If you ever run across Dennis Nelson, ask him if he remembers a brown-eyed classmate in third grade. That classmate would be me. And, I still need to tell him "Thank you!"
From the people who pick up our trash to those who invent the technologies we enjoy, we owe thanks to many unsung heroes who will be forever nameless to us.
But, I know this hero's name. When he came to my rescue, all those years ago, I was too bashful to acknowledge what he did for me. The least I can do, now, is try to tell the story.
His name really was Dennis, as in Dennis the Menace. You could say he was a typical boy, full of energy,
interested more in teasing the girls than in study. He was cute, too. I rather imagine he grew up to look like
the actor, James Dean, with his distinctive features and curly blond hair. But, he did have a knack for
exasperating his teachers.
I overheard his mother at the grocery store, one day. She was visiting with the cashier and she said she wished Dennis could be more like his older brother, quiet and a good student.
"But," she sighed, "I guess he just takes after his father."
I got the distinct impression that wasn't good. Somewhere I heard his dad might be an alcoholic. That put pictures in my head of the corner bar we had to pass, downtown, to go to the grocery store. With the door propped open in the summertime, a nauseous odor hung in the air. Daring to steal a quick peek, I saw a dark inside with just a glimmer of a couple red lights. I shuddered in passing, certain this was the yawning gateway to hell.
When I finally got to see this father at a school function, I marveled. He seemed full of life, a fun-loving sort
and definitely the center of attention. One of those mysteries of life children discover and, like Mary, ponder in their hearts.
It was still early evening, so perhaps this was an incomplete picture of the man. Perhaps, Dennis had experience, from those late night hours after his dad had drunk his fill, that served to prepare him for the day at school when he became my hero.
Seven years old and shy, I nevertheless tried to be a good student. After the noon-hour lunch break, Miss Lund opened class time by reading to us. Or, sometimes she sat at the front of the room and played music on a small record-player. We practically memorized every note of the "Minute Waltz," she played it so many times.
On this particular afternoon, I didn't feel well. I didn't have any particular symptoms, but I wanted to rest my head on my arms while still paying attention to Miss Lund. None of us was prepared for what happened next.
I had no warning, no idea of what was coming, but suddenly I threw-up. I just erupted. Over the front of my
desk, and down on the floor a horrible smelly puddle just appeared.
Miss Lund leapt to her feet, shaking her hands as if she thought she might have gotten splashed. Then she gagged, audibly. Now her hands flew to cover her own mouth, as if she thought she might have to join me in being sick. She was way beyond her comfort zone. I didn't know what to do, and I guessed she didn't know, either.
But, Dennis, that usually exasperating tease, jumped to his feet and ran to the cloak room. He returned with fistfuls of paper towels and proceeded to wipe up my mess. Still resting my head on one arm, I just watched, dumbfounded that he would do something only my dad or mom had ever done for me before. He never gagged once. He actually seemed to be a cheerful worker as he cleaned the floor in the midst of a room full of silent onlookers. I think we were all simply amazed.
And, I never told him "thank you," and I don't know that Miss Lund thanked him, either.
I wish I could let Dennis know how much I appreciate what he was willing to do for me. Why he came forward to make a difference, when nobody else could, remains a mystery. What he did also remains a memory for me to cherish.
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