Ask any grandfather, and he will tell you that any four-year-old grandson is a bundle of energy. Ask any grandfather, and he will tell you that any four-year-old also is a bundle of questions. This four-year-old grandson was the most energetic and the most inquisitive of the bundles. As grandfather and grandson played in the yard on this hot, hot and sunny summer afternoon, his little grandchild had tons of questions. He also had tons of energy. As the hot, hot sunny afternoon wore on, grandfather had less and less energy, and fewer and fewer answers.
So, it was very welcome when the bright blue sky above began to be pushed aside by the dark, rolling billows from the west. It meant that grandpa soon would be able to say to grandson, honestly, “We need to go inside.” What grandpa really needed to say was, “I need to go inside. I need to rest.”
But the little bundle of questions and energy was not afraid of the menacing black sky, or the rumbling sounds, or the flashes of light far away. No, he was not afraid, and he had not run out of questions.
All the questions started the same way.
“Why does,” or “why is,” or “why will.”
It was a marvellous thing that granddad knew all the answers. Or at least he knew how to make it sound like he knew them all.
“When I was a boy,” or “well, a long time ago,” or “you see, this is what I heard from a little bird .. or butterfly… or doggie” started all grandpa’s answers. Some even were true!
But grandpa was no longer a little boy, and he no longer had a little boy’s energy. Indeed, he quickly was running out of energy. He was not sure he could answer many more “whys” to the boy’s satisfaction.
“Why does,” the little boy began, “the sky make so much noise? Why does the light get so bright over there? Why do my feet seem to shake when that loud noise comes from the sky?”
It just wasn’t fair! Three whys before he could catch a breath! Just then, the rain started to fall.
“Why does the rain not fall all in one spot, but bounces all over the place?”
Four! Four whys! Grandpa hurried to answer the first, before the boy could ask a fifth.
“Why does the sky look like it is pulling a blanket over itself?” He pointed to the thick, billowing clouds.
Five! And grandson didn’t appear to be even out of breath!
Quickly, granddad started off, in such a hurry to pre-empt the next question that he forgot his usual format.
“Well, you see, it is like this.” He was too exhausted to even try to pretend he heard it somewhere else. He was also getting quite wet, and grandpas do not enjoy wet as much as boys enjoy wet. Grandpas have forgotten how much fun wet can be – wet feet, wet hair, wet all over! The boy was delighted, and tugging one way as hard as grandpa was tugging the other to hurry him indoors.
It was a lucky thing that grandpas are bigger, even if little boys are more determined. Grandpas usually won the tug-of-war, and this grandpa at least was winning a little bit. He almost had his little bundle to the gazebo. If not warm and comfortable, it would be dry and safe. At least, drier and safer than standing in the thunderstorm.
Grandpa was panting, out of breath. The boy was excited, breathless.
“Look, grandpa! More light, and louder noise!”
Grandpa didn’t need to be told. The ground shook and his ears rattled just a second or two after the lightning nearly blinded him. He hurried his grandson inside the gazebo, just as another bolt of lightning flashed above.
“Why does the sky get so angry?”
Grandpa needed to stem the tide of whys. In fact, he needed to use his “wise” to stop the “whys.” He smiled to himself at his clever play on words. But only briefly. He didn’t want to get hit with another why. They were beginning to hurt his head!
“That’s not the sky that is getting angry. That is the teacher.”
The little boy had heard about teachers. In his nursery, the ladies that looked after them were sometimes called teachers, and some of his playmates in the nursery school had older brothers or sisters that talked about their teachers. For the most part, they talked about how nice their teachers were, but some (most often, older boys) thought that their teachers were mean. So the grandson knew what an angry teacher was. He just did not know that teachers could be in the sky. He thought he should ask why there were teacher up there.
Grandpa was learning. Grandpas learn more slowly than little boys, but this grandpa knew he had to learn fast. Before the boy’s second word was out, grandpa spoke quickly.
