Junior year (1965-66) in high school, Maryann Shelhamer and I were pretty good friends, and after school Maryann and I often called one another. If I didn’t call her, she would often call me.
In those days we had something called a telephone, a big black thing that sat on a small table in our hall. And here’s the thing. Unlike today’s cell phones, when it rang, it didn’t give any indication of who was calling.
So when the telephone rang that day, October 28, 1965, around 4:30 PM, I was pretty sure it was Maryann. When I picked up the receiver I was going to answer, “Hi, Maryann.”
But I must have been in a particularly good mood that day, and so without thinking, instead of speaking, I sang the opening line of a song from Hello, Dolly!
“Put on your Sunday clothes there’s lots of world out there!” I sang in my slightly off-key voice.
But it wasn’t Maryann. It was my uncle Curtis.
And he didn’t sound like his usual chipper self, in fact he was downright somber. I quickly found out why.
“Pop died today,” he said.
“Pop” being his father, and my father’s father, and thus my grandfather. If I didn’t feel two inches tall before, I certainly did now.
He gave me some more details, and I said I’d have my parents call when they got home.
My mother was the first to arrive. That’s when I made my second faux pas of the day.
She was barely in the door when I blurted out, “Pop died.”
And I realized by the look of shock on her face that she thought I meant her father. In our family “Pop” was the name by which all grandfathers were known. Still is.
I quickly added the context that I should have started with. “Curtis called.” And I gave her the details.
She told me to leave it to her to tell my dad.
A smart decision on her part.
It had been a good day for me. Two hard lessons well learned.