Mar 2019 06

As I search for something, anything, to write about almost every day as I avoid tackling a longer piece that I’m finding a way through, a character sketch of this man came to mind for some reason. I remember him vividly. And in remembering him, I realize it is not often I have a nice story to tell about my mother. In this age of supposedly being always connected, are we really connecting? The weather can change someone’s day.

“Good morning to my weather man! So what’s the forecast today?”

He was a gaunt man. Tall and lanky like a skeleton had donned a blue school janitor’s outfit. His face was long, too. Not so much chiseled but more caved in, which made his high cheek bones add to his macabre appearance. Stringy and receding slicked-back rows of brown and greying hair topped his skull-like head.

But peering out from this deathly display were the kindest eyes, blue like Van Gogh himself had painted them.

Every morning when I arrived for Kindergarten, it was these eyes and the above question that greeted me. His voice, high like a chirping morning bird. My mother was a person of schedules and routine. We were not only never late for school, we were always early enough to be up front at the school gates as they were unlocked for the day.

Before this man liberated them, he and I would talk through the iron bars of those school gates. I’d peer up at him and give him my expert weather prognostication.

“Today, it’s going to be sunny and then around 11 o’clock it will hail for three minutes before clearing up again.”

I don’t remember if the above was one of my verbatim predictions, but I do know they were something along those lines and I could yammer on for ages if someone would listen. I was shy and introverted, and still am really, but under the right conditions, I wouldn’t shut up. I was a kid that needed an audience, and he was my first. He showed me I mattered.

“Thank you, Andrew! Your weather reports are always very helpful!”

And then he would start unlocking the gates to start the school day. I can still remember his long fingers removing the iron padlock and the sound of the gates rolling on their tracks as he pulled them aside and all of us kids waiting would clamber in.

“See you tomorrow, Mr. Weatherman!”

Mr. Van Staveren. Many years later, my mother would tell me that he was Dutch. As a young man during World War 2, he fled the Netherlands for Canada, escaping the German occupation.

He was unmarried. He had no kids.

We were his kids.

I now think this is why we were always up front at the gates, every morning.

My mother wanted him to know that he mattered, too.