Quite a Character, That Harry

I told Harry not to bother me when I was reading.

********

I  first encountered him at Starbucks. I was with my friend Lori, whom I hadn’t seen in months. We had so much to talk about: friends we’d loved and jobs we hadn’t and how to bake a ham. Seriously, our pressing topics ranged from the life-changing to the family-feeding, dancing over the tops of a dozen other issues in-between.

We tucked ourselves into a corner table in the back, and we bent appreciatively over our steaming brews. Lori had a fragrant vanilla latte; I had my trusty decaf Americano. And we talked. We had just moved into a discussion of her youngest daughter’s exciting summer program (Jorie has a scholarship to space camp) when we became aware of a little man, pacing the length of the coffee shop.

A short fellow, his sweep of reddish hair, peckled with gray, swirled back off his forehead– the way guys used to do it in Brylcreem days. His pale, lashless blue eyes look oversized and uncomfortably close behind thick, thick lenses. His chin receded, but his belly did not, and his tight, short-sleeved plaid shirt did nothing to disguise that fact. His pants—well, he went in big for the Ed Grimley look, that little guy did. He was sort of pixie-ish, and I would have thought, “Endearing,” if he hadn’t looked so angry.

His face was pinched and tomato-red, and he hugged a fancy leather portfolio, papers jutting out at every angle, tight to his chest. He’d stalk up and glare at us and then disappear. We’d lapse back into conversation only to feel the heat of laser-eye glare and look up to see him again.

“Oh, Lord,” whispered Lori, when he’d gone for the fourth time. “Do you remember him?”

Did he look familiar?  Maybe?

Nope. Nothing clicked.

“No,” I said.  “I don’t think so.”

“He is a character. He was my advisee at Central State when you taught there,” she said. “He always registered late, and he always wanted to get into your writing class, and it was always full.”

“Well,” I said, dubiously. “I guess that’s flattering. Right?”

“He used to yell at me,” said Lori. “‘Find me a spot!’ he’d say. He’d kind of jump up and down. His hair would flop up and down, like in one big shellacked chunk. He always reminded me of Rumpelstiltskin. Once I had to tell him to calm down or I’d call Security.”

She sipped her latte and narrowed her eyes at his retreating back. “Harry Critt,” she said. “That’s his name. I was really glad when I became a director and didn’t have to deal with him one-on-one anymore.”

He was heading back toward us when the barista called, “Harry! Your frap is ready!”

Harry swiveled abruptly and almost ran to the counter.

We decided that was a good time to make our exit; we slipped quietly out the back door, leaving Harry to his pacing.

*************

Right around when that happened, I was whining to Mark about not having time to read. Reading, I had thought, would be my retirement default mode. And recently, I had accumulated a wonderful stack of bought and borrowed books. I had Hidden Figures; we had just watched the film and I couldn’t wait to get more background on the story of those women.

And I wondered at the depiction of John Glenn in the film; Glenn grew up,–he and Annie both, actually,–maybe twenty miles from here. So I had a copy of his memoir. Somehow I’d missed one of Madeleine L’Engle’s Austin Family Chronicles back in the day, so when I saw a copy of The Moon By Night on a sale table, I had to pick it up. And I had a copy of Ready Player One, too; it’s a Great American Read book, after all.

And then I read an interview with a woman who lived near Toledo; it was on a reading blog and the woman said she’d become a confirmed reader because of Nancy Drew, and I thought, “Wait. Wasn’t Nancy Drew’s author from Toledo?” So I ordered a copy of Girl Sleuth by Melanie Rehak; that was the story of the women who, as Carolyn Keene, wrote Nancy Drew, and yes, Mildred Wirt was from Toledo. And the book was fascinating; it read like a compelling novel, and I never had enough time to sit down and just read for an hour.

And of course, I had some nice, light, mystery series volumes to cleanse the reading palette.

But there was always something to write or clean or paint or do; there were rides to be given and cookies to be baked and floors to be mopped and weeds to be pulled. I’d try to read, but unfinished chores pinched and pulled me.

“I thought,” I wailed to Mark, “that when I retired I’d get more reading done!”

