Volume 44, Issue 10 - October 2009



Number Seven
by Lyle R. Hill

There are nine of them altogether but no two are alike … and for the most part, not even similar. Each one is uniquely different. Not just physically different, but different in attitude, aptitude, appearance and general outlook as well. I guess some of this is to be expected, but I could have never guessed that the differences would be so pronounced or the variations so obvious. I don’t have a favorite … not really. A couple seem to be musically gifted, while others do extremely well in athletics or academics. Numbers eight and nine are still pretty young so, at this point, I don’t know which way they’ll be going. But whatever any of them do or become, I care deeply about each one. They are, as they regularly refer to each other, The Cousins, and they are also my grandchildren. Six boys … three girls. As The Cousins get older, I try to spend one on one time with them. I want them to know their grandfather. I did not get to know either of mine.

It was a warm and sunny afternoon when I got the call to pick up number seven from school and hang on to him until his mother could claim him. Number seven is six years old and had just completed his first full week of school as a first grader.

“So, number seven,” I said, hoping to start up a conversation, “how was school today?”

“Grandpa, my name is not number seven.”

Sometimes … actually, most of the time … I have a hard time coming to grips with the fact that I am nine times a grandfather. Please understand that it’s not the title that I struggle with but the fact that it happened almost overnight.

“I’m sure you’re right, but your grandpa has had a rough day and sometimes I confuse you with number six. Could you give me a hint?”

“I’m Ryan, Grandpa.”

“That’s right … I knew that.”

Ryan is one of those kids that looks like he’s up to something mischievous even when he is not. Or perhaps, Ryan has that look because he always is up to something mischievous.

“So, how was school today, Ryan?”

“It was OK.”

“So tell me then, did you learn anything new today, number sev…I mean, Ryan? Was there anything special that happened?”

“We had a special letter today, Grandpa. Do you know those?”

“No, I don’t know anything about special letters. Tell me about them.”

“Well, Grandpa, each day Miss Holt … that’s my teacher … has a special letter and then we talk about it and learn stuff about it.”

“Wow, Ryan, Miss Holt sounds like a very good teacher. So what was today’s special letter?”

“Today’s special letter was ‘W,’ grandpa.”

“That’s a great special letter, Ryan. Water starts with ‘W’ and so does window. In fact, Ryan, the word word even starts with a ‘W’ so I think Miss Holt really picked a very special letter for you guys today. Can you think of any more words that start with
‘W,’ Ryan?”

“No, I think you got ’m all, Grandpa.”

Not wanting to bring this meaningful conversation to an end, but not wanting to drive the little guy crazy either, I stopped asking questions and waited to see if he would have anything more to say. I have learned that there are times when silence is an OK thing. Maybe even a wonderful thing. Sometimes when I am sitting on the back porch on a Sunday afternoon reading the paper, number eight has been known to come and sit next to me in total silence, apparently just wanting to hang out. He’ll look at me and I at him and at some level, without speaking a word, we are communicating. This is good because when number eight does talk, I can’t understand a word he says.

“Grandpa,” Ryan began after a few minutes had passed, “do you want to know what else I learned about ‘W’ today?”

“Sure, Ryan. What else did you learn about ‘W’ today?”

“It’s the hardest letter in the alphabet to burp. Did you know that, Grandpa?”

“No I didn’t, Ryan, so thank you for telling me about this. Did your teacher Miss Holt tell you that ‘W’ was going to be the hardest letter in the alphabet to burp?”

“Actually Grandpa, my friend Joey told her and I don’t think she knew it because she really acted kinda surprised.”

I guess life’s lessons never follow a straight course. We learn some things from those who have the job of trying to teach us, but we often learn just as much by simply being around those who know things that we do not. No matter how long you live, how many books you read, or how many degrees you earn, there will always be something new to learn … often from someone who you might not think knows as much as you. And if you doubt this … just ask Ryan, a.k.a. number seven. Or better yet, see how well you do with “W.”

Lyle R. Hill is president of MTH Industries of Chicago. Mr. Hill’s opinions are solely his own and not necessarily those of this magazine.

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