Biff America: An unopened thanks
Sara could be my daughter.
Actually that is wishful thinking — Sara could be my granddaughter.
I watched her grow up from the age of 5 or 6. I mostly kept up with her progress on the rare occasion I’d ski or bike with her parents. I do remember watching a couple of her ski races with her dad. Her parents liked to entertain almost as much I liked free food, so we would attend dinner parties and sometimes spend happy hours on their deck.
I do remember one time we were invited to a dinner party at their house soon after Sara won an essay contest — perhaps when she was in middle school.
As I was eyeballing the lasagna cooling on the table, her mother whispered that her daughter wanted to read me her essay but was too shy to ask. She strongly suggested, if I wanted to eat, that I should ask to hear it. Her essay was really well written, funny and insightful, I told her so.
Sara and her family moved away soon after that, and I kept in occasional contact with her parents through social media, emails and Christmas cards. But over time, the contacts got fewer and farther between and the Christmas cards stopped altogether.
Though I lost touch with her parents, I’d occasionally run into some of our mutual friends. From them I learned that Sara, after graduating from an East Coast college, moved to New York City and had landed a good job in broadcasting. Even that information is several years old and by now, doing the math, I’m guessing she must be in her early 30s.
I had not thought of Sara or her family for over a decade. Living in a resort community, it’s often the case where friends come and go. I have even lost track of old friends who still live a half mile away.
It was a serendipitous event of chance and housekeeping that brought Sara back to mind. I was emptying the drawers of an old bureau before I took it to a thrift store. Among the paper clips, cough drops and an extension cord for a landline phone we gave up over a decade ago, I found, wedged between the pages of an old magazine, an old unopened thank you note from Sara.
We will occasionally write some of our friends’ kids cards with a small check when they graduate from high school. I don’t remember sending one to Sara, but seems that I had.
Sara thanked us for the check and mentioned she was going to attend an Ivy League school on scholarship. She said not to worry, she would follow my advice and spend the money foolishly.
I have absolutely no memory of sending her a card, but that advice does sound like me.
She then added something that caused a conflict of emotions. She wrote “Though we moved away when I was still in middle school, I have thought of you guys over the years. I always liked it when you would come over to our house; you made me feel pretty.”
Of course I’m happy that we somehow boosted her confidence in that regard, but it is also kind of creepy. A guy my age — then and now — probably should not comment on the “prettiness” of a friend’s teenage daughter. I do recall being friendly and trying to be funny — I remember trying to make her laugh, but not commenting on her looks — I would hate to be “that guy.”
Of course, it is a positive thing for any young person to feel attractive — probably more so than actually being attractive. Society and the media has imposed impossible body expectations on young girls particularly.
It would be wonderful if society could agree “attractive” could also mean being smart, kind, talented and strong. Being attractive is simply an arrangement of features and genetics, whereas feeling attractive is more a matter of liking yourself.
The truth is my friend’s daughter Sara was an attractive young gal, but she was also smart, creative and friendly; and I’m sure possessed many other qualities. Certainly she or any young person shouldn’t require my, or anyone’s, validation. We have no control of how others perceive us, but total control over how we perceive ourselves.
The greatest gift a parent, teacher or relative can give a child is confidence. As for me, I’ll just stick to sending checks.
Jeffrey Bergeron’s column “Biff America” publishes Mondays in the Summit Daily News. Bergeron has worked in TV and radio for more than 30 years, and his column can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of “Mind, Body, Soul.” Bergeron arrived in Breckenridge when there was plenty of parking and no stop lights. Contact him at email@example.com.
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