The Observer is tied up this week, so he's asked The Baby Observer to fill in for him. The moniker reflects a youngster among professionals, each with endless experience. That feeling was turned on its head when The Baby Observer recently attended a past elementary school principal's retirement party, which probably felt like a Richard Linklater film to many of the teachers in attendance. Looking around, they asked themselves, Who the hell are these gangly guys and gals with voices as deep as mine? What happened? Life, obviously. For fellow classmates, the thinking was the opposite: Jeez, these teachers don't look any different. One teacher, who retired about 15 years ago, looked like she hadn't aged a bit since she quit presiding over naptime and teaching kids, yours truly included, how to pronounce "pterodactyl." Was that because The Baby Observer could barely reach the kitchen counter upon last seeing her, or had Father Time been kind enough to keep her looking sprightful? Probably a bit of both, but it was eerie to see someone so unmarred by 15 years, while the gears of puberty turned her former students into giants.
Luckily, some teachers weren't as taken aback by the grown kids in the room. An old aide, who watched over us in the cafeteria, the playground, the hallways, recognized each face she saw, and lamented how much times have changed. "These kids ain't like y'all! Nu-uh! They're baaaaad! Y'all used to talk and stuff, but these kids today are cursin' up a storm! I just treat 'em like dogs. I tell them to get gone and not even speak to me if they're gonna have an attitude." We all laughed, but her words had the same sentiment us kids feel as adulthood begins weighing on our shoulders, a yearning for a past that probably looks prettier in the rearview mirror.
The retirement party was the closest thing to a class reunion The Baby Observer has attended yet. While the thought of a class reunion, one filled with small talk and unspoken judgments, hovers unforeseen in the future as surely as the Reaper, perhaps it won't be as surreal as we think. After running into an old classmate at the retirement party, we swapped stories and caught up on where life had taken us. With a smile, The Baby Observer thought back to his classmate's third-grade self, constantly adorned in all things "Family Guy." Whether it was his Peter Griffin shirts, his life-size Stewie doll, or his spot-on renditions of the TV show's theme song, the kid loved "Family Guy" with fervor that most of us saved for SpongeBob or Scooby-Doo. As we reminisced on days past, The Baby Observer noticed Stewie Griffin's looking defiantly onward from the 19-year-old's hot-red shirt. At least some things never change.
Speaking of changes, The Regular Observer got out to a funeral in South Arkansas over the weekend, the burial of Spouse's stepfather, Winfred "Wimp" Ward, who died at 81 years old on July 20 down in Strong.
Funerals are sad affairs, of course, made even more jarring by seeing people you haven't laid eyes on in years. The Observer will, we guess, never quite get over the shock of realizing that someone we haven't been around in a while no longer looks the way they did when last we saw them: young men and women gone gray, once-kids with kids of their own in tow, babies stretched to full-grown people. Somehow, we always expect everyone to stay the same while out of our sight, the way the preacher says it'll be once we all get Up Yonder. That little shock of change always makes The Observer think it must be the same for them, seeing Yours Truly, once a strapping young fella, but now the spitting image of an aged Victorian whaling ship captain, with eyes that prove, as Kristofferson once sang, we've gone aloft and furled the mainsail in a blow.
Still, it was good to see all the kin we married into, even under such sad circumstances, to eat the cooking of good Christian ladies in a paneled fellowship hall way down near Lou'zana, to see the great secondhand sweep of time in the smiling faces of those who we have cared for and who have cared for us as we all laughed and cried and remembered someone gone on to glory. Tucking into another slice of honeybun cake from a paper plate, The Observer thought we don't have to wait until we all get to heaven. Might not be forever, but this is a little bit of heaven right here.