2006.05.10 Eyeful of Silly Putty

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

MY SON, Ben, wasn’t too thrilled with his first day in school back in 1988. He came home from kindergarten and said it was boring. He complained that recess lasted only two minutes. He said the milk tasted like it came from a dead cow.

Things soon improved. He learned there was more to school than recess and it was only a couple of years later that he was gluing plastic ants inside his lunch box and generally enjoying himself. By then, the school routine was ingrained as a part of everyday life. He no longer wanted to bribe the recess aides with a dollar in order to stay out longer on the playground.

A few years have gone by since then—so many years that Saturday night marked the end of his formal education. It was finally time to watch him receive his fake diploma at the Breslin Center at Michigan State University.

When Ben’s landscape architecture class gathered for commencement, they were part of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources—a diverse group covering scholars in environmental economics, construction management, packaging, fisheries and wildlife, dietetics, animal science and more.

Even though there were about 550 diplomas to hand out, each student had a moment of glory when their image appeared on the big overhead screen—usually reserved for basketball players—as they shook hands with the dean and walked on across the Breslin floor.

BEN’S INFORMAL education, like everyone’s, began at home when he was a baby. I blundered through like any first-time dad. I taught him to bark long before I taught him to talk. He used to sit in his highchair in the apartment above the Observer and bark when he heard bluejays.

Within a couple of years, he had a sister to help him in his education. Much of his learning was self-taught. Here’s an exchange from 1986:

Ben: “You wanna see Rosanna? I’m putting it on her eyes, Dad.”

Me: “What are you putting on her eyes?”

Ben: “Silly Putty. She loves it.”

At six weeks of age, she probably didn’t have much say in that decision, but if she wasn’t crying, I guess she loved it. And he loved her: “I like to touch her lips. They’re soft like worms.”

Much of his education was a matter of his parents providing fractured answers to the dozens of questions such as these: Do bees have lungs? Where do deer go when they get sick? How do tongues get wet?

There was an entire class of unanswerable questions to which my response finally boiled down to a blanket reply: “It’s because of the molecular structure of the thing.”

Much of his education came through experimentation, such as when he poured water inside the vacuum cleaner (“I thought there might be fishes inside”) or when he experimented in the arts (“I drew an apple on the mirror. With spit.”)

He stumbled for a while in learning to deal with people. There was a day when he put on all of his winter layers to go outside and play in the snow, but when he learned that neither of his parents would join him, he decided to stay inside. Why? “Somebody might say ‘Hi’ to me.”

In other ways he was quick to learn interpersonal relationships, like when he poured us both a glass of “sugar juice” and then accidentally kicked mine over. His response was, “It’s a good thing that was yours.”

He learned the ways of the sports world first by playing volleyballoon in the confines of the apartment, but he switched to baseball when he had his own yard. He was smacking what he called “home-grounders” and worried that if he hit the ball too hard, it would get stuck in the air.

He later received a Mickey Mouse-endorsed golf club and went to work on a new sport. He would count his strokes, “eight, nine, twenty-ten.” Par was somewhere around forty-teen.

I CAN’T go on with this anymore. I’m running out of space, but I’m also running out of emotional stability. It doesn’t seem right that it should hurt so much to think back on good times. It’s been a wonderful 23 years, Ben, and now you’re about to leave us, heading off for your first job 1,375 miles away.

“Isn’t that an i-good-dea?” he used to ask.

I suppose it is. That’s the way life works. But aren’t you worried that someone might come up and say “Hi”?

  • Front.little Ball
    Fayette's Demetrious Whiteside (left)Skylar Lester attempt to keep the ball from going out of bounds during Morenci's recent basketball tournament for fourth and fifth grade teams. Morenci's Andrew Schmidt stands by.
  • Front.tug
    MORENCI pep rallies generally end with a tug of war. The senior class entry, shown above, did not advance to the finals. Griffin Grieder, Alaina Webster, Kyle Long and Jazmin Smith are shown at the front of the rope, giving it their best effort.
  • Accident
    FAYETTE resident Patricia Stambaugh, 64, was declared dead on the scene of a single-vehicle accident Friday morning south of Morenci. Rescue units were called around 9 a.m., but as of Tuesday, law enforcement officers had not yet determined the time of the accident. According to Ohio State Highway Patrol, Stambaugh was driving west on U.S. 20 when her Chevrolet Malibu traveled off the north side of the road and down a steep embankment, coming to rest in Bean Creek (Tiffin River).
  • Athletic Fields
    SPORTS COMPLEX—Fayette’s outdoor athletic facilities will include three ball fields for summer recreation leagues at the southwest corner of the school. The baseball and softball fields, along with the running track, will be constructed on the east side of the school. Outdoor athletic fields were not part of the new school project from 2007, but voters approved a $1.4 million levy for a school addition and the sports fields last August. Both projects are scheduled to be complete by July 20.
  • Front.teacher Leading
    PRESCHOOL MUSIC—Fayette band director Jeffrey Dunford spends the last half hour of the day leading the full-day preschool class in musical activities. Additional photos are on page 7 of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.F.band
    TROMBONISTS Jake Myers (left) and Max Baker perform Friday at the annual Senior Citizens Luncheon at Fayette High School. The National Honor Society and the FFA chapter teamed up to serve a meal to area seniors and to provide musical entertainment. Both the school band and choir performed. Additional photos are on page 7 of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.

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