And he said, “Well, just take a break and read in the afternoon.”

But I couldn’t, I told him; I couldn’t relax into reading when there was work to be done. The dishes screamed at me; the weeds sang a taunting song; James sighed heavily from in front of his computer, wishing he had a ride to somewhere.

“I can’t stand it,” I said. “I can’t concentrate with all that NOISE.”

“Then go someplace ELSE and read,” said Mark.

I thought that was brilliant.

******************

The first time, I went to Panera. I ordered a decaf and a cinnamon scone. It was 2:00 in the afternoon and not very busy, and I found a little two-person table in the quiet back. I put my purse and my jacket on the other chair to discourage anyone who might feel sorry for my solitariness and decide to sit.

And I opened Girl Sleuth and took a big slug of decaf, and I relaxed into the chair, and I began to read.

I was lost in the tale of Edward the genius and Harriet his daughter and Mildred the Iowa girl with gumption when a noisy, throat-clearing rattle jounced me out of that wonderful other world. I looked and there was Harry Critt.

“Pardon me,” he said, with a cocky little half-smile.

I looked at him for a long pause.

“Yes?” I said icily. “As you see, I am reading.”

“You teach writing,” said Harry.

“I DID teach writing. Once. I am retired now, and I barely remember a thing about it.”

“She never got me into your class,” said Harry darkly. “But now you’re retired and you have time.”

He lowered the leather portfolio, broke into a full-on grin, and made to sit down.

I kicked my foot up onto the chair, next to my purse and jacket.

“Don’t sit,” I said bluntly. “I am READING.”

“But that’s what I want you to do!” And Harry smiled. “You can read my work. I have here,” and he flourished the leather portfolio; three papers fluttered out, landing on the table beside me and the floor, “my journal. Wait just a minute.”

Harry scrambled around and got his errant papers; he shoved them back into the portfolio.

“Now today,” he said, “as we don’t really know each other very well yet, I thought The War Years would be a very good starting point. That will tell you a lot about me. And I’d like your advice on the action scenes. I don’t,” he said, and he ducked his head shyly, “know if I made myself seem a little too heroic. Although of course, I stuck completely to the facts.”

“Harry,” I said, “I’m going to be very direct, because I have great respect for writers. I WANT TO READ MY BOOK. I need you to leave me alone.”

He looked at me incredulously.

“The history society might be very interested in hearing about your war years,” I suggested. “And there’s a writers’ group in town that you could join. They read each other’s work and give exactly the kind of feedback you’re looking for.”

“But I don’t want to work with them,” said Harry. “I want to work with YOU. And I am not leaving until you read at least a page of my stuff.”

I stood up and gathered my things.

“I AM leaving, though, Harry,” I said firmly. “I wish you enjoyment in your writing, but I am not going to read it. Not now, and not another day. Try the writers’ group, Harry.”

His mouth dropped open, and I left him like that. Just as I got to the exit, he warbled, “But you taught a class in personal journaling!”

Goodbye, Harry, I thought, and, mood broken, I went home and made some broth and mopped the kitchen floor.

*****************

The next day, I was on the stationary bike at the gym, when who should come around the corner of the track but Harry. He had long baggy shorts on, and a sweat-stained gray T-shirt, and a stretchy white terrycloth band wrapped around his forehead.

And he clutched his portfolio, papers streaming.

My son James was on the bicycle next to me.

“That’s the guy,” I hissed loudly.

Jim ceased pedaling and glared at Harry.

Harry stopped. Blood rushed to his face. His eyes bulged. He spun around on one sneakered foot and hurried away.

*****************

That night Mark and I had a date night dinner at a little roadhouse-y kind of a restaurant. Mark went off to the men’s room, and I went and got the table. I had just nabbed the chair by the window when I saw Harry charge through the entrance and bear down upon me. He waved the portfolio triumphantly.

He almost slammed into Mark, who said, “Watch it, buddy.”

Harry stopped, snorting. And when Mark sat down across from me, Harry actually stamped his shiny black shoe. I could see what Lori meant; he DID look kind of Rumple-y. But he spun himself around and left.

