She undoes the stiff knot she had moistened in her mouth and removes three white beads from a sinew cord which adorns the top of what you might call a satchel, though the native name - "traveling home" - means so much more. She replaces the three white beads with three red beads and reties the strong string, cinching it tight with her stronger teeth.
She kisses it tenderly and fills the deerskin bag with nuts and fruit and some jerky and piece of steamed fish wrapped in shag-bark hickory and tied with a long blade of meadow grass. A young man peers in from under an animal skin. A boy really - her boy. He will go out to hunt today, as he has everyday this fall. It is his first year out with the men and he is doing well.
In his mind he is a young warrior, yet, as he opens his pack for lunch, he looks down at those beads and smiles as his hunter soul returns to sweet boyness. She changes them every morning - different patterns, different colors, always three.
His friends and leaders do not notice the change but he does. He feels loved and honored; cherished.
I purposefully phrased that last sentence as I did because, well, I am not sure which it is. You see, I write the boys notes in their lunch boxes, I have since first grade. At first I simply told them I love you. When they were littler I would say funny things, make fart jokes and try to expand their vocabulary with words and horribly rendered drawings. I'd like to say my notes have gotten better, matured in theme and tone... but, it's still pretty much "I love yous" and fart jokes with the addition of three stick figures named Pat.
Honestly, I never did it with much care or premeditation, I just jotted something down and threw it in, usually using the same idea for both boys, changing the name perhaps. I just wanted them to think of me and to know they were being thought of, to make them feel loved and honored; cherished.
As I was cleaning out their first year lunch bags, hoping to get another year out of them (nope), one zippered compartment on Nick's seemed full, puffy maybe. I figured it was a couple of paper towels up there or worse a forgotten sandwich, I unzipped the previously unnoticed (by me) pocket and, well, this...
As you can see, Marci helped me out with some of these. I can't say they were masterpieces - hell, I can't even say they were clever - but they meant enough to a big-hearted, tiny seven-year-old boy, to keep them.
I guess it is a bit obvious that Zack didn't save his. Well, Zack can't remember he has socks on when he gets in the shower, but, but... he remembers a lot of other things..
The first day of this year, their fifth grade year, they had pizza and the boys said they would "buy," just as I'd said to my Mom decades before. The second day was an unknown, steak belonging to someone named Salisbury, and they opted to "pack." I bumbled, out of practice, and it ended up taking me longer than it should have. I forgot the notes.
"Dad, you forgot to make us notes for lunch. Do more of the stickmen guys," Zack said as we walk down the driveway that day as the bus puttered off.
"Yeah, the Three Pats, Dad, those are great," Nick added.
If you look at the photo a ways up, you may notice a note - it's there in the middle above as well - that says "Three Pats, always and forever."
I introduced the "Three Pats" thing in a post long ago. Basically, instead of saying "I love you" a give the boys three pats on the head or shoulder or wherever. This has expanded over the years (years, how's that possible?) to be three hand squeezes in the scary movie, three kisses on a bear's nose, three taps on the bunk-bed frame - "taps" being "pats sideways" as Z put it. What goes unsaid, but not ununderstood, is that it is a code, a short hand, a way to say it without others knowing. Boys like that. Me, too...
Anyway, sometime mid-year last, I was inspired to draw this:
Throughout most of that year and as we begin this one, I've kept the theme. Here are some from last year:
My point today is not that I make pretty lame lunch notes. It is not that boys don't want to say or hear "I love you." It is not even that we need these stones and beads and lace and paper to touch and clutch through childhood, adulthood and beyond.
The point is that we do it - we make specific, personal, little things - thing small and yet, somehow, strong enough to hold the weight of memory, the weight of hope. With sinews plucked from our very own hearts we cherish and love and hold. These seemingly insignificant things stand in for the universal hopes we have for us, for them, for you, for me. They are stokes of paint on the masterpiece that is humanity.
As I mentioned, the notes are stored by year in ziplock bags. Just now, as I went to pack them back up, one fell to the floor. I nearly left it there, what's one more note in the hundreds I already have. But, it was sad and forlorn and very crumpled. I picked it up and opened it, tearing it in two as I did. It was this one:
"3 Pats praising"
Yeah, I think I'd like to save that one...
Thanks for visiting, I always appreciate it.