Stafford: This holiday season, bring out your family legends

Years ago, when our grandsons were just getting the hang of sibling rivalry, the younger one, Finney, spent a solid day going from his father to his mother, to his grandmother to me.

With doe-eyes boring into our souls and in a voice sodden with toddler sincerity, he shared with us all the most somber news in the language of toddlers: “Atticus bad. Atticus bad.”

Atticus is, of course, his older brother, which made the story into an instant family legend.

It both cracked me up and reminded me of a confusing moment in my childhood that was dead serious to me and seemed to entertain my parents to no end.

There I was, maybe three years old, seated on the toilet during Saturday morning house cleaning when I began a terrifying tilt backwards and seemed headed for a plunge into the white porcelain abyss. Think of it as a 4.3 difficulty platform dive with two somersaults and a twist that turns into a train wreck.

When I emerged terrified and with my face flushed and lower cheeks wet, my parents were laughing uncontrollably. I had not yet reached the developmental stage at which “we’re laughing with you, not at you” had any traction. But sensing their apology was sincere, I was able to nurse my sense of hurt and embarrassment only momentarily before going on with my 3-year-old’s day.

More than 65 years later, it remains my earliest childhood memory.

Finney had one of those moments – also in bathroom setting -- a few days back that also will end up in my collection of legendary family moments,

That’s in part because my first reaction to the Facebook post that related matched the one I had as a 3-year-old tumbling into the porcelain abyss.

The post was from our son-in-law and that had a picture of a note Finney had written to him that morning with a magic marker before sliding it under the bathroom door.

It said: “HO E UP.”

My alma mater now encourages its students to “Tiger Up,” which, one, sent my mind racing in the wrong direction; and two, left me asking myself why the man that our daughter married would ever post such picture on social media.

Of course, if I I’d read the note he’d posted with the picture, none of this drama would have unfolded.

Because I didn’t, I soon found myself in the same state of mind Ralphie’s mother was right after the tire changing scene in “The Christmas Story”: hot on the trail of others to blame.

Our daughter hadn’t mentioned anything about the Christian after school program the kids attend being the object of a hostile takeover by a Satanic Hedge Fund, so I figured it wasn’t their doing.

The next step was clear. I immediately did what so many of us do when a problem with a child or grandchild arises: Blame it on the public schools.

There is, of course, a simple explanation for the whole thing. And for those who enjoy solving the Sunday Morning puzzle on National Public Radio, here are the clues that I followed to the solution.

Clue 1: It was a school day.

Clue 2: Finney, who is in kindergarten, has trouble pronouncing his rs.

Clue 3: He rides a bus to school.

While you’re mulling all that over, a brief aside.

As a person born in That State Up North, I always have been pleased by Finney’s inability to pronounce his Rs. It has saved me the expense of having a tattoo installed on one of his arms reminding him that, regardless of what he hears, there the letter r should not be used in either the spelling or pronunciation of our nation’s capital and that the letter appears only in the first name of our first president and the last name of Washington Courthouse.

Now, to the explanation.

Like many parents, our son-in-law walks Finney to the bus stop.

As a boy who loves school, Finney was worried that morning his dad might be occupied in the bathroom too long for that to happen.

So, problem-solver that he is, he tapped his developing writing language skills to produce a note, which he sounded out in kindergartner fashion.

Unable to pronounce his Rs, his “hurry up” gives us HO E UP.

Clearly, the boy is going to be writer.

P.S. I encourage you all to feast your family’s legends – and share them with others – this holiday season. Even if they’re about trips to “Warshigton.“

If you have a notion to, email one or two to me at Methinks it would make a good column.

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