Flea Bites and Friendships

Me, at seventeen.
If I could write a letter to me,
And send it back in time to myself at 17 . . .
Brad Paisley

My Grandfather was a story-teller. Not a whimsical story-teller, but a practical story-teller; every story Papap recited, had a moral. He was also a coffee drinker, who sat down in his seat at the head of the kitchen table, to a cup of Chock full 'oNuts, before and after every household chore or act of physical labor, prior to his leaving for work, the store or an appointment, and upon his arrival home again.

Hot coffee had the effect of loosening Grandpap's tongue, and after the first few sips, he'd call my brother and I into the kitchen, and instruct us to sit down beside him on one of Grandma's cushioned, pale aqua-painted, wrought iron chairs.

Rob and I, sitting at the table on Papap's lap. What a dopey grin!

What we were doing when he felt moved to impart some gem of wisdom upon us, never mattered to Papap. Rob and I were simply expected to make a swift appearance at his side. He never called twice.

As we sat at at the table, trying hard not to fidget, he'd begin his often woeful account, of a friend or relative who'd encountered some hardship, or hatched some misbegotten scheme. More often than not, we'd be hooked after the first minute or two of the story, and forget that we we'd left some hole half-dug, or a favorite television character up-a-tree.

When he spoke to us, it wasn't as an adult to a child. He never moderated his speech or the subject matter. His only concession to our youth, was to stop every so often to ask, "Ya follow me?" I always nodded yes, half in fear that if I said no, he'd quit in disgust and dismiss us without finishing the story.

Sitting in Papap's seat at the head of the table. I must have been invited to do so.

Pap wasn't a learned man, so most of his knowledge came from life experience, public radio or from pleasure reading. His favorite periodical was National Geographic. He made his living driving a bus, and prior to that, a streetcar, across the city of Pittsburgh. He met and talked to lots of people along the line, and he learned from them. Grandpap's stories offered a glimpse into the adult world. Nobody else ever bothered to talk of such things to us.

There were themes associated with Papap's stories, and over the course of time, I learned to discern what was coming. His language was idomatic, and one of his favorite axioms was, if you lie down with dogs, you'll wake up with fleas.

When I was very young, I didn't wholly understand the meaning behind these words, and was silently defensive. My dog had no fleas! It wasn't long, of course, before I matured enough to understand what my grandfather was trying to tell us, and I did take his meaning to heart. I made every attempt to choose my friends wisely. God forbid I should end up like one of the tragic figures in his stories, flea bitten and desperate.

Bloomfield Hills Lahser High School

As an adolescent coming of age in a community as affluent as Bloomfield Hills, I suppose some might suggest that the field of opportunity was narrowed somewhat, as far as my finding bad apples was concerned; but, with the cultural tumult of the 1970's, I'm sure I could have found my way into trouble, had I tried. After all, we did have a smoking lounge at our high school. God knows, what went on in there! :)

Whatever criteria I used to sort through the masses and select my friends, seemed to have paid off in spades, because I managed to make my way through high school and college without incurring even the smallest of flea bites. Pap, I learned my lesson well!

Sadly, however, if I were to have a single regret in life, it would be, that I failed to maintain the relationships that faired me so well through what might have been, a very difficult period of maturation. If I could in fact, write a letter to myself at seventeen, as suggested by Brad Paisley in his song, Letter to Me, I would have reminded myself that good friends are hard to come by, and once secured, should not be cast aside lightly.

At fifty, I've been graced by God with the opportunity to make some amends for my youthful folly, at least in part; and with a measure of both pride and relief, can say that memory served me well the past thirty-three years. My girlhood friends, met recently again in the flesh, were, and still are, women of virtue. No dogs here!

Anne, Kathy and I, 2010

In addition to having been given the opportunity to rekindle old friendships, a door has been opened to the possibility of making new friendships of old acquaintances. What more could I ask for, at a time in life when some might feel resigned to let sleeping dogs lie where they may. . . fleas or no fleas?

As part of the committee organizing our 35 year high school reunion, I traveled back to Bloomfield Hills, and was reacquainted with two of my best girlfriends. Here we are together with two of my 'new' friends from high school, Larry and Jim. June 2010

1 comment:

  1. good advice. Looks like you had a great time!