“Seth, who do you think is the most powerful person in the world?”
Usually, I tried my hardest to avoid speaking to Kenny DeShaw. He was three years younger than me; socially, he was much younger. But, Kenny was hard to ignore. Living next door to him was bad enough. Going to the same school was worse. Having my mother in debt to his was torture. The reason for this debt was simple, years earlier Kathryn DeShaw saved my father’s life.
I won’t go into much detail. My dad was hit by a car walking across River Road. Mrs. DeShaw was the emergency room nurse. She realized that the overstressed doctor mistakenly prescribed a lethal combination of drugs that would’ve killed my father.
Since that day, my mom had done anything and everything possible to show our gratitude. I was grateful too, but it was her job, for God’s sake. Send her a card and a dozen roses and move on. But, my mom never would. For that reason, whenever Kathryn DeShaw needed a surly, yet free, baby-sitter, she knew where to go.
“Come on, Seth. Guess who the most powerful person in the world is.”
I closed my eyes and rubbed my forehead. I could smell the peanut butter from the three-inch sandwich I had made. No matter how thick I spread that chunky peanut butter, I could never get him to stop talking, even for a few minutes. Sighing, I answered him.
“I give up, Kenny. Why don’t you tell me?”
Curious, I finally made eye contact with the little imp. He was smiling so wide, he looked like a jack-o’-lantern. At least one with remnants of peanut butter spread across its teeth.
“Really. Your grandma. I’ve met the woman, Kenny. She wouldn’t weigh a hundred pounds after Thanksgiving dinner.”
I winced as his shrieking laughter pierced through my skull. Surprisingly, he calmed down quickly. Usually his laughing fits could last for ten minutes on a good day.
“Yeah, I know. But, I didn’t say strongest, I said powerful.”
“What’s the difference?”
His pale green eyes widened quickly as he whispered, “You don’t know? Really?”
When I shook my head, he took off on another tangent of laughter, this time skipping around the kitchen like a five-year-old girl. I could tell he was ecstatic that he knew something that I didn’t. I couldn’t help but smile myself. The little twerp was nothing if not mildly entertaining.
For the first time in memory, I wanted to continue a conversation with Kenny DeShaw.
“Okay, Kenny. Why’s your grandma so powerful?”
He stopped skipping, and sat down at the kitchen table. He motioned silently for me to follow, as if someone might overhear. We both knew that there was no one else home. Shockingly, Kenny was an only child.
After insisting that our chairs be only inches apart, he again began to whisper.
“She can make anyone, I mean anyone, cry whenever she wants to.”
“Yeah? So can I. A punch to the nose will do it every time. Wanna see?”
Kenny furrowed his brow so intently I actually felt guilty.
“Okay, Kenny. I’m sorry. How can she make someone cry?”
He leaned in closer, “Memories.”
I raised my hands in puzzlement. He leaned back and put his hands behind his head. He tried putting his feet on the table, but his legs were too short and they slipped down. He watched me for a few seconds to see if I would understand. I didn’t.
“Don’t you see? Why does your mom make you watch me for free all the time? It’s not because my mom saved your dad. It’s because your mom remembers.”
He rolled his eyes and shook his head. “The memory of how she felt when she thought your dad had died. She remembers that fear and those terrible thoughts she must have had. She thinks of what things would have been like if my mom wasn’t there that night.”
I was silent for a long time. Kenny was actually making sense.
“But, what’s that have to do with your grandma?”
Kenny shook his head too hard and laughed. “Grandmas know more memories than anyone. Hasn’t your grandma ever made you feel guilty, or really happy, or proud? Could she make you cry if she wanted to? Just by making you remember something? Couldn’t she make your mom cry? Or your brother or sister? What about your uncles and aunts? Are you ever rude to your grandma?”
I didn’t answer him, and I didn’t need to. Kenny DeShaw was a genius.