“Things are a lot different up there,” he said, pointing to the sky. “But there are a lot of things the same.”
He picked his grandchild up, lovingly, carried him to one of the soft cushions on a gazebo bench, and wrapped the little guy in a soft blanket. He then wrapped his arms around the blanket that wrapped the boy. His grandson loved these moments, even if it was a hot day and he was feeling a lot hotter. He was feeling just nicely warm inside, and he liked that feeling. He never thought to ask why he liked it. He just did. He waited for grandpa to continue.
Grandpa took a deep breath. This was going to be his best answer yet!
“You see, in the sky, schoolchildren go to school in the summer, spring and fall. You will go to school in the fall, winter and spring.”
Grandson did not want to ask why. He didn’t want to interrupt a good story, and when grandpa took a deep breath, the story was always good.
“In the school up there, there are only four children in the classroom each day, and only two at night.”
Grandson squirmed, wanting to ask more, but not wanting to lose the path of the tale.
“The four children in the day, those are the ones that I am going to tell you about today. If you remember, you can ask me about the other two children when I tell you a bedtime story. Remember, now.”
The little boy nodded vigorously. He would be sure to ask. Particularly, If this story was very good. He didn’t ask why.
“Let me see. I think, if I remember right, that their names were Reynold, and Tommy and Flash and … No, wait. Flash was one boy’s nickname, not his real name. I guess I never knew his real name.”
The little boy couldn’t resist.
“What’s a nickname?” He knew a boy named Nick, and it seemed strange that someone else would have his name.
“Well, a nickname is… You have a nickname. Your real name is Dustin, right?”
The boy nodded hard.
“And I call you Windy, right?”
“Yes, yes. I like that, because it’s special. But why do you call me Windy?”
Grandpa answered carefully.
“Because you move as fast as the wind.” That answer would do, until the boy was a lot older.
“Oh, okay. So is that my nickname?”
“Yes, and the child up there, his nickname is Flash.”
“But that’s only three.”
Dustin could count, and there were only three names.
“Right you are. Well, there were four, and two of them were brothers. There was Reynold, his last name started with the letter E…”
“You said his name already.”
“Yes, I did. He had a brother, his name was Claude. Reynold, his friends shortened his name to Reyne. So it was Claude E and Reyne E up there.” He chuckled to himself.
“Why are you laughing, Grandpa.”
“I don’t know. Sometimes, things just seem funny to me.”
“Why? Is that because you are old?”
That didn’t seem funny, at all, to the grandfather. He hurried on with his story.
“So there was Tommy, and Flash, and Reyne, and Claude.”
“You said that part. Didn’t Flash or Tommy have last names? I have a last name.”
“Again, you are right. Boy, you are one smart cookie.”
“I’m no cookie.”
“Flash, I guess I didn’t know his last name. But Tommy, his last name was Hunter. T. Hunter. Up in the sky, there was a Flash. It was Reyne E. and Claude E. and there was T. Hunter.”
He chuckled again, at his inside joke as he saw the spelling of T Hunter in his head.
“ T Hunter. T Hunder. Thunder.”
The boy knew better than to ask why he was laughing again. Grandpas were funny that way. They laughed at stuff that made no sense. The boy’s dad said it was because Grandpa was getting old.
Grandpa thought he should add some more detail to the tale.
“His friends, they gave him a nickname, too. Because of his last name, and the first letter of his first name, they took to calling him Thunder. So, there was a Flash and a Thunder up there.”
Just then, the sky lit up with lightning, and the thunder boomed, as if it wanted to be part of the story.
“So, while all these kids were great friends, they were all different. As different as night and day.”
He smiled to himself again. This story was more fun for him than for Windy!
“And, even though they were in school, they liked to play a lot.”
The boy wrinkled his forehead, the same way grandpa’s forehead wrinkled all the time. But Windy was thinking. That worried Grandpa.
“Grandpa, if there is a school, and a playground, and a teacher, and children up in the sky, how come most days I can not see them?”
