By John Jericiau
I just returned from the birthday party of a classmate of my eldest son Devin, who is deep into kindergarten. The party was held in the city’s only bowling alley, which happens to be just a few blocks from our house. Twenty-two boys and girls enjoyed a game of bowling, which took just under two hours, along with some pizza pies and veggie platters. The game was not competitive at all; however, I was pleased to see that Devin came out of it with the highest score (87).
Devin seemed to have a great time among friends, and I have to say that I did too. I had our 5-month-old son with me, looking as adorable as ever, and during an early-in-the-party conversation with other parents he abruptly nodded off to sleep, snoring angelically for the duration. I enjoyed immensely the other parents and their jokes, and sensed that some of us had bonded, now that there’s eleven weeks left in the school year. Topics included summer camps, the kindergarten teacher’s recent elopement, and the desire to plan a “Parent’s Night Out” for all of us that are “barely hanging in there.”
One of the best (and the worst) experiences that goes hand-in-hand with having children in school is meeting new people, all who share a common bond. I love getting to know how everyone else’s family works (or doesn’t work), where they’ve come from, and where they are going. On the downside, there’s the gossip, judging, and backstabbing, but you have to take the good with the bad. You have to hang in there, if nothing else but for your kids. So you force yourself to talk to others, even if you don’t particularly want to.
Fortunately for me, I’ve always been fairly outgoing with people from a young age, and have tried to instill that curiosity and openness in my own kids. I was lucky to be this way when I made my way across the country alone on my bicycle at age 22. I had no problem meeting new people as I stopped in a city or rural town at the end of my day, which was fortunate since I had 60 ends of days. No sooner would I be chatting it up with someone outside a grocery store or fruit stand or mall when I would receive at least one invitation to spend the night with a roof over my head instead of ants beneath my body. Once we got to know each other, my new friend would expand their offer to include dinner, a shower, a clean comfortable bed, breakfast the next morning, and a packed lunch to last me through half of the next day. Occasionally I’d receive even more extras like cash, gift cards, hotel accommodations set up for the following night in a town along my proposed route, and yes, even a massage.
One of the most unique encounters I had was with Native American Indians right smack in the middle of the country. I ran into a family of them in a kind of rest stop along the main highway that bisects this midwestern state. The highway is peppered with connecting roads that lead to reservation after reservation.
The family quickly offered to let me stay with them, and although I felt some hesitation, I found myself slinging my bike onto the back of their pickup truck and hopping in. We arrived to their very modest house in no time, and upon entering through the front door I was greeted by a living room that had nothing but a brand-new, large color television right smack in the middle of it, with children and young adults alike gathered around it like a campfire.
I was offered a beverage, the choices being either water or beer, and then was shown my sleeping quarters, which turned out being a mattress in the basement with a rather large collection of cats. Needless to say the place smelled like cats and their byproducts. I wished everyone good night and laid my sleeping bag atop the mattress and hunkered down for a much needed rest.
It wasn’t more than an hour into the smelly night when someone opened the door to the basement and began their tiptoeing descent toward me. I could hear heavy breathing and a few cat cries as the person got closer and closer. With two feet to go I could see that it was the mother of the house, Ruth, who was feeling a little tipsy and very amorous. I had to fight off all 275 pounds of her for what seemed like an eternity (but was probably no more than a minute or two) before her keen-hearing brother dashed down the stairs and saved the night. After they left, I kept watch until the morning, but the coast remained clear. And I hightailed it out of there at the first sight of the sun.
The rest of my bike trip was eventful and memorable. Everyone has a story to tell, but for the times I had other interesting encounters, the cat’s got my tongue. At least for now, that is.