Fascination with Children
The first time this column appeared in the Frederick News-Post the record was set for the warmest December; this year rivals but has not surpassed. My children's children had not been born. I lived in my first local house, on East Fourth Street.
And Pushkin was still in dogs' heaven, waiting for his turn at life; that personal mitzvah came along six years later. I can't imagine how I functioned without the now-aging English pointer.
This city was enjoying a Golden Age fostered by long-time Mayor Ron Young. The year 1984 caught him in the midst of bringing his hometown up-to-date. He transformed downtown with new sidewalks and buried power lines. He crowned his work by opening the Weinberg Center for the Arts and starting the redevelopment of Carroll Creek; he studied River Walk, San Antonio's famed and very successful model for what he envisioned here.
The column was written on East Patrick Street in my ex-wife's antique shop, which was below the sidewalk.
I was in an ideal position to hear and see the wagons that bowed in that December. They hauled happy folks around all holiday season; their bells tinkled "All's right with the world" and "Merry Christmas." The children in the column are all grownup now and with children of their own.
To children of all ages, again:
* * * * * * * * * *
I fall in love every day.
There are eyes I cannot resist; eyes that flirt and beckon for affection. Some are bold and some are shy. Eyelashes flutter, and I am lost again. It happens every day.
Sometimes it's a smile that dimples its way into my heart. But frank grins have the same effect. A missing tooth is no problem.
I do not demand perfection, and beauty can be enhanced by slight discrepancy. Furthermore, age brings with it wisdom: a wonderful smile derives not from finely formed features, but from an inner glow.
Nor can hands, arms and skin be omitted from the items that cause my daily downfall. I have no protection from certain fingers that caress my face; spontaneous embraces; or the silken textures of cheeks against my own.
There is no escape. My loves and I find each other in every part of Frederick, especially in the crowded aisles of supermarkets.
Generally, my admiration is reciprocated, but sometimes they must be courted. My beard is a great attraction. There are songs I know. A trilling whistle learned from my father can succeed when all else fails.
I am a man who loves children; a firm believer in the creed that no boy or girl can have too many grandfathers. Although this may be mere rationalization on my part. I know no man can have too many grandchildren.
Part of my personal joy with Frederick comes from the generosity with which mothers, fathers and other grandparents permit me to express my love for the little ones in their charge.
A friend commented: "In Washington you would be arrested." My friend was right only in the respect that all big cities enforce a definite paranoia. But parents with their children are all the same.
My father's bird trills have drawn startled smiles in Rome, Paris and Berlin. Little Spaniards and Egyptians have been fascinated by my flat baritone singing about little dogs and cows, and chickens with wooden legs. Kids in California and Chicago once displaced my pipe and knocked off my glasses, with assured impunity.
Even mothers in mid-town Manhattan appreciate my appreciation of their offspring - when I do. For I am not completely indiscriminate, nor totally profligate.
There are some children I cannot love, as much as I might want to. These are generally the products of unhappy parents who pass their self-dislike along.
No one can love anyone who doesn't like himself: girl or boy, man or woman - it's all the same. And unfortunately there are youngsters I cannot love.
This becomes an even greater tragedy for someone who understands the basic nature of small children. They all start out being enchanted by themselves. They have to be taught their imperfections. They must learn to dislike themselves.
Recognizing all this, there are still children I want nowhere near me. I make no apology, beyond the explanation that I cannot undo, in my brief encounters, the damage that the permanent adults in their lives work at, all the time.
Life gives me no greater personal pain that these occasional brushes with children I cannot love. Fortunately, they rarely happen. And almost never in Frederick.
I can pay this community and its people no greater compliment than to offer my congratulations on the number of happy children I find here. They are boys and girls who reflect the values and the love you give them.
While adults provide the substance, the decency and the warmth that make this Frederick such a special place, children furnish their special grace. This is at no time more apparent than during the holidays.
So, a Merry Christmas to you all, young and old alike. I hope you enjoy and comfort each other, as much as you do-
THE MAN WHO LOVES CHILDREN.
John W. Ashbury (firstname.lastname@example.org)