As I have grown older I have come to one unchallenged truth.
When provided the opportunity, don’t pass up the chance to embarrass a couple of teenagers.
But this little poke in the ribs is also a tad bittersweet.
This will be the last graduation for any of the original class of Mrs. Debbie’s Child Care on Garrison Ave.
(For this little exercise we will not count Malena Ramsey for reasons that will become clearer; this will be the last Port St. Joe High School graduation for that group).
When I first took the job at this newspaper the Ramsey family still owned it and I wore out one car going back and forth to Bay County before my wife and I decided enough.
The first house we lived in was on Garrison; we came to Port St. Joe with the idea that in six months and settled we’d be able to afford to buy; clearly, at the time we resided in fantasy land.
In any case, it was also a chance for my wife to return to her true love, teaching young children, though she was reluctant to believe she could pull off an in-home business.
But it really is her passion; she is the Pied Piper of the under 5; the connections my wife can make with any kid ages 2, 3 and 4 are on another level.
Ask any of her parents, her grandparents, her kids; I married so high above my head a spaceship couldn’t reach it.
I digress again.
Before we arrived she put a small ad in the newspaper (we knew the owners so we got a significant discount) for in-home child care, hoping she would maybe secure three or four youngsters to start.
Over three dozen parents responded.
But there was an infant involved (our Malena) so the limit was just six, so there was significant list whittling required.
What we are seeing here is a birthday celebration for Zach McFarland, 3, who is sitting to the far right.
Looking directly at the camera with those wide eyes is Joseph Farrell, slightly center-left and who until I typed his name into the graduation list I never realized was actually Joseph Farrell II.
Also in that photo, one of the few to survive Michael, are Leonard and Loretta Costin’s grandson and my grandson Cameron (the only still in diapers).
Now Mrs. Debbie could see this graduation cycle coming and she will likely see former youngsters she taught graduating from Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School into the future.
She already watched as Will Ramsey and Clay Raffield from that first group graduate.
That little brunette in the right of the photo is Giana Koce, who graduated a couple of years ago and is now in the military.
Last year was a tougher one.
Jaden Grantland graduated.
Jaden was a bundle of uncoordinated energy when he came in my wife’s care at 2; I still see her pitching wiffle ball to him.
But their bond, among so many my wife has forged over the years, was deep.
Never, even dressed in that ridiculous glittering purple paint at football, would that kid fail to run over to give Mrs. Debbie a hug if she came in sight.
In truth, it is the same with Zach and Joseph (2) who were also young when they first entered my wife’s class and remained until kindergarten.
They smile, hug and have things to say when they see Mrs. Debbie.
At this point, let us return to Malena Ramsey.
Residing in Tallahassee with her mother, Malena was still crawling and in diapers when she came to my wife’s care with that first group.
Her mom was still rushing to our house at lunch to feed Malena.
But, if I have any claim on Malena’s behavior now it is this: if she loves green apples I am accepting all credit.
Rare was the noon lunch time that Malena didn’t crawl her way to the sitting room where I ate my lunch each day and seek my green apple.
Maybe the world’s finest teething ring once you get under the skin, Malena would gum down and laugh and laugh at the tartness of the apple.
It was like a dose of Prozac or something each day.
So, as we watch Joseph and Zach graduate later this week, it will be a bittersweet moment for my wife and I.
My wife remembers it as the toughest job she held, 7:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. ET each weekday and toss in the hours cleaning.
She also remembers it, as with the homes on Monument where she also taught, as some of the proudest moments of her life.
That pride, and she will hide it with a tear or two, will be swelling as Zach, Joseph and the remainder of the Class of 2020 walk across that stage tonight.
To see an example of what they have grown into offers hope in tough times.