It was a fine Miami morning in early June 1969, that Saturday morning when I walked into the Royal Castle Restaurant with my five-year-old son Billy.
He was always a bright boy and we were having fun. Mom and Jeffy, his two- year-old baby brother, were otherwise engaged so that we could have a bonding experience. I’m pretty sure we had bacon, eggs and grits with white toast.
As I paid the bill I noticed that Billy was acting a bit sneaky. Parents all know this look. The kids’ necks grow shorter and they hunch over a little trying for invisibility.
Billy was standing outside on the pale river rocks and pebbles that bordered the hedges, and he was bending over.
I shifted into another parenting mode. “Billy!” I said sternly. “Those rocks don’t belong to you. They’re a part of the restaurant’s decor son. Leave them be and put that one back.” He had been in the process of slipping a stone into his pocket. Perhaps, I thought, to chunk at Jeffy when we weren’t looking.
I forgot about the incident until on Father’s Day Billy presented me with a tissue wrapped gift. It turned out to be a little turtle with felt arms and legs. It had a smiling face made with a ballpoint pen and sequin eyes. There was a yellow flower painted on its back.
The shell was a white rock!
It was a really nice present and I thanked Billy profusely. I might have even have talked about the rocks at the Royal Castle and apologized. I don’t remember what I said after thanking him.
I do remember the hurt look on his face when I towered over him and rebuked him for taking a rock. I wish I’d been kinder. I’d been trying to give him a lesson but, in the end, it was Billy who taught me to behave better.
I love my turtle and it lives on my desk and in my heart. Thanks Son.