Wednesday, December 30, 2009
You’ve heard of the Lost Tapes, the Lost Files, the Lost Songs. Cutting room floors are cluttered with all sorts of lost things. Here is a little story I wrote for Saving Henry that didn’t make it into the final book, but I think is worth sharing nevertheless.
Traditionally, my parents host a family Hanukah celebration for me and Allen, my siblings and their spouses, and all the grandchildren. In the winter of 1999, the grandchildren numbered seven, the oldest was six and the youngest two were one year-old. Henry was four at the time.
Together we celebrated the lighting of the family’s collection of menorahs, followed by a delicious homemade dinner by my mom, and an exchange of gifts. It’s always noisy, festive, and a little more out of control than usual given the presence of a big pile of Hanukah gifts.
It was one of the few times during that particular year when the thoroughly festive atmosphere created by the three generations present, overtook the continuous heartache associated with Henry’s future. He appeared perfectly normal next to his cousins and was a full participant in the wondrous chaos.
When the time came for distributing the Hanukah gifts to all the grandkids, there was great excitement. Despite all the noise, chatter, and positioning before the pile of gifts, my dad became mesmerized by Henry’s totally wide-eyed smile, as he stood back a bit leaving room for his younger cousins to push closer to the gifts. Henry knew that his time would come. My dad decided that Henry needed a little reward for such sensitivity and patience.
Without notice, he took Henry by the hand and led him to an empty room. He taught Henry to spell P-A-P-A S-Y, his name to all the grandkids. Henry was asked to spell it three times and he did so perfectly each time. My dad then led Henry back to the pack of cousins. Nobody had noticed their absence. As Nana Pat was about to distribute the gifts, a tradition, Papa Sy asked her to wait a moment. My dad then declared that whoever could spell his name would be the first to open his presents. Before any of the kids had an opportunity to say anything, Henry—carrying a smile as bright as the Hanukah candles—immediately raised his hand, stepped to the front of the crowd, and slowly and carefully spelled P-A-P-A S-Y. I will never, ever, forget the astonished look on everyone’s face, including Henry’s, as he received a thunderous applause.