“But Windy, you can see the school. Every day.”
Dustin looked up. All he saw was the black and grey where blue had been. And he saw rain, and still it rumbled and light flashed.
“Remember how blue the sky was a little while ago? Well, think about when you went to visit your other Grumpy and Granny in their apartment.”
This was another of Grandpa’s inside jokes. He liked to call the other grandfather “Grumpy,” because then, when Dustin visited that grandfather, he would call him “Grumpy,” too. And that seemed to … well, it seemed to make the other old man even more grumpy, and that, in turn, made this grandpa smile. Again, and again. He liked causing trouble, just like Dustin did. Boys would be boys, his wife would say.
“Well, remember that they lived on the ground floor, but there was another home – an apartment – above them? It is the same here. When you look up and see blue, you are seeing the ceiling of our world, and the floor of theirs.”
Strangely, the little boy understood that.
“So, let me get on to the story again.
“All four of these children, they had a tough time doing what the teacher would tell them. She would call out, ‘focus, children, focus,’ but the kids didn’t seem to pay attention. Like you do, sometimes, with your mother. The lessons, every day, required that the children listen and pay attention. That is what focus is, for teachers.”
“And for mommies and daddies, right?”
“But each child learns in his own way.
Now, Claude E., he was the quickest to learn. And he was the quickest to obey. Older boys are the most responsible. Older boys are the best, you know.”
“Except old grandpas, right Grandpa?”
Dustin was quicker than his grandpa knew!
“Hmph.” Grandpa cleared his throat.
“Every day, the four would enter the school room from the rear, and make their way toward the front. Day after day, day after day. It was boring, especially for young boys, who can’t seem to sit still for very long, or listen without interrupting.”
He hurried the last line, so that Windy could not interrupt.
“Can you imagine doing the same thing, day after day after day? Wouldn’t you want to do something different?”
“So, every week or so, the four secretly would decide to pull a prank on the teacher. Instead of coming in the back door, on the floor above us, they would sneak under the floor, and they sneaked along the sky. That’s when you see them – when they are underneath the floor the live on. Does that make sense to you?”
The boy nodded energetically.
“Sometimes, they would sneak by quietly, then surprise the teacher at the other end of the sky. You and I could see them, then, flat against the blue ceiling up there. Sometimes, they would make lots of noise and puff themselves up, big and black, just to annoy the teacher. You know, noise, like you do when you ask me why, why, why.”
The little boy didn’t really agree with that point, but he said nothing.
The teacher wasn’t really fooled, though, because one of the most important things that he wanted to teach them was that they had to learn how to live life, to explore, and to discover the world for themselves. So, he pretended to be fooled.”
“Do you do that, too, Grandpa?”
Grandpa realized he had a smart grandchild on his hands.
“Maybe. Yes, maybe, I pretend things.”
He continued with his story.
“Now, even when the four were together, and not in their classroom, they did learn. Much of what they learned came from accidental lessons. You just saw the four of them dashing across the sky. What did you learn?”
The boy was puzzled.
“All I saw was clouds.”
“You mean Claude. It was Claude E.”
He laughed at his own wit.
The boy got it. He laughed, too.
“Claude was a smart cloud, not too dense.” Grandpa knew he was on fire. He was funny today, even if the boy didn’t know it!
“You noticed how, as he moved forward toward the front of the classroom, he didn’t ever turn around and go backward. He was focused. But you noticed that he didn’t rush. He sometimes slowed down, sometimes rushed quickly as he spread across the sky. That was Claude’s way. He liked to pause, and learn things along the way.
Now, you remember how the rain came down?”
“Yes. It was really hard, then it just came down a little, then hard again. Why?”
This was a “why” that Grandpa had set him up to ask.
“That was Reynold. Reyne E., remember? It was Rainy.”
That joke was too obvious, even for Windy. He didn’t bother to laugh, or smile.
