It’s already starting to warm up around here. We’ve had several days in the 70s and expect more this week.
Last weekend I stumbled over Rachel sitting on the kitchen floor, furtively eating a sticky something from a large cooking bowl. It turned out to be some sort of ad hoc cookie dough she had thrown together. “I wanted to try and remember what it was like to be 5,” she explained.
Please save a spot for Tina in your thoughts this week. After spending last week at Shannon’s, Friday she flew to South Carolina to help tend to her mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s in a Columbia care facility. The two of them spent some nice time together this weekend, sadly, no longer as mother and daughter, but mother and very-nice-lady-who-came-to-visit. It makes me even more grateful for her and for my nice (and healthy!) family. Kathy sent a remarkable photo from Grandma’s 104th birthday party. I feel like distributing that photo at work. “These folks’ average age is almost 85!” It’s all the smiling that keeps you all young.
Gabe spent Thursday away from his usual classes shadowing a sixth-grader way across town at Kealing. Kealing is a magnet program designed for kids who want to pursue a more rigorous curriculum than the local neighborhood school offers, and a few middle school-aged kids from our neighborhood go there. Assuming he’s accepted, he’ll have to decide whether the additional homework (3 hours per day they say), the loss of neighborhood school friends, and the 6:30am school bus is a worthwhile trade for all the cool electives that Kealing offers. Is it better to be a gifted 10-year-old in a sea of gifted 10-year-olds, or the proverbial big fish in the little pond? Rachel was invited to the big pond, but stayed in the little one and likes it better.
Speaking of gifted 10-year-olds, I seem to remember that one of our illustrious cousins won the Minnesota state chess championship at that age. Do I have that right, Scott?
But my favorite gifted 10-year-old ever was a scrawny little kid “William” who attended a “Gifted and Talented” camp with me one summer in Washington DC.
On the first morning of camp, the counselors divided us into groups of three, then bombshelled us with the news that each group had an hour to choose something to present at the end-of-week talent show. By the look on his face, I could tell that 14-year-old Paul, fellow elder statesman in the group, shared my opinion that it sucked to come to camp only to have to perform like a trained seal. But little William’s eyes lit up with delight. “We could design a computer!” he exclaimed, reaching into his briefcase – yes, he carried a briefcase – for a pencil and some handy graph paper.
He started scribbling excitedly, drawing, I kid you not, Page 1 of the schematic for the new computer we were going to present Friday afternoon. This was 1976. “Let’s see,” he said speculatively, “when the user presses a key, that will interrupt a beam of light, triggering a response from the CdS cell…”. Then, examining our faces for signs of comprehension and finding only skepticism and ignorance, he explained helpfully, “A CdS cell – that’s ‘Cadmium Sulfide’ – is a light actuated variable resistor whose resistance varies in inverse proportion to the number of photons it is exposed to in a given time.”
With that clarification, Paul and I gave up any hope of participating and started talking about something more on our level. I want to say girls, but probably not. William gave up too, not on his grand computer design, but only on trying to explain it to the the two old men in the group. He silently scribbled and scratched his head, then scribbled and scratched some more, but after about 30 minutes of exuberant work, even his enthusiasm waned. “It’s hard to design a computer,” he said sadly, putting down his pencil. Paul and I looked at each other knowingly. And then, dejectedly, “I don’t think I’m smart enough.”
“But you know,” he exclaimed, his eyes suddenly flashing again, “these counselors aren’t that smart either!”
To make a long story short, we revised our plan for the show. Instead of designing a computer, “we” decided to design a complicated-looking something that could pass for one, on the very plausible assumption that no one present would be able to prove that it wasn’t. So William got to work drawing pages and pages of pseudo-schematics for “our” new “computer”. Every day during the allotted hour, he drew and drew while Paul and I looked on appreciatively, and by Thursday night he had generated over 40 detailed pages full of very convincing looking material.
While I agreed that the pile of schematics would certainly make an impression on anyone who thumbed through them, I couldn’t help but point out to my team that talent show rules required a 15-minute presentation. So since neither Paul nor I obviously had any hope of pulling it off, and because he seemed to have a bit of flair for the theatrical, William also volunteered to present “our” new “computer” at the camp assembly. We rehearsed his spiel a couple of times, and I was actually beginning to feel that we might get away with our little ruse – except that the timing didn’t work out. No matter how slowly he described his big design – and obviously it was dangerous to go into too much detail – he could never stretch the presentation beyond about 10 or 11 minutes. That leftover time terrified me. It seemed to invite awkward follow-up questions from the audience, which would almost certainly unravel the whole scheme and send us packing for home in disgrace.
“We really need something to fill in those extra few minutes,” I said earnestly. William’s eyes flashed one last time, and, reaching back into the ever-handy briefcase, he pulled out a pair of shiny black dress shoes and placed them with a clack on the table. “I brought my tap shoes,” he said smiling.
So I’ll leave you with the image of our group performing at the Friday afternoon talent show. Two gangly 14-year-olds stand stage left smiling deferentially, but otherwise doing nothing at all, while little William describes our we designed our phony computer, then delights the crowd with a tap number from a Fred Astaire film. I wish I could see what that kid is up to now.
Happy thought of the week. 45+ consecutive years of getting birthday cards from Peg and Jim, almost all handmade! (In the old days, they used to put three $1 bills in, but alas, no longer.) I consider it a good year if I remember to send anything for either of my siblings’ birthdays. Thanks P+J!
Have a good week.