“Is THAT the guy?” asked Mark, and I allowed that it was.

“He looks a little off-balance,” Mark said. “If this doesn’t stop, I think we need to report it.”

I nodded grimly. Then we opened our menus; we forgot all about Harry and had a lovely time.

*************

The next day was one of those perfect summer days—75 and cloudless blue skies, and the air was light and fresh, with not one hint of humidity. I spent the morning at the computer and finished up a whole lot of work, and then I grabbed the vacuum and cleaned floors and danced through the house decluttering surfaces. I mowed the backyard, and then Mark came home for lunch.

We ate salads on the patio, and he said, “You know what you ought to do? Take your book and go over to the Garden. You’re always saying you want to do that. You could sit by the pond and read in peace.”

The Garden! Acres of land, carved out of the middle of neighborhoods and alleyways; it had the pond and a waterfall and a rustic Japanese tea house. It had trails and benches; it felt removed, but one was never more than a quick shout away from connection.

“That, my friend,” I said to Mark, “is a wonderful idea.”

**************

By 1:30, breezes riffled my hair as I sat on a comfy wooden bench and lost myself in a light summer story about a  Midwestern librarian who also solved mysteries. The water shooshed softly, and, through the buffer of trees and bushes, I could hear the gentle thrum of car tires on neighborhood streets.  But mentally I was sitting in a cool quiet library, where Hattie, the librarian, was conversing with the director of the local history society. Some papers were missing, important ones; the historian thought maybe they’d wound up at the library, somehow.

And then I heard the stomping little footsteps. God help me, there was Harry.

“Finally,” he breathed, as he marched up the path, veering off in front of my bench. “Today you ARE going to read The War Years, and we’ll have no more nonsense!”

I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket.

“Harry,” I said. “This is outrageous. Have you been following me?”

His face went from white to purple in a blink.

“Outrageous?” he spluttered. “What’s outrageous is a writing teacher who won’t teach writing. You don’t need to read THIS—” and he reached out, snatched my book, and threw it onto the grass behind him, “—when you can read THIS!”  He thrust the portfolio under my nose.

“I was READING, Harry!” I shouted, and hot anger swelled up in me. I stood up to push him away and grab my book, and the ground seemed to shift.

At first I thought it was just Harry, bouncing up and down; he was jumping and screaming and telling me that it was time to do as he said. I hit 9-1 with my thumb, and then I realized it wasn’t Harry making the ground move.

It was my book. It had righted itself so it was standing, open, behind agitated Harry, and it was growing. Quickly. It was as high as Harry’s knees, and still he yelled, and it was up to his shoulders, and he screamed at me to take his portfolio, and then it was towering over him.

I reached out a hand, and I think Harry thought I was finally going to take his damned journal. He stopped bouncing and settled, and his expression calmed. He took the portfolio in both hands and began to bestow it on me.

“Harry,” I said calmly. “Harry. If you don’t go away right now, I going to slap you inside of this book and call the cops.”

“No,” he said, and foamy spittle flew from his lips. “No. You are reading The War Years, and then we’re going to talk about it.” Then some kind of addled recognition dawned, and his face froze. “Book?” he croaked.

I swear the looming book told me what to do. I grabbed a cover in each hand and I swung them inwards, trapping Harry inside. There was a snapping, clicking feeling as the pages aligned and the covers pressed them tight together. Harry’s voice, muffled, screeched just briefly, and there was a momentary bulge in the book. And then there was silence.

The bulge smoothed out, and the book fell over on its side, and smoothly, seamlessly, it returned to its proper size.

I picked it up.

******************

I walked home, glazed with shock, and I tried to figure out what to do. I paged through the book; the pages were pristine. There was not a spot of blood or sweat. Harry was just gone.

I tried to tell Mark about it later, but he gave me that look. I put the book aside; I stacked twelve heavy books on top of it, and I started reading Ready Player One instead.

But it bothered me; it bothered me and it would not let me go.  Finally, I called someone I really felt would listen and advise, a teacher from my grad school days, Professor Ramming. I used to visit the Prof in his book-lined office. He would often be standing precariously on his wheeled desk chair, taking down a book or sliding one back into place, and his other-where eyes would tell me he was inhabiting whatever place he was just then reading about.

