Graduation season is everywhere, and be happy if you needn’t sit through yawn-inducing ceremonies celebrating the most recent students bumped from the educational assembly line.
School administrators permit speakers to address graduates only if they have nothing to tell them. Orators guaranteed to bore listeners nearly to death take the stage to tell nonstop lies to unsuspecting teens about how much they’ve already accomplished.
Another staple of graduation season is the party. Ukiah graduation parties are all about streamers and confetti, signs saying “ConGRADulations!” and a cake from Safeway. Relatives hand the kid a card with $50 inside.
Ahh, the party angle. A long time ago we staged a graduation party, allegedly to honor son Lucas for having surmounted every academic challenge Pomolita Middle School could throw in his path, but actually designed to induce psychological trauma in his older sister.
Plans were planned, people were contacted and everyone was in on the scheme.
To give the appearance of a generic graduation party we had some guests, some pizza and a big fancy cake Trophy had labored over since yesterday. There were envelopes from well-wishers, and maybe some alcohol.
First pizza, then cake, and now it’s time to open all the card-bearing messages people had sent to demonstrate the pride and awe that Lucas had inspired in them via his mighty scholastic achievements.
The first card came from neighbors Kevin & Danna. She slid a turquoise-colored envelope across the deck table, Lucas pulled out the card and extracted a check for $500. Five hundred bucks!
Emily’s eyebrows shot to the top of her forehead. She said something like “Whaaa . . . ?” while Lucas said something like “Wow! Thanks you guys!”
And over the next few minutes Lucas hauled in:
1) A card from Aunt Carol in Pennsylvania with a check for $750;
2) A card from Uncle Bill living in South Carolina, and a $1200 check.
Emily: “W-w-whadda . . . ? Whadda they think—he graduated from . . . Harvard? I mean . . . ” Her voice trailed to a whisper. She had the blank look of someone in shock and maybe she was. No doubt Emily still remembered that when she graduated from Pomolita a few years earlier she was happy to get a $25 gift certificate from the Mendocino Book Company.
3) But the capper came from Uncle Pete in New York. Included in the card was a color photo of him leaning against his beloved red ’65 Mustang convertible, holding up a certificate that the card’s inscription said was the registration.
“ConGRADulations!” Pete wrote. “All yours! Fly back, pick it up and drive it home!”
I took surreptitious photos of Emily documenting what must have been among the weirdest and least comprehensible experiences in her young life. Each picture was timed to capture her response at the instant she learned of the latest outrage against common sense and family tradition. In the pictures she looks blank, stricken, as if she hasn’t taken a breath for at least five minutes.
“Stunned” might be the word, like a sledge to the head of a slaughterhouse cow, or news of a Dow-Jones wobble that drains your last nickel, or when Martians land, walk in the back door and ask what’s for dinner.
The main event concluded, Emily sat back looking seasick. We let her stew a few minutes, absorbing the fact her 13-year old brother was up to his armpits in money, a cool car, plus a trip to Disneyland someone had tossed in the pot.
Then we nursed her back to emotional stability by tearing up the bogus checks and assuring her that all Lucas had actually received for his middle school triumphs was a gift certificate to the Mendocino Book Company for $30.
Semi-cruel pranks are woven into the fabric of my family history. I could easily fascinate and horrify a veteran professional family therapist counselor with matter-of-fact tales of family vacations, holidays and other special events targeting one sibling or another in complex trickery contrived to make them doubt their own sanity.
All in good fun of course. No harm intended. Cantcha take a joke?
After all, look how normal and healthy I turned out.
(Tom Hine recalls the year our parents took special joy in ruining my older brother’s summer by convincing him we were unable to afford the usual cabin-on-a-lake vacation and would instead be camping out of our car several miles away. Or when mom and the three oldest kids waited until Peter, 5 years old, went to bed on Christmas Eve. then moved the decorated tree into a back bedroom, hid gifts in the pantry, and told him the next morning he’d been dreaming. A November calendar on the kitchen wall was proof. TWK, horrified, is looking for a new writing partner.)