… and forgive us our sins as we forgive who sinned against us … - the Lord's prayer
Lately I have been saying goodbye to a lot of stuff that once was worthy to be saved, because sooner or later someone not emotionally attached to it, will dump it in the garbage.
I found some elementary school papers of my children, and among it an English note book of the third grade belonging to my son Len. He had obviously been struggling with the correct spelling of some words, which did not surprise me since he was diagnosed with dyslexia, (a condition affecting reading and writing) but other than being diagnosed with the condition there was no remedy or help for him, simply because very little was known about dyslexia forty years ago.
I read my son's work over from cover to cover and found some interesting things about him and of myself as well. From an early age on Len had thrilled us with his artistic ability, especially drawing. On this particular page he drew a family of cats – Father and Mother cat and five kittens, all according to size, the father being the tallest, the mother (in contrast with our own family) being the heaviest.
That he liked animals I knew – the animals we wound up with as pets 'just followed me' was Len's explanation usually. Strange dogs seemed to trust him, like they did Anne's father, horses not only seemed to like him, they obeyed him, and he was able to rough-house with the wildest dogs, as he did one time when our family went for a car-ride past the Whistler ski area and stopped at a roadside fast-food wagon for ice cream.
Len jumped out of the car and stood face to face with a larger than average Husky watchdog held back by an iron chain. He ran to the dog and started to wrestle him, which the watch-dog seemed to enjoy. The vendor looked at with amazement. “That dog is supposed to watch over my business,” he said dryly, “but your son could take him away in a heartbeat if he wanted.”
But this time he had drawn cats which he had given names, – he named the Father cat Tim, after his friend Tim perhaps, but mother cat did not get a human name and neither did the kittens as he named the mother cat Thinker, I wonder why. Did he think of his teacher as a woman he perceived of doing a good deal of thinking, or was at least one with great knowledge? The kitten imitating Mother's pose got the name Angel cat, while baby Blue Eyes was laying against Mother. Stub was playing with Mother's tail. Odd Cat stood in front of Father with head down and rear up, and Tip was playing with a ball of yarn. They all looked straight at you, an effect which is hard to achieve, even for professionals, I'm told.
Len adorned most all his work with drawings. A next page features storm clouds, a tree bend over by the wind, and a boy watching it all from underneath a haystack. A poem explains it all.
His sisters think that he copied the poem, and likely he did, but still it inspired him to interpret the verse-form into this drawing-form. He did not get a star for his effort; Len received very few stars, that is why he drew his own stars sometimes. I still hope that it was his poem, a person leaves so little behind in life. The next page shows a man. On top of it he wrote 'daddy Smid.' My hair is longer there than it is now, my beard is too, and full. I had a paunch then as well.
Coming to the last pages his printing becomes sloppy and the spelling mistakes more frequent - 'Janet was skaired because she thoot the calf was the bol.'
He had changed teachers.
This teacher made him read an essay, of which he had answered the questions only with 'yes' and 'no,' and 'see page 163,' before the class. While Len struggled with it, the class and the teacher were snickering, humiliating him deeply.
I only heard that story from his friends after Len had died, also that he had gotten the strap from that teacher for throwing his notebook into the teacher's face. We did not know this because our son did not tell us, and neither did the teacher inform us. Did Len keep quiet because my wife and I were friends with that teacher and his wife? We'll never know.
When I had finished that notebook from cover to cover, all sorts of feelings wrestled within me – feelings of hurt and pain, of resentment, and of love, yes, a fast amount of love and compassion for our son. Feelings of long ago - almost, but never quite, forgotten.
I have always been and still am immensely proud of our son Len, who was so like his grandfather - a great marksman and horseman, a friend of dogs, horses, and people, and Len was, in common with his sisters, a lover of art, which he received from his mother.
Still, 40 years later, I still struggle with that last part of the Lord's prayer – as we forgive...