The Prof was a deeply literate man who knew the power of books; my gut said he could help me.

Professor Ramming listened to my story, and he sighed a wheezy sigh.

“I’ve heard of this,” he said. “Do you still have the book?”

I admitted I did.

“Get it,” he said. When I returned, he told me to open to where I’d left off.

And, oh, my gawd: there was Harry. Harry stole the papers from the history society: he stole them, and he claimed them as his own War Years journal! I skimmed through the pages. There was a chase scene in the library stacks where the thief was ignominiously tackled by the svelte but fit librarian. On page 192, the local authorities came and took Harry away. He was howling about his story of The War Years as they dragged him to the cruiser.

I read my old teacher the part about his exit, and then we both stopped talking for a bit.

Finally, “Professor Ramming,” I asked, “did I just dream this?”

Again with the wheezy sigh.

“No,” he said, slowly. “Harry escaped from his narrative. It happens. It happens when someone gets so involved in a book that the characters become real to them. They see their chance to slip into the real world, to take on flesh and bone, and to exist where blood pulses and food has taste and the warm summer breezes excite their papery skins. But something is always missing for them, and they always wind up revealing themselves.

“For Harry, it was a need to have his journal  validated. He was probably delusional in the book, and he carried those delusions into our world with him. You,” said Professor Ramming, “were lucky to be reading the right book at the right time, my dear. You could send him back.”

We talked a little bit, then, about old friends and classmates of mine who’d gone on to do wonderful things, and we wished each other well, and then awkwardly, as if we hadn’t just discussed something outrageous and wild and pretty much unbelievable, we said our goodbyes, promising to keep in touch.

***************

I put the book in the pile to go to Half Price Books, and I resolved never to read that author again. Harry could pop up in a later episode, and, if he’d managed to escape once, he might just be able to do it again.

That week I discovered a quiet corner of the patio where I could read undistracted, and I built an hour of reading time into most every day.

Mark and I never discussed Harry again. I think he was relieved when I stopped insisting the annoying little man with the war journal was really a denizen of a book. But I marveled in my musing times at the power authors wield, creating people and places and events so real and so true and so vibrant that, for some of us, they jump off the pages; they jump into the real world, and, God help us, they live.

******************

And it dawned on me one night, as I turned the memory over in my mind, shook the dust away and tried to find a place to store it on a shelf in the Memory Room in that bony cavern—it occurred to me that Lori was right.

Harry really HAD been a character.

 

Nomenclature

Cattle, sheep, swine, asses, mules, and goats, along with chickens, geese, and turkeys, all agreed enthusiastically to give their names back to the people to whom–as they put it–they belonged.
—Ursula LeGuin, “She Unnames Them”

********

“Is it An-DYE-zik or An-DUH-zik?” Tessa asks Joe. It’s the first day of English Composition; it’s the ‘getting to know you’ session.

“Oh, it don’t matter,” says Joe, ducking his head, long dark bang shading his eyes.  “People say both.  Just, whatever is easiest for you.”

She is a little startled, but doesn’t pursue it in front of 22 other people.  She moves on to the next student; class rolls along swimmingly.

But driving home, she thinks, a little fiercely, “It DOES matter.  Names ARE important.”

***********
Tessa considers the laziness and lack of respect displayed by those who can’t be bothered to get names right.  Her own last name is not that hard–Tigler–but she has been called, in government offices, doctors’ waiting rooms, and bureaus of motor vehicles, Tigner and Tigger and Tingler.  She has quietly, firmly, corrected officially important people who shrugged, uncaring.

Their shrugs were saying, “Whatever. I’m too busy to get it right.”

Their shrugs were saying, “You’re not important enough to me to bother.”

Misnaming is UN-naming, she thinks, and she talks to her student in her head.

“Joe,” she says, “how I say your name matters.”

********

She thinks about all the care and thought parents put into selecting a child’s name, that label that will probably serve, in one shape or form, from babyhood to, God willing, old age. The parents roll names around like nuggets in a sieve, poking and eyeballing them, testing and biting them .

