Simon, then 7, one of my niece and nephew’s triplets, was showing me the letters and numbers he had learned in his first-grade class last spring.
“Now, you see, Uncle Reid, this is the letter L,” he explained, drawing it in the wet sand.
“That’s not an L. That’s the number two,” I replied in mock surprise.
Simon looked up at me with a blue-eyed gaze of pure shock. He took a moment, regrouped, then scratched a t in the sand. “And this is a small T,” he said, expecting I’d understand.
“That’s a four, Simon. What are you doing, trying to fool me?”
Simon, growing more emphatic and concerned about the sanity of his great uncle, tried one more time, carving a 7 in the wet sand. “And this is a seven,” he intoned, with the hint of exasperation of a worried mentor.
I sighed and shook me head disappointedly. “Simon, that is the letter N. What are they teaching you at that school?”
Simon shook his head like he was clearing his brain of cobwebs and trundled into the surf, muttering aloud to the crashing waves, in wonderment at how his uncle got out of grade school.
Meanwhile, Anna Katherine, age 4, was digging a hole with her friend Connor. “So how does it feel to be three now?” I asked brightly as I approached.
“I’m four,” she exclaimed.
“Anna, you can’t be four, you were just two,” I replied.
“She was just three,” Connor corrected, a look of confusion gathering on his sand-coated face.
“Well, I think you two are just fooling with me, because I happen to know for sure she’s only three.”
Anna’s and Connor’s digging grew more hurried and purposeful, as if they had just hit upon an idea of what (or whom, perhaps) to fill that hole with.
Back at the beach house, I had succeeded in riling the entire brood of grand nephews, nieces and their friends into some kind of midget-human phalanx of sidewinder missiles hurling themselves into me like I was the Gaza Strip.
“That was a seven,” screamed Simon. “I’m four.” shouted Anna Katherine. “Let’s get Uncle Reid,” yelled Kirk, 10, who was well past the age where I had any chance of screwing around with his intellectual development. Simon’s triplet sister Emma and brother Jacob soon joined him in a sort of MIRV mass attack.
I left the beach house, battered and bruised, yet satisfied that I had given them a kind of sugar rush to keep the parents in turmoil late into the night.
The next morning, Simon saw me walking toward the family’s umbrella and came bounding out of the water. “Now, Uncle Reid, listen to me.” He drew a T in the sand. “This is a capital T.”
“Yes, it is, Simon,” I said.
A furrow ran across his brow. He carefully drew the number two. “And this is a 2.”
“Naturally, I replied. He eyed me cagily, then drew an M. “And this is a capital M,” he declared, though warily.
“Well, yeah, Simon, of course it is,” I said, shrugging indifferently.
He threw a look of askance, then nodded. “So, Uncle Reid, you went to school and learned something, huh?”
Art Linkletter said “Kids say the darnedest things,” but the real fun is what you can do to get them lathered into saying those things.
As I left the beach, I could hear Anna Katherine shouting, “I’m four,” and Connor right behind her crying out, “And you don’t even know the difference between a three and a four.”
Reid Champagne is a firm believer in early education, though we wish he had availed himself of it when he was young.