His name is Alexander Hall Hildreth, otherwise known as ‘the graduate.’ I resisted taking him aside at the party we had in his honor and whispering, “Plastics,” in his ear! I simply hugged him close and whispered, “Nice going,” and he smiled that sweet, spontaneous Alex smile.
My name is Frank Alexander Hall. I was touched by Sue and Chip’s affirmation – naming their son in my honor. During his first 18 years I didn’t dwell on his name, though I was reminded from time to time – like the service of dedication of parents and children that my friend and colleague Herb Adams did here on February 14, Valentine’s Day, in 1988.
His name stood out for me as I read it among the 302 members of his class. Before we got our programs, Sue wondered out loud whether they would include his middle name. “It’s important,” she said, explaining the reason they chose it to begin with.
The ceremony was scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. last Sunday, so we arrived in the rain at 12:15 to get a seat in the big Reading High field house. It was important for me to be there for Alex, and equally important for me to be with Sue and Chip as their son, my grandson, walked across the stage to receive his diploma.
Wondering thoughts, magical memories and deep feelings flooded my mind as we sat watching the huge room fill up with families and friends of the graduates. The sound of the high school band playing background tunes felt like an intrusion, competing with the nervous energy of the talkative gathering.
Sue was sitting next to me and I wanted to tell her some of the things I was thinking, but I didn’t want to have to raise my voice above those around us, and I was afraid I’d start to blubber – I knew that she was on the verge of graduate-mother tears, so I kept the thoughts to myself.
It wasn’t until Alex entered the building, processing slowly to Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstances, which is so associated with graduations, that it seemed to ‘hit me,’ that this grandson of mine is taking a major step in life, symbolized by the steps he was taking down the aisle in that muggy gymnasium.
I wanted to turn to Sue and say, “I remember the day he was born and you handed him to me and said, ‘Dad, this is a miracle.’” By then, though, I had all I could do to control my emotions, and I needed to be present to this occasion, to this day!
We had a sumptuous dinner at Alex’s favorite Boston restaurant, Tapeo, where they serve those wonderful little spicy dishes you pass around the table like endless hor d’oeuvres. I’m so glad I was able to be part of the festivities.
On Monday morning I drove home alone, carrying the memories. I thought back to the day I met Alex for the first time, remembering with cold clarity the talk I had with myself about becoming a grandfather, and wanting so much to be a good one, but realizing I didn’t really know how – he didn’t come with a manual; and grandfathering is different from the father role which seemed so natural. Naturally, then, on this drive home I wondered how I’ve done, so far. I’ll keep trying.