“Pearl?” one says, hopefully, and the other ponders.  Finally, “No,” she says slowly, noting that ‘Pearl’ would always make her think of her aunt, sharp-tongued and grasping.

Genevieve?

Pretty, but…long and hard to spell.

How about…Anna?

They roll it around; they toss it back and forth.  It works, they think; it fits with them, and it fits with who they hope and think this baby is going to be.  It slides nicely, too, into the surname they’ve agreed that baby will bear.

And so the baby is named, but life and people immediately begin hammering, shaping, molding that name.  Fitting name to perceived personality.  Anna Bo Banana, a young uncle croons, leaning over the chubby infant grinning in her cradle.  Who is, henceforth, within her family, Anna Bo or Anna Banana, or Anna Anna Bo Banna.

(And a Michael, say, depending on his silly sweetness, or his rough and tumble-ness, might become a Mikey or a Mick.  Or he could be a solemn, quiet, watching baby and stay, just simply, Michael.)

Toddlerhood, with its time to explore, brings new naming opportunities.  Anna, whose flair for the dramatic grows and flourishes, morphs from Bo Banana to Baby Diva.  The careening Michael’s now known as Crashing Boy.  They go to preschools where sudden best friends mold names around sound-shaping tongues; any number of variations result. And the child might hear a nickname repeated so often she becomes convinced that THAT is her new, real name.

“Annie Banannie,” the child replies, thoughtlessly automatic, to an august visitor who inquires.

********

The name thats sticks, Tessa thinks to herself, is telling.  The chosen name reveals.

*******

Oh, and then, she thinks, wincing a little, then comes real school. The things that packs of children, or what one careless teacher, can do to a given name!  So woe to the Pat who’s kind of fat, or to the tiny, bespectacled boy with a weighty ‘the fourth’ attached to his moniker.

You run funny? Lisp? Wet your pants in kindergarten?  We have a name for you, my dear–and that name will, probably, long outlast your unfortunate and temporary developmental deficit.

When she was teaching middle school, Tessa’d had, in separate years, students known as ‘Pants’ and ‘Squishy,’ based on sad events from years before.  She’d known TEACHERS who joined in the fun, who called those children by those painful nicknames.

She had, angrily and pointedly, always used their given names–and insisted the students in her classes do the same.

Dignity was important to Tessa.

*********

High school and college, she thinks…social standing, isolation, developing identity, new environments.  Naming experiences.

The chance, sometimes, to recreate your own name: I am Anne, not Anna.

Her friend becomes Liz now–no longer a girlish Betsy.

You can call me Mitch, says Mikey to the guys in the dorm.

********

There is the business-like, militaristic experience of being called by a surname.

So… “Tigler!” sneers the bored and lordly college professor ticking names from his list, meaning, “I can’t be bothered with first names! You’ll come and you’ll go, one of an endless flow of faceless students.  You are not that interesting.”

Tessa (who’d never experienced a military life) imagines, too, a drill sergeant roaring, “TIGLER!” and she sees her young self bolting to attempt, say, an obstacle course.  And she hears that roaring as this: “You are the representative of a long line of Tiglers, and that family’s honor and dignity now rest solely on how well you perform.”

************
Oh my, Tessa thinks.  Oh Lordie, Lordie.  What obligations names bring forth. What the living of life does to a name.

************
And, of course, it’s all more fraught, maybe, she considers, for women.  Miss?  Ms????  If she marries, does she keep her birth name? Does she adopt her partner’s?  What does it mean if, once a Tigler, she now becomes a Smith?  Un-named; re-named: is she now a different person entirely?

She COULD keep her birth name.

She could hyphenate.

He could hyphenate, too, but naming rites are different, aren’t they, for a man?

And then, there are the children–if parents have different surnames, what of them?  Is a family just as nuclear if members carry different names?

Tessa pulls into the driveway, debating with herself.

