Right here waiting

Four-ish years ago, Annie developed a peculiar – and very difficult to describe – game that she called “Mark Off.” The premise was simple enough: Annie would ask a variety of questions, quiz-show style, to the game’s participants, who would then receive points for correct answers and be “marked off” for incorrect ones. (The consequence of the “mark off” was never properly explained, but it turned out not to matter anyway.) For proper effect, she stood on the piano bench (to be taller and more important, one would assume) and wielded a microphone to make things game-show-official.

singuh
No piano bench, but you get the general idea.

ca-razy
Actually, the game was a lot more frenetic – kind of like this.

Easy, right? Except, see, the issue was that the “correct” answers were entirely arbitrary, with points being awarded at random (a la “Whose Line Is It Anyway”) and “mark offs” being declared even we were sure we’d gotten things right.

To wit:

“Okay. The game is starting! What color is my hair?”

“Brown!”

“Yes! A point for you! {scribbling in notebook} What is Mommy’s first name?”

“Emily!”

“WRONG. MARK OFF!” {angry flourish in notebook}

“But Mommy’s first name IS Emily!”

“That’s another point gone for you! Mark off again!” {frenetic checkmark-ing}

“I don’t understand how this game works.”

“What is my friend Jenny’s favorite snack?”

“What? How could we possibly know the answer to that?” 

“MARK OFF!” {yet another angry checkmark}

“Is it cheese?”

“No! You get two points!” {cheerful tally mark added}

After a while, the questions themselves didn’t even make sense, and the “mark off”s becomes even more frequent (and hilarious).

“If a dog could fly, would it eat mangoes?”

“No, because they don’t smell like fish.”

“Yes! Ten points for you!” {ten meticulous tally marks scribbled on her paper}

“Do you like chocolate or vanilla ice cream?”

“Vanilla.”

“MARK OFF!!” {disappointed head shake and a final checkmark}

I’m not doing it justice here, because it was really one of those things you had to witness, but it was epic. We played battled our way through with Grandpa Bill and GranMary (they were visiting at the time), and by the time the game had (mercifully) ended, every one of us was in stitches. Since then, Mark Off has become something of a family legend, evoked whenever we need a quick chuckle or want to marvel at just how nutty our second born really is.

I know there are folks out there who are like, Good God, with the taking of a million photos and the saving of stuff, already. Dozens of drawings from the kids, ticket stubs, old notebooks… Who needs all this crap?? 

I am decidedly not one of these people. While I’m not a hoarder or anything (ask my kids, who look on with absolute horror as I flip through the contents of their take-home folders each day and unceremoniously dump almost everything in the recycling bin), I do save every card, every photo (as I’ve mentioned before), and enough odd scraps of paper and drawings to create my own landfill. They don’t just rot, though – part of why I save them is that I periodically go through them, and the memories make me feel damn good.

Ever since the Mark Off days, I have regretted that I didn’t think to go and pull out a camera and video Annie in action. It all was happening so fast, and we were laughing so freakin’ hard, I didn’t even consider pulling myself away (plus, it was such an organic moment, running for a camera might have broken the spell). But – especially considering that I really can’t do it justice by describing it, and also because each of our memories of the event is fading slightly – I’ve really been bummed that we have absolutely no record of it. I’d assumed that our recollections would have to be good enough.

A few weeks ago, I happened upon a long-forgotten notebook in my bedroom, one that had once been a combination diary/to-do book but that had been commandeered by my young’uns for drawing and writing and coloring and generally making sure that I understood that “my” notebook was no longer “mine” at all.

randomnote
These are fairly typical entries.
I’m not sure why Nick has such thick legs, nor why my thigh is coming out of my stomach at a perpendicular angle, but whatever. 

After flipping through the pages, I came upon the following and it caused me to – yes, literally (for real) – gasp aloud:

randomnote2

It’s a conversation between Ella and Bill, written in January 2010 (I did a lot of sleuthing through the other drawings to deduce the exact timing; Columbo, that’s me). The left side – Ella’s message – reads: “Thank you for visiting.” (Or, more precisely, THAK YOU FOR V ISITIN… but I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. She had only just turned five, people.)

The right side containing Bill’s response is a bit harder to see, so allow me to provide a close-up:

randomnote3

Grandpa Bill
Ella and Annie – Thank you for letting us stay with you and for a wonderful time.

Beneath that is a drawing of a sun (I think?), a rectangle with squiggly lines, an I Love You heart from Ella, and an adorably small I Love You Too heart from Bill.

Which, in and of itself, was enough to make me gasp – a heretofore unknown conversation with Grandpa Bill? His handwriting, his sentiments, the memories of him and his wonderful relationship with the girls… And it just fell into my lap?

Amazing.

But when I looked more closely, I realized that this was even more amazing than I’d originally thought, because that drawing in the middle of the page? That’s not just a box with squiggles… Take a look for yourself:
randomnote4
Scribble… OFF
Scribble… OFF

Yep, in his thank-you note to Ella, Bill included his own illustration of one of the best parts of their visit – Annie’s legendary game of Mark Off.

For the past four years, we’d all thought that there was no “proof” that Mark Off had ever even existed, as though it were a figment of our imagination. Now, there’s not only evidence that it happened – there’s evidence from Bill, in an adorable note written to his granddaughter. It had been waiting there for us all along; we just had to find it.

Tomorrow is Bill’s birthday; he would be seventy-one. Last year at this time, we were embarking on our hilariously catastrophic visit to Minnesota to celebrate his 70th. This year, the timing is just right for GranMary to come for a visit, so we will happily be spending the weekend with her (and dragging her to soccer celebrations and movies and heaven knows what else; thank God she’s a great sport!) – perhaps celebrating, but more likely simply wishing and remembering.

Whatever we decide to do, I know that the memory of Bill will be right there with us – we just have to find him. But that shouldn’t be too hard; he’s always waiting for us, all along.

gp visit26
Photo taken during the infamous gameshow visit.
Why is Annie barefoot and Ella wearing Valentine’s socks? MARK OFF!

 

 

Advertisements

What'cha thinkin'?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s