That’s German for 19. Which has a very particular meaning today, Thom‘s birthday. Instead of spinning off into ultra-informative reminiscences — the late-night drive to the hospital and all the rest — I’ll offer something more pertinent to Thom’s current interests: On this date in 1987, Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On a Prayer” was Number One on the Billboard Hot 100. And I admit I probably wouldn’t know it if I heard it.
Happy birthday, TB.
Kate and I have just finished Week One of our Empty Nest era. Kate said today that sometimes when she hears the front door open and close here, she finds herself thinking it might be Thom. The other day, when it got to be 4 o’clock, she had the impulse to call home from school and check in with him.
Me, every once in a while — just looking at Thom’s car or his room or sometimes out of nowhere at all — I’ll have a sudden "he’s not here" moment that fits right in with other times I’ve really missed people; it’s like a blow to the solar plexus that comes with no real weight behind it; I can feel my breath catch for an instant, just enough to get my attention and register the sensation. Then it’s back to picking up my underwear or taking out the coffee grounds to the compost.
So. That’s our first week. We talked to Thom tonight. What was his take?
Beyond details like classes (there’s a heavy emphasis on grammar, of all things, in his Journalism 101 class), how he managed his meal-plan points for the first week (he bought a pack of Nutter Butters at one point because "every once in a while, you just need to have some peanut buttery goodness"), and the fact the floor he’s living on is fairly tolerant of a wide selection of musical tastes and volumes, he offered this summary: "I’m making a bomb-ass transition to college." (For the uninitiated, that is a good thing.)
So: a little perspective on our parental drama. (And, I can’t help thinking: Man, am I glad I’m keeping track of what my kid’s doing in Oregon, as opposed, say, to al Anbar Province).
The new room — in Tingle Hall in the Hamilton residence complex at the U of O. Thom checks out his half of the space and charts his plan of attack. To me, it seemed like he got everything taken care of in about an hour.
Thirty-one years ago this month, John and Lydell and I all moved into our rooms in Wilkins Hall at Illinois State (our one-time home was recently in the news — it just got renovated). Thirty years ago, so my memory isn’t as clear. But: It seemed like we had a little more room. Or maybe not: I think it didn’t matter too much to me when I got there what the room and the food and my roommate and hall neighbors were like. I was just kind of happy to be going to school. My semi-wide-eyed pleasure with the new experience didn’t last long, and I fell into bad school habits and traded new roommates at the first opportunity. But in ways that I couldn’t have imagined, moving into that room started me on the path that led me here to Oregon right now.
It happened: Thom graduated from high school. That’s not the shocker. This is: When you hear people say things like, “Gee, it seems like just last week that we were taking him to the first day of pre-school,” believe them. It’s true. I saw our neighbor Asa today — he lived next door when we moved in in April 1988, and he’s still there. He and one of his roommates once baby-sat for Tom (then without the H). Their big adventure while Kate and I were out for the evening was changing his diaper. I know it happened a long time ago. But not that long ago, and now that kid is getting ready to pack up his stuff and move on. It’s what’s supposed to happen among us middle-class Americans and what does happen when all your hopes and work and planning and luck fit together right. Two boys out the door to next adventures. I can’t believe how quickly it all happened.
That’s all for now, I guess, except to say that for the most part I liked the event. It was crowded and wild. The Greek Theatre has an official capacity of 8,500, and the place looked like it was packed. It was as close to a true community celebration as Berkeley has — all the kids in public school go to Berkeley High (if they haven’t managed to get themselves sent to the “alternative” campus a few blocks away), and it seemed like all the families with seniors showed up. The crowd was raucous. The kids were often unruly. Most of the student speakers — and there were many — were sadly forgettable. In an exercise of hyper-democracy or gesture of anti-elitism, the program didn’t explain how any of the kids earned the distinction of a speech or say whether they were chosen by lottery. Still, I loved seeing so many of the kids I’ve known or heard about over the years going through the graduation line; and it was a great moment when the ceremony ended and the 680-some kids in the class just moshed together for about 15 or 20 minutes. It was one group of very happy-looking kids.
I will leave recounting all the events of this day 18 years ago to my memoirs (not in stores yet, but it could happen any decade now). But let it be recorded that on March 3, 1987 — before the World Wide Web or MP3s or DVDs or TiVo; before emo, but after Led Zeppelin and The Clash; back when Saddam Hussein was still a good guy, the Berlin Wall was still standing, and Dutch still had most of his marbles; back when Barry Bonds had just 16 career home runs and before Michael Jordan had made it to the second round of the playoffs — yes, let it be recorded that on that day Tom Brekke was born (he’s expressed a preference for "Thom" lately, but I still haven’t made the transition).
As of today, he can vote, buy smokes legally (he pointed that out), be charged as an adult (he pointed that out), enlist in the armed forces, and sign up for the Selective Service System. And lots more that I’m not thinking of, I’m sure.
Anyway, T(h)om B., happy birthday from your pop.