************

Inside, a memory nags and yips, and she digs an old anthology of essays about women and religion from her shelf.  She flips to “She Unnames Them,” by Ursula LeGuin.  She reads, again,  about how Adam exerted his control by naming all the animals.  But while he sleeps, Eve tells the animals it’s up to them: they can return the names if they like. After some discussion, they all decide to do that.  The animals find their names limiting and demeaning, and they gladly give them up.

And Eve does too, the essay tells Tessa, leaving her name on the table by the door and slipping away, as Adam slumbers on, blissfully unaware that all his handiwork has been been unraveled.

An interesting, challenging essay, Tessa thinks, about one way that power can be misused.

************
Limiting, dignifying, designating, denigrating, elevating, explicating, defining: she ponders the act of naming.

***********
After class on Wednesday she nabs Joe on his way out, points to his name on the class list, says commandingly, “Say that for me.”

“An-DUH-zik,” he blurts.

In that instant Joe names himself for Tessa, forever.  Or at least for the duration of the course.

The Rockhead Family Invents Flagger’s Day

Father's Day

This year, she decided, was going to be different.  This year, Father’s Day was not going to sneak up on her, sending her scurrying to the all night Wal-Mart as the eve melted into the day. She would not be groping through the picked over remnants in the seasonal card rack, looking for something vaguely appropriate.  She would not be waking her son at 9:00 on the day itself, hissing, “Sign this!” before bundling a festive load of goodies downstairs, trilling, “Happy Father’s Day, Hon!” as if this had all, somehow, been planned and executed well before.

This year, she would not be trying to pitch fried egg and bologna sandwiches as a cool, festive breakfast–a retro flashback to early fatherhood days.

This year, it was going to be GOOD.

On Wednesday afternoon, she took a couple of hours of personal time.  She dragged the At-Home Son to the department store, and there they pored over the fully stocked shelves of Father’s Day cards.  They picked out cards that were just exactly right.  And they got cards for the Married And A Daddy And Living Far Away Son, too.

They purchased two frames: a collage board that would hold a dozen pictures, and a rustic wooden frame he could stand proudly on his desk at work.

At the supermarket, they bought breakfast goodies–a loaf of sliced Italian bread, and steak sliced so thin it would cook in seconds and cut like butter with the edge of a fork.  She would get a dozen fresh eggs from a colleague whose kids kept hens.   They would make French toast and broil the little steaks for breakfast.

At home, she got on the Internet and explored, and she located a salvage place one could wander through, soaking in inspiration.  The owners gleaned the good stuff from old and abandoned buildings, from buildings destined for the wrecking ball, and they refurbished it, or they repurposed it.  They had a multilevel store full of wonders.

She showed the site to the at-home son.  They agreed: Father’s Day destination. They bumped fists.  They said, “This year, we have nailed the Father’s Day celebration.”

They forgot about the cards in the drawer until Saturday.

“Oh, SHOOT!” she said, and she dug them out.  She addressed the card to Far Away Son; the other boy, and the dad, both signed it.  The dad drove it over to the post office, sheepishly. He had forgotten all about Father’s Day.

When the dad came home, he said, “Well, at least he should get it Monday. And I’ll call him tomorrow.”

As they ate their barbecued chicken and home fries, it began to pour, and then to thunder.  They watched a movie (Maleficent) together, the three of them.  The little dog shivered on her lap as each illumination signaled another thundering crash.  When they went to bed that night, the rain was still coming down.

But in the morning, the world was fresh-washed. She was up by 5:45 AM; the little dog trotted downstairs at her heels, and they got the leash and went out into the sparkling morning.  The dog performed nobly and diligently.  She picked up the newspapers from the front yard, and took them in–local, regional, New York Times.

She made her coffee and did the crossword puzzle and the cryptoquip while the boys slept on.  She got out the cards and the picture frames.  She took the little steaks out of the freezer and arranged them on the cooking sheet.  She cracked the fat brown eggs into a bowl. She whipped a frothy egg bath for the French toast, an egg bath scented with nutmeg and cinnamon and vanilla.

The dad came down then, and she woke up the boy, and he gave his father the cards.

“Aw,” said the dad. “Aw. Thanks, Buddy.”

