found a pink paper with a list of things I intended to buy at the grocery store during my lunch hour. There were several more items to add.

I turned it over and discovered it was actually a flyer inviting parents to come to the school and have lunch with their child. How could something like this have slipped my mind? I guess I hadn’t paid much attention to the flyer because my son wasn’t fond of things like that.

But for some reason, I couldn’t seem to get that invitation off of my mind. Eric was a fifth-grader and would be graduating and going to middle school the next year. This would probably be my last opportunity to have lunch with my son. I checked my watch. There was time. I could still make it. Forty-five minutes before the scheduled lunch, I shut down my computer, locked the file cabinets and dashed out to fetch Eric’s favorite double cheeseburger and fries.

The shock on Eric’s face mirrored my own. This was not the same child I had sent to school that morning. The son I dropped off wore clean, starched, navy blue slacks and a spotless, button-up white cotton dress shirt. The child before me sported a white mesh football jersey (with no shirt underneath), navy blue fleece shorts (three sizes too big), and a very nice and rather large gold hoop earring. Around his neck was a fancy gold chain with the initial “A” dangling from it. (I only hoped that it was for the grades he intended to earn.) As it turned out, the necklace belonged to a little girl named Ashanti.

As we both recovered, we slowly made our way to the lunch benches to begin our midday meal. Prior to arriving, I feared he would be too embarrassed to have lunch with his mother. After all, it had only been three years earlier when he had adamantly refused to take a picture with me at school in front of his buddies. I prepared myself. I knew he wouldn’t be rude to me, but I thought he might eat as quickly and quietly as possible, and then run off to play with his friends.

But Eric began to tell me what he did in class that day. He told me a story he had read in his social studies book and described in detail a film he watched about Indians. Funny, he didn’t tell me how or when he had changed his clothes. I was enjoying his company so much that I chose not to bring it up.

As he talked, he became the little boy who always drew a picture in preschool to show me. He was the small child who wanted me to kneel at his bedside at night and pray with him. He was my young son yelling in triumph while I clapped my hands as he rode down the street for the first time on his two-wheeler.

As he spoke, ketchup ran down the side of his mouth and proceeded to drip onto his white mesh football jersey. He seemed to neither notice nor care. Young girls passed slowly, at first trying to get his attention, and then to whisper and giggle as they watched him talk at full speed, so unlike the cool jock they all adored.

Although I hated for the lunch to end, we began to gather our trash. He would go back to the playground to finish recess with his classmates. I would go back to my office, this time in much better spirits. Eric actually wanted me there. My son was enjoying my company as much as I was enjoying his. He began a joke but fell out laughing hysterically before he could finish it. His laughter was so contagious I, too, doubled over with giggles, and we laughed so long and so hard I thought we would both lose our lunch.

It really didn’t matter whether or not he finished the joke or even if it was funny. All that mattered was that for twenty minutes, on a Wednesday afternoon, we tuned out the entire world, my son and I, and no one else existed but us. We had made magic memories on the elementary school lunch benches with a $2.99 burger special.

Two weeks after our luncheon together, the child I had prayed for, loved, treasured and adored died during the night, without warning, suddenly and silently of a massive seizure.

There are no more funny stories. There are no more opportunities for me to hug him tightly and kiss his forehead. There will be no new photographs.

Even as I watch his friends grow up, he will always remain that eleven-year-old boy. I still talk to him. I think of him constantly. I miss him terribly. His memory is so precious to me. We shared many things in the short time we had together. But I’ll always be thankful I took the time for that schoolyard lunch we shared; it was one of the most rewarding experiences in my life.

Tracy Clausell-Alexander

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners