Could everyone write one simple essay about something that once happened in Saltaire…that they saw or were a part of…and put it on one big website? Somebody should collect a lot of stories before we all forget. Otherwise it is like a line in “On The Beach” : The history of the war that now would never be written.” -(JO'H)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

"You Have to Talk to His Mother"

Editors note: I want to finish off my days as editor with a few more postings about Uncle Pete. In the next couple of days I am gonna put in a couple entries by me and one by Duncan Dobie. This is the first:

“You Have to Talk to His Mother”

“You have to talk to his mother. Explain to her that you have been having a problem with her son and it is making it hard for you to give your full attention to all your class.”

Hearing this, I am thinking, but afraid to say it our loud: “Me? He wants me to talk to his mother?”

This was unbelievable. I had never said “no” to Uncle Pete before. Not years before when he had asked me to jump off the end of the dock into deep water for the first time; not when he asked me to play ball with much bigger boys; not when he asked me to lifeguard at the bay; not when he told me to “rescue” him in Junior Lifesaving.

All those things were tough, but I never said “no.” But he had never asked me to do anything like talking to a mother and telling her that her kid was a brat. There was no way I could do that. She was old. Her husband was a Village big shot. I was a 15 year old kid.

I was a counselor for Uncle Pete. I was doing great except for that one kid. He always seemed to wander off, go into a funk, or just plain old disregard whatever we wanted him to do. He wasn’t a bad kid, just, well, difficult. At least difficult for me as a 15 year old counselor in my first summer on the job.

So I went to Uncle Pete and explained my difficulty, figuring that Uncle Pete would give the kid a scolding, or maybe have a talk with the parents. It never entered my mind that he would tell me to tell the kid’s mother. But that’s what Uncle Pete did. But then he let the subject drop, and I figured he would forget about the whole thing.

Next morning, Uncle Pete comes up to me at the beginning of class and he tells me: “I have arranged for a meeting today right after classes let out. She’ll be here and you can explain the problem to her.”

And Uncle Pete made it clear that this would be my meeting. He wouldn’t be there. “You just tell her what the problem is and I am sure she will listen,” he told me looking me directly in the eye. “You’ll do fine.” He looked convinced. I am terrified, but couldn’t say it.

So all morning I am contemplating quitting before the morning is out. There is no way I am going to be able to handle this.

Now all the kids are discharged and suddenly the whole field is empty. I go to the assigned meeting place, on the boardwalk directly in front of the Fire House, which was adjacent to the ball field on Broadway.

High noon. I am standing there. I see her walking down Broadway as appointed. She is walking with this little white poodle. I have never spoken to this lady in my life. No way I can come out of this alive.

She walks up. We introduce ourselves. We talk for a couple of minutes. “How do you like being a counselor?” “Isn’t it a beautiful day?” Anything but the assigned topic. She breaches the subject: “Have you been having trouble with my son?”
I wanted to look her right in the eye, like Uncle Pete used to, but I just couldn’t deal with eye contact. I am looking down to avoid eye contact and I noticed she was wearing woven sandals with heels. They were white as if to match the color of the poodle. I was wondering if she was going to sic her poodle on me. Then I blurt out “He is a nice kid and all that, but he causes a lot of trouble because he never listens…”

I went on for a minute or two explaining the issues. She remained silent and eventually I am looking her right in the eyes.

“I understand,” she said, looking right in my eyes and nodding. “I know he can be difficult, and I and his dad will have a talk with him. I know he enjoys coming to classes this summer, and he thinks you are a very good counselor. We’ll talk to him. Let me know if you have any more trouble” she said as she walked off towards the market, poodle walking alongside her.

I felt relief, and a sense of accomplishment, but mostly I felt luck that she was a very nice lady, after all. But I still felt mad as hell at Uncle Pete for putting me through this. What if she hadn’t been so nice? What if she argued with me or threatened to get me fired? Her husband was a village trustee. Uncle Pete had no right to hang me out to dry, to act like he was a principal and I was some experienced teacher dealing with another unruly student. I was only fifteen, for goodness sake.

Just as I am thinking this, I turn to go back into the ball field. Right around the corner of the fire house, maybe 15 feet away, was Uncle Pete. It turns out that he had been within ear shot, but standing where neither of us could see him. But now he walked away, as if he didn’t want me to realize that he had been there.

So then I realized that he was there if I needed him. And that made me realize that he was right. I didn’t need him. I did fine, just like he said.

Then I started walking across the field to go home for lunch. Uncle Pete is puttering around, making believe he is picking up litter or old baseball gloves, or something, and he makes like he notices me for the first time. He says:
“Oh Jimmy, did the mom show up? How was the meeting?” as if he didn’t know.

“It went pretty well,” I said, “She was very nice and she will talk to him.”
“I knew you would do fine” he said, as if there was nothing to it. He added “go and have lunch. You’ve had a long morning.”

We walked off the field together.

The kid was not a problem after that. Just quirky.

So whenever I run into a situation where I think I am about to get into something over my head, or dealing with difficult people, I think of that fifteen year old kid getting ready to tell a mom that her kid was a brat. And I remember what Uncle Pete told me: “You’ll do fine.” That’s a lesson he taught me that I always remember in a tight spot.

Jim O’Hare

1 comment:

Derf said...

Great story Jim, but that wouldn't happen to be a little black poodle with an owner named Mary would it?