They looked through the photos on the collage–photos of the dad with his own father, who was no longer available on this earth to call and wish a Happy Father’s Day. There were photos of the dad as a toddler, of the dad with a baby son on his shoulder.  There were photos at his grad school graduation, a hulking boy under each arm, all three beaming.  There were photos of his whole extended family gathered around the legendary family table, a time when the sons had become fathers and three generations gathered to share some sauce and pasta, to laugh and to reminisce.

The dad looked through all the pictures solemnly.  He stood the single frame, with its picture of himself and the two boys when they were youngsters, on the table.  There was a silence, and when he looked up, his eyes were glistening.  He said thanks, and then he said he thought he’d go and message his brothers and the Far Away Boy, send them a greeting that would be a little more serious than ones he might have sent in years past.

He took his phone out onto the screened in porch. He spent some time composing a message, and then he sent it off.

Meantime, she turned on the broiler and heated up the griddle and the boy got out plates and silverware; he made his dad a cup of steaming tea, and he poured glasses of juice for everyone. The steak was broiling and the toast was dancing in a sizzling pan when the dad came into the kitchen.

He seemed thoughtful.

“Look at this,” he said. He held out his phone.

There was a message from his brother. It said, “Thanks for the lovely sentiment.  But it’s FLAG day, you horse’s butt.  Father’s Day is NEXT week.”

“What!” she cried, and they whirled, the three of them as a unit, and they peered at the calendar hanging by the picture window.  And damn, it was true: they were celebrating Father’s Day one entire week early.

They stared at each, stricken.  One or two of them might have been thinking, “Whom can I blame?” But each of them was in it up to their mighty waistlines.

“Well,” she said, slowly, [there has to be an upside], “well…” and she brightened. “Hey! At least Far Away Boy will get his card on time!”

A pause; a breath; a long exhale; and they exploded into laughter.  What eejits we are! What rockheads! What a buncha maroons!

Breakfast was lovely, and they lingered over it, and then, working as a team, they cleaned up the dishes and made themselves presentable, and they took the road trip to the salvage place.

And what a wonder that was.  The dad wandered, picking up old door handles, rescued wood, smoothed and gleaming, and vintage tools that looked as though they might still work.  The boy exclaimed over steam punk creations. There were towering doors of precious solid wood, and sculptures, and sturdy, rusting outdoor chairs; there were corbels and radios and signs with the lettering rubbed fine by time.

She took their picture in front of a huge old stone statue of David, rescued from some august building. He towered over their heads, four feet taller than they.  They positioned themselves neatly to hide any other towering attributes.

They had lunch at a favorite grill–burgers and club sandwiches, fries crisp and perfect.  They went to the bookstore nearby and each found a long-sought treasure.

They drove the fifty miles back to their own little city, and, on impulse, they stopped at the coffee shop and sipped steaming brews and read their new books.

At home, they went off to take care of their own stuff, and then, about 8 PM, they all wound up in the kitchen for a nosh.  They agreed it had been a very nice Sunday, even if they had totally blown the celebration of Father’s Day.

“Eh,” said the At-Home Son. “Flag Day, Father’s Day. Flagger’s Day!  Who’s to say?”

The three of them pondered that.  Flagger’s Day, indeed.

She thought about flagging–flagging spirits, flagging energy, joy and hope that flag and fade.  And she thought it might not be a bad idea to have a floating holiday called Flagger’s Day: a day to refresh and give a thoughtful gift or two, to cook a special breakfast. To take a trip that was purely fun. A day all flaggers could replenish.

“I think,” she said, “that we should do this every year, the second Sunday in June: celebrate Flagger’s Day.  Do something fun and refreshing.”

The Dad and The Son agreed, solemnly; that, they said, is just what we will do.

Or, she thought, anytime, really. We can celebrate Flagger’s Day anytime we’re feeling sapped or depleted.  And anyone can call it,–anyone whose fuel tank is desperately low has the right to say, “I call Flagger’s Day!” and the whole unit will spin into planning.

A new holiday, she thought, a new observance–a new thing to look forward to.  Not such a bad thing.

Now she just had to figure out what to do next week when real Father’s Day rolled around.