November 16, 1978. 11:40 am. 509 Carlton Ave., Cloquet, Minn. Middle School social studies. I had on a plaid shirt. Red and black and brown, mostly, with pearl — fake pearl — buttons. Levi’s. Wallet and comb in back right pocket. Hair like Leif Garrett.
Ahead of me, Cathy Walsh. Red headed and starting to be beautiful after a childhood of awkward, Smart-Girl with Alpha Big Brother Syndrome.
Mr. Nelson talking about “solidarity” and Lech Walesa, but not as adamantly as Mr. Bart would three years later, keeping it academic, not emotional. Then on to geography — the difference between Eritrea and Ethiopia.
“Hey,” I say.
She turns around.
“Which one is poorer?”
“I think Eritrea, but Ethiopia is starving.”
“…speaking of which…”
“I have some home-made spearmint candies.”
“Humpfh!” Covering her face, looking up at Mr. Nelson, not wanting to get in trouble. Smiling. Happy, even.
“Never heard of anything like that.”
“They’re really good. Here.” Hands over a baggie from her black purse, green leaves of sugar-coated spearmint gum-drop textured candies. “I made them.”
“You can have them. Tell me if you like them.”
“I do. Already.”
“No, really. Eat one.”
“Thank you, so much.”
“You’re welcome.” Smiling. Braces. Red hair like a ripe carrot.
“Why you being so nice?”
And then Mr. Nelson:
“You two. What’s the conversation about? Done with your maps?”
In unison: “No.”
“Almost,” Cathy says, and, “be done in two seconds.”
Mr. Nelson walks over, respectful and quiet and knowing that geography is subjective and dynamic and political and much less important than the conversation he’d interrupted.
“Yeah?” in unison.
“You two better be quiet now.”
In unison: “We will.”
“But” he looks around…”Don’t stop talking. Keep talking, you two. Some things don’t seem important until they make themselves important after time.”
“Yes. After time. When you have enough distance, like Christopher Columbus never did, to see how stupid you were when you thought you were discovering something.”
“Something, not Everything. Or Anything. Done with those maps?”
“OK then,” and winking.
Almost always grown-ups never know the important things they say and do before they die and people tell them too late.
Cloquet resident Parnell Thill, former Pine Knot author of “Notes From the Small Pond” column for nearly a decade, is working on a collection of short stories by the same title, along with other writing projects.