Graduation

I had coffee with Lila on her front porch. “Beautiful cup and saucer,” I told her.

“That cup my grandmother painted a long time ago, a century or more. Let me see now,” Lila paused and counted on her arthritic fingers, “that would have been before 1900. Don’t that beat all?”

I admitted that it did.

“My grandmother quit school after eighth grade, just as so many did in those days. She didn’t get to enjoy a graduation party like all these young people do today. Now that’s something, isn’t it, the parties people throw for high school graduates? What’s so special about graduating from high school? My neighbor down there in that white house with green shutters? He had a party for his daughter, said 85 people came through the house. Can you imagine?

“Just imagine, that was happening all over town. A big parade of folks going from house to house, eating cake and sloppy joe’s and strawberries, following one another around, leaving cards with nice words and cash, making small talk.

“Makes me think of what Mexicans do before Christmas, pretend to be Mary and Joseph looking for room at the inn, going around to their friend’s houses, eating sloppy joe’s or whatever they eat. A big parade of folks celebrating.

“My brother George graduated from high school. He was in a class of seventeen. He was older than me by four years, but he’s not with us any more. Anyways, in those days you didn’t have this parade from house to house. Instead you’d go home and have a nice meal, and your relatives who didn’t live too far away would come. So our Uncle Dean and Aunt Patty came with their five children, including Earl, who was George’s age but had quit school a couple years earlier and was working at the creamery. Earl was a big man, real big, with big strong hands. And at eighteen he was already a big man. That’s the first thing anyone said about Earl.

“Anyhow, everybody sat down for dinner and before mother served the food, daddy made a little speech about George graduating and how proud he was and what a future George had before him. When daddy finished, Earl stood up and reached across the table to shake George’s hand. Now Earl and George had never gotten along, mostly because Earl was just wildly jealous of George. But it was plain to everyone that Earl had his own strengths, just not George’s, but somehow Earl never understood this about himself. Anyhow, he grabbed George’s hand across the table.

“You probably never met George. He wasn’t a big man and he had mother’s slender hands. So Earl grabbed on and squeezed, saying how proud he was too, spitting a little into the air, squeezing, until George cried out in pain. Earl had broken George’s hand. So then daddy had to take George to Doc Anderson and the rest of us ate mother’s pot roast in silence.

“So that’s another sort of graduation. I guess I’d rather that excitement than making small talk over sloppy joe’s.”

I carried my cup back into Lila’s kitchen and on my way back through her house to the front porch I stopped to look at a photo hanging in the hallway. I recognized Lila in the front on the right; she was probably eighteen in the photo. To her right stood George, I figured, since he looked older than his sister, and next to him, sitting on a loveseat, were their parents. I looked close at George, his handsome, open face, his slender hand resting on his mother’s shoulder.