Graduation Evening

Katy and Jos baby-sit while Young Joe and Carrie
attend her sister's graduation.

June, 1967

Dear Nephew Ray

"Can't you oil that squeak, Greatgrampa?" Karen asked as Jos held her on one arm of the big rocking chair and her twin, Carol, on the other.

"I guess that creak was built into this chair, Karen," Jos replied with a gentle hug. "It's been there for as long as I've rocked in it."

"I like the creak," Carol said in her quiet voice, "It talks to me."

The old rocking chair has talked to many children since my grandfather built it in his shop many years ago. The sumac posts are from larger trees than any you see growing these days. Grandpa cut them himself in the woods on the Big Farm and dragged them home to season for months before he began turning them into posts for this 'Papa Bear' size rocker.

The broad arms on which so many children have ridden, are made of chestnut as is most of the rest of the chair. It has been stripped of the heavy reddish varnish which protected it for years and refinished so that the natural wood colors show. Beside being a comfortable rocker, it is a great conversation piece because of its size and the beauty of the woods.

I had to be content with a lesser rocker in which to cuddle baby Fritzel. The newest menber of Young Joe's family has been named Frank after his grandfather but is being called by the diminutive of Fritzel. Trudy and Joe jr busied themselves with Rama and Vashti who proceded to enjoy the unaccustomed mauling with loud lyrical Siamese cat noises.

The children had been left with us while Carrie and Joe went to her youngest sister's high school graduation. Martha fed the four older ones ice cream and cookies while I poured a bottle of formula into Fritzel and then we all settled for a comfortable time.

Josiah looked positively beatific as he rocked the Twinies and chatted with Joe jr. He likes nothing better than having his great grandchildren clustered around his knee for an hour or two at least. I, of course, reveled in Fritzel's baby warmth and smell for, old as I am, my arms are often lonely for the feel of a small, wriggling infant body.

Young mothers coping day and night with the endless demands of an infant tyrant, may wish fervently for the time when he is grown and sleep lasts all night long. But suddenly she will find her infant is a knobby kneed little girl or a small boy with a deliciously vulnerable back of the neck which she is only allowed to kiss on rare occasions. Even more quickly the school years speed by and she finds her chicks have flown.

Difficult as it is for a harrassed young mother to look ahead, it is even more so for an older woman to recapture the joyous moments of watching a baby intellect awaken, of having small arms flung around her neck and a heavy, sleepy head droop over her shoulder. Perhaps that is because those moments are buried under hours of hectic housework, washing and cooking, but they are there even if they are only appreciated years later.

There were many mothers and fathers who were experiencing perhaps the first of those moments of remembering tonight at graduation. While they watched their sons and daughters receive the diploma that marks the end of childhood, there could not help but be a bit of sadness mingled with their pride. At the end of this summer, or sooner, their child will set forth to make his own life with whatever tools they have provided. They can't protect him anymore. It is frightening.

Yet if you stop to recall the superb confidence with which you accepted your high school diploma and launched yourself into the adult world, you can understand how this generation feels. Undaunted by things they do not know, uncowed by things they do not understand, confident of their ability to succeed in whatever they attempt, they are radiantly sure of themselves. In a very short time these same young people who scoffed at their parent's distracted cluckings will be expressing spontaneous appreciation for the good things old Dad and Mom have done for them. It comes as a bit of a shock but parents can get used to being appreciated.

Graduation night is usually the hottest evening in June. Drapes hang limply at the auditoruim windows and flowers threaten to droop to the floor before the exercise begins. Someone's cap and gown proves to be the wrong size and half the girls are burned from having spent the afternoon sunbathing. The Valedictorian is nervously sure that his speech is stupid, he'll forget half of it, and no one will hear the other half. The Salutatorian is calm and collected. She's sure she should have been Valedictorian and determined to show up the mere male who is, simply because he got two more points than she did in math.

The orchestra sounds a bit weak without its senior members. The faculty looks hot, relieved, and satisfied with another class stuffed full of knowledge and turned out on an unsuspecting world. The president of the board of education appears in all his dignity and the junior class girl ushers flutter around like pastel butterflies, handing out programs and trying to keep the aisles clear for the processional.

When the last violin solo is played, the last speech concluded, and the last Senior steps with measured tread through the auditorium door to freedom, there is a collective sigh of relief from all concerned. Parents and faculty go home for a cold glass of something with their shoes off while the new young adults take off for an evening of merry-making. Joy abounds. College, military service, jobs, all hang in the misty future. No need to bother about them tonight. And certainly no one is thinking about spending some far distant graduation night tending great grandchildren. When and if that day does come, it will hold just as much if calmer pleasure as does this first graduation.

Carrie had bits of tear-streaked mascara on her cheeks when she and Joe came after their brood.

"Carrie's crying cause she thinks she's getting old." Young Joe teased.

"No such thing!" his wife retorted indignantly as she bundled Fritzel into his carrier. "Those kids just looked so young and sweet that they made me cry. I always cry when I'm happy, you know that."

"Just like your Aunt Ellen, Joe. She cries just for the fun of it. Always has." Jos said.

The little people left after hugs and kisses and the house was quiet and empty again. Vashti and Rama curled on Jos' knees, each jealous of the attention the other got. We have learned to stroke both at the same time to preserve peace in the feline family. Martha brought in a tray of iced tea and Jumble sugar-cookies to help us unwind.

Long sunny days and warm starlit nights wander aimlessly from June into July with vague intentions of becoming August one of these whiles. The rambler roses are laden with fragrant red blossoms, peonys bow their brown-tinged shaggy heads to the ground and the trees reach wide green arms to shelter busy squirrels and chattering birds. It's time we all graduated from Spring to Summer.

Uncle Jos sends regards as do I,

Your Aunt Katy