“Why, grandpa?” he asked again.
“Reyne has a focus problem. He stops here, rushes there, never planning ahead. Sometimes he forgets to fall anywhere, and other times, he dumps pails of water on the earth. He lacks focus. And that is what Claude E. tries to teach him. Everywhere Claude goes, he takes Reyne with him, but, so far, he hasn’t been able to teach Reyne when to fall, or when not to fall. Reyne seems like he is too young to learn.”
“I can learn,” the boy insisted.
“Of course you can. You’re smart.”
Grandpa patted Dustin on the head with his free hand, the one that wasn’t hugging the boy.
“But there are two other classmates.”
“Thunder and Flash.” Windy remembered.
“True. Now Flash, he was worse than Reyne. Claude would sometimes stop to ask Flash, ‘Did you see those beautiful trees that we just passed?’ Flash had not. Without thinking, he would dash back in that general direction, but would often completely miss the mark.
Maybe Claude would ask him, ‘Can you see that tall building over there?’ And, without thinking first, Flash would streak over in that direction, sometimes hitting the building in his rush forward, sometimes missing and hitting a structure nearby. The whole time, he would see nothing along the way. But Claude, he saw everything, enjoyed every moment. He saw the flowers opening their mouths wide to catch the rain, he saw how the breeze made the leaves dance, he saw the rainbow stepping over the clouds to touch the sun behind. Flash saw nothing. He, just like Reyne, had no real focus, even though he rushes toward something like he does.”
“What about Thunder? I hear him running around up there. He must be focused, because I hear him running, then he stops. He must be finding what he was looking for. Isn’t that focus?”
“No, that isn’t focus, at all. Thunder, he just follows Flash all over the place. But Thunder is big, and slow, and everywhere he goes, he picks up more stuff to carry in this huge bag that he drags behind himself. That’s the rumbling you hear – all that stuff in the bag he drags, chasing after Flash. His only focus is to catch Flash, and, of course, as that bag gets heavier, he has a harder and harder time catching Flash, so he rumbles along longer and longer, never sure where he will go next. And you hear his rumbling longer and longer.”
“So, Grandpa, if they all focused, then, they would all go in the direction they wanted, but they wouldn’t have to rush. They could keep going, as hard as they could, but they could also stop to enjoy things sometimes?”
Grandpa was happy with his grandson. He roughed his hair, gently.
“Boy, I don’t even know why your mom and dad want to send you to earth school. You’re so bright that you should be going to school up there.” He pointed to the heavens. “You are bright as the stars in the sky’s night school. Or the moon. Maybe, if you focus really hard, you will be as bright, someday, as the sun itself.”
“I am a son, already. Daddy calls me “son.”
That’s very true,” laughed Grandpa.
“So, then here’s the good news, for you. That school that Reyne E and Claude E and Thunder and Flash go to. That’s the school that you belong too, as well.”
“Grandpa, that’s foolishness.”
It was his grandma’s favourite line around Grandpa.
“That’s silly. I’m in nursery school.”
“Oh, yes. That’s true. But you are also in another school.”
He picked up a blue crayon that had been left in the gazebo. Carefully, he looked around, to see that grandma was not looking. Then he wrote out four letters on the gazebo wall. His grandson gasped! Surely, he would be blamed! He looked around, too. More anxiously than Grandpa, because grandma would punish him, for sure. Then, he looked at the four letters.
A. S. K. Y
“What does it say, Grandpa?”
“Well, it says two things. First, it says A sky.”
He pointed to the first one-letter word, and then to the second three-letter word.
“That’s where the six children – the two in night school and the two in day school – go to class.”
“How can I go to A sky school?”
“You don’t. You go to this one.”
And he pointed to another three letter word and a one-letter word.
“You go to the school of Ask Y.”
With that, he laughed out loud, rumbling as loud as the thunder.
Dustin shook his head. “Boy, Grandpa must really be getting old,” he thought.
He knew Grandma would agree.