After my mother finished shopping at the A&P we would go next door to a small meat market where the butcher would smile, place his meaty arms on the top of the meat case and say, “what can I get you today?” Before my mother could respond he would raise his eyebrows, look at her, then at me and then back at her. She would nod and he would reach into the case and pull out a slice of baloney, about the size of a 45 record, and hand it to me. It was the same deal when we went to the bakery. She would come out with two loaves of bread and I would have a cookie. At school, the principal would come into our classroom with a big smile and tell us how handsome and pretty we all looked while our teacher sat there smiling as if she had had something to do with how special we were.
Whether it was a pat on the head, a big mitt tousling your hair, a wink or someone saying “howdy” because you were wearing a cowboy hat it was easy to get used to that special treatment. The treatment was special because you’re you and you’re special.
I can’t remember how old I was when I noticed that something didn’t seem quite right, that my subjects who loved smiling and tousling and winking and patting didn’t seem to be so thrilled just to be in my presence anymore. It might have been the day that we had a substitute teacher. The classroom door swung open and the principal (the very same one who had told us how handsome and pretty we were) yelled, as we sat with smiles on our faces waiting for the praise to flow, that if we did not quiet down we would be sitting at our desks until we had our 20th birthdays. “Hey, Mrs. Watkins, don’t you recognize us? We’re handsome and pretty.”
Things had definitely changed. I was the kid who got a gold star because I had written my name so well in the cursive style just like the letters on the green cards above the blackboard. Now I was getting back test papers with red ink at the top telling me that about the only thing I got right on the entire page was my name.
After a while you settle in and figure out that maybe you’re not so special. You hope a mistake has been made and that maybe the baloney and cookies will start flowing again but you know they won’t, it’s over. Gym class, a first job, the pretty little girl down the street. All the same. They all seemed to be there just to prove to you that you’re nothing special.
I don’t want to sound like a whiner and there certainly were some highlights. Mom and dad always thought that I was terrific, if you don’t count the time that the police came to the door looking for me when my grandparents were visiting. And my sweetheart? That girl who made my heart flutter made me smile by saying yes when I asked her to marry me (maybe I was smiling because now I would have a legal document, a contractual agreement, for someone to be nice to me).
When we got married we got to be special again. “You two look so beautiful. What a lovely couple you two make.” I knew that the guests thought we were special because they told us so and also because they all gave us such big hugs, although, thinking about it now, during those hugs I did catch more than a few people in the receiving line glancing over my shoulder at the trays of chicken and/or beef and a vegetable medley that were being set out.
But, that’s about the way life is. It takes a long time to finally realize that there isn’t going to be any round the clock coverage of you and your activities. And then something wonderful happens. A little person comes into your life. You know when the two of you meet for the first time that the baby can’t tell the difference between you and the clock on the wall but that first time your eyes meet it’s something new and something wonderful. All that baby wants is to be held and cuddled and tickled and that motorboat thing you do to a baby’s neck. You come in the door and the baby looks up at you and smiles and what about that idiot who cut you off? The baby gurgles something at you and when did your boss expect you to get that report done? Money in your wallet? Great. No money in your wallet? Great. Everything is now measured against those sweet smiles and those little eyes.
You’ve learned the secret. You’ve learned that there is someone who does really think that you’re special. You’re back. Congratulations. It’s time to pump your fist in the air and let out a “yes”. And why? Why, because you’re you and you’re special.