If my son gets home from school and we’re not there, he is supposed to call and check in with us before he leaves the house. If he can’t reach us by phone, he is supposed to leave a note for us on the kitchen counter. He is great about getting our dog Ginger out for her walk every day, and after he’s done with that, he’s free to go and play in the neighborhood as long as he lets us know where he is.
We still get an occasional note now and then, but when he was in fifth grade a couple of years ago there seemed to be notes on the counter all the time. Some were keepers, and I have those notes from Jimmy saved in a box under my bed, along with other childhood artifacts from Danny and Maggie, probably to be returned to him when he’s all grown up.
I’ll never forget the day that one of his notes on the counter took my breath away in terror, if only for a few seconds. It was in the fall, and it was starting to get dark. I came in to the kitchen and called out a couple of times to see if anyone was home. No answer. I put my things away and came back into the kitchen, only to see this note on the counter:
Dad – Ginger dead I’m at the fort What????
I called out again louder and still there were no replies. Slight panic. I immediately started to run around the house, calling out and looking for the dog. In my head, the violins from the shower scene in Psycho started kicking in, full-screech. Even as I told myself that there must be some mistake, I did start thinking, “Jimmy! The dog you’ve loved for three years just died and you still go to the fort and hang out with your friends?!?” It didn’t make any sense.
In less than ten seconds I found our dog upstairs, stretched out and waking up from a nap in my bedroom. Ginger wasn’t dead, but I was still going to the fort to find out what the heck Jimmy meant by his note. When I found him at the fort, I asked what the note was all about.
“Oh, I just wanted you to know that I took Ginger for a walk and that I was at the fort,” he told me.
“But that’s not what you wrote…why did you say she was dead?” I countered.
“What…? I just said she peed so you’d know I got her out for her walk!” Jimmy demanded.
And I saw the note again in my mind. He had spelled “peed” p-e-a-d, just like you would spell the past tense of “pea.” If you look at the note closely, you’ll see just the slightest downstroke in his letter p.
When my sixth grade students ask me if spelling counts, I often point out a copy of Jimmy’s note on the wall near my desk. Then I ask them to read it out loud, and I tell them about the night when I came home from work and it was starting to get dark.