Happy April Fool’s Day

Each year, as the optimistic and abundant personality of spring begins to establish itself, I think about a dear friend who had those same traits; a man who created April-Fool’s fun every day for everybody.

Ernie shambled into my classroom — gleeful smile, low-flapping ears, bulgy nose, blue eyes bleached from years at sea — and handed me the construction paper I’d ordered from the supply room. “My, my, my, aren’t you the busy one,” he remarked.

Though his droll manner amused me, I refused to be diverted and managed to catch him as he slid a box of multi-sized, multi-hued rubber bands onto my desk along with the paper.

“Ernie, that’s the third box of rubber bands you’ve brought me this month; I don’t need them; I never use them.”

“Well then, Missy,” he replied, grabbing the construction paper and clutching it to his chest, “You shan’t have this either!”

A previous custodian at Grace Bordewich School had purchased two cases of rubber bands, an item teachers rarely request. Boxes of the aging bands littered the storage room in untidy stacks and offended Ernie’s navy-developed sense of order.

No matter what a staff member ordered—penmanship paper, a box of staples, a set of Magic Markers — Ernie delivered the requested supplies along with a bonus: a box of rubber bands.

One year Mary, the school librarian and Ernie’s inventive equal, baked a lavishly frosted, chocolate cake for Ernie’s birthday and invited the staff to come to the library after school to share it with him.

My fun-loving friends, Ernie and Mary

My fun-loving friends, Ernie and Mary

Ernie praised the beauty of the cake, predicted its deliciousness, then seized the knife Mary offered, and cut — attempted to cut — the first piece. It was tough going: with each swipe of the knife, the rubber bands Mary had stirred into the batter wiggled, sproinged, and snapped.

When Ernie laughed, he did so with his entire body, a knee-slapping, unrestrained, booming cackle; and, always, his gulping guffaws caused others to join in. Bedlam broke out in the library.

Eventually, the birthday boy, stifling snorts, carried the cake away to show others.

The next morning, Mary found a note on her desk. It explained that Ernie’s mom had taught him to never return an empty dish. Mary’s cake pan sat next to the note, filled with rubber bands of various sizes, many in pieces, and all carefully washed, though here and there a chocolate crumb lingered.

A few years later, when I went through a divorce, I discovered another side of Ernie. I sat in my sunlit kitchen, tears dripping from my chin, telling him about my hurt, self-doubt, anger, and fear as I faced life alone. He listened quietly, shook his head, and made no attempt to reassure me or tell me what to do.

He didn’t talk about his divorce, didn’t offer to keep my car running, didn’t suggest I work my way into the singles scene or get a new hairdo. Instead, he looked at me with concern and affection and murmured, “Oh, Janet. Oh my. Oh, Janet.” He understood I needed a listener, not an advisor.

Every year, as April breaks, I miss my generous, fun-loving friend.

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56 thoughts on “Happy April Fool’s Day

  1. How wonderful, and how rare–someone who understands that listening is much better than trying to solve the problem for someone else. It took me years to figure that one out, and I must confess that occasionally I forget.

    Liked by 5 people

      • I stand GUILTY as charged!!! I so want to take away the pain and make it “all better” when all the person really needs is a sympathetic ear and sometimes a hug….just need to remind myself (on a regular basis!) to mirror back their comments…. 🙂

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  2. Janet, this touched my heart so deeply. My dad was that custodian, and both kids and staff at Grace Elementary adored him. At his memorial, the staff shared stories of his kindness and practical jokes. Everywhere he went, young people stopped to give Mr. Mac a hug. He, too, made listening an art.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Susan, I’m so glad you told me this story. What a wonderful father you had. School custodians can have a huge, positive impact on a school. You were blessed and so were those whose lives he touched at school.

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    • I was so hoping my Bordewich friends who knew Ernie would see this blog. Thanks for letting me know you did, Cindy. I’m glad you laughed and remembered and reminded me of Ernie’s ditty, in fact of many of Ernie’s ditties, none of which I could include in my blog, I fear; though I think my Aunt Beulah wouldn’t mind.

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  3. Who knew Mrs. B. was so tricky! Best librarian EVER (though Mrs. Palmer was a close second) – and Ernie was just as loving and kind to the aimless tweenies we were… Thanks for reminding me!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Carolyn, when I published this post, I hoped you would read it and remember these two wonderful people. Thank you for letting me know you did and also for mentioning Mrs. Palmer, who told me I had to read Dandelion Wine. I did as directed, and Dandelion Wine became one of my favorite books of all time.

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    • Carolyn!! A voice from the past…nearly forty years! Thank you for such kind words and remembering me. I thought Mrs. Palmer was the BEST ever librarian, and I’m sure she’d agree that it was fun and rewarding suggesting books to an outstanding student like yourself. MB

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I feel the affection here, but what I thought of was the special people in our school lives who weren’t our fellow teachers, but who nonetheless kept the school happily humming. Our custodians, secretaries, nurses, librarians, cafeteria workers, and support staff were and are such an important part of a school’s climate. They are the caring hearts who listen–to us as well as our students. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ernie sounds like an absolute gem! Light hearted enough to not take life too seriously but with compassion to be able to be there, just there when his friends need him. You must feel blessef to have had him in your life.

    Liked by 2 people

    • He was a blessing to me and to many others, Katie. In addition to the qualities you mention, he had a child-like openness to experiences and laughter that enriched my life for several years. I think of him often.

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  6. Perfect, Janet. You perfectly captured Ernie as a man who “created fun every day for everybody”. It wasn’t possible to get the best of him but he found it hilarious when someone tried. (Thank you for the photo that takes me back to another life, when I was young, my hair was dark and Ernie’s good heart was in our lives.)

    Liked by 2 people

    • I love this comment, Mercy, especially the last sentence. It was another life when we were young; life seemed forever; and, as you so wonderfully said,”Ernie’s good heart was in our lives.”

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  7. Hi Aunt Beulah
    I love Ernie and Mary, they sound like a pair of wags ( not of the wives and girlfriend type), absolutely not. We Aussies often refer to those with a bit of mischievous and wit about them as a bit of a wag, Mary got Ernie a beauty by baking him a multi coloured rubber band birthday cake disguised ever so deliciously in chocolate icing. I can imagine Ernie’s whole body laughing, as he realised he had been out wagged by Mary who had saved her rubber bands for a pay back day. Yes I do detect their natural beaming smiling faces certainly have wag written all over them. Anyone who is a bit of a wag is always very wise too, the two go together. Ernie was a dear wise friend Aunt Beulah and a lovable bit of a wag to boot.
    You have made me giggle again and shed an endearing tear as well
    Thankyou from across the miles
    Big electronic hugs from
    Annie in Australia 🌞 🌴 🌊

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi, Annie in Australia. I’m glad you like my friends Mary and Ernie and understand the qualities they brought into my life. I like the term “wags” and your belief that they are wise as well. It fits both of my friends perfectly. Electronic hugs back to you.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for sharing this interesting man with us. The custodians I remember from my teaching days seemed to be angry all the time. I guess it had to do with facing the same clean-up work every day, and possibly the fact that they weren’t being paid very much to do it. But in the end, people make the choice of being happy or angry.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I, too, have know unhappy custodians; but Ernie was pure joy to work with, and I enjoyed the head custodian at the elementary school where I was a principal as well. And I agree that it’s all about the choices we make.

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  9. Oh Janet, your memory of these wonderful characters in your life are such a gift to us. I laughed at the thought of all those rubber bands making their way back to the librarian! I wept at the thought of you hurting so deeply and being heard and nothing more in a time that you needed that gift most. Life is rich! Life is hard! Life is marvelous with characters like Ernie and you to remind us what a wonderful thing it is to feel, laugh, cry and listen. The colors of humanness, you paint the rainbow beautifully with your memories and words.

    Liked by 2 people

    • What a gracious and kind comment this is, Carrie. Thank you. You are right; it is about feeling, laughing, crying, and listening. And going on with a heart open to life, which is the gift Ernie had. I think you have it as well, Carrie.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Sheila, I remember that we were first introduced through Ernie, and I count you as one more blessing he gave me. I sometimes think how much he would have appreciated you and your vagabond, Godfrey, the boy who hated beets that you introduced me to in your fine blog. All three of you have the same joy in life.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you, Janet. You know you were always my “favorite”! I came to Bordewich right after Ernie retired. Those rubber bands were still their when I left, and we upped the anti to 2 boxes per order! Ernie was a tough act to follow.

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    • Thanks for completing my story, Bill. I always wondered what happened to all those boxes of rubber bands. Now I know that you carried on the tradition. I always thought you and I made a good team at Seeliger Elementary, Bill.

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  11. Ernie sounds wonderful! Every school could use a guy like him.
    My favorite image from this story is the rubber band cake. Who could think up such a thing? I would have liked to have known Mary as well.
    Thanks for another enjoyable read, Janet.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My friend Mary is as funny and creative as Ernie. I have laughed uncontrollably with her more than once. I think you would have enjoyed both Ernie and Mary, and I’m sure they would have liked you as well.

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    • He was a wonderful friend, Barbara. I remember thinking when I was a child, and had my first experience with death, that it would be wonderful if all those I loved could just drift off to sleep and die along with me when I was really, really old. Sadly, the world doesn’t work that way.

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