If it weren’t for the ornament we’ve hung on our tree every Christmas since he was a toddler, my son would not remember Fievel or the film, “An American Tale.”
He was 3 years old the afternoon we spent in a movie theater watching the Disney feature-length cartoon about a young mouse separated from his family during their voyage to a new home in America, where, according to rodent legend, mice enjoyed life without cats.
The movie introduced a song, “Somewhere Out There.” And when it was over, I sang it softly to my little boy as we walked to our car.
John was unusually quiet during the ride home. “Those cats were mean,” he said when I brought up the movie. It would take a few hours for me to discover what was really troubling him. Later, midway through his bedtime story, he stopped me with a question.
“What if we’re on a boat and I get lost from you, Mom?” he asked.
“There’s no chance of that,” I said, reaching to give his chubby little fingers a squeeze, “I’ll be holding your hand.”
“Promise?” he said, looking up with an expression so trusting it brought tears to my eyes.
“I’ll do the best I can, honey. I promise.”
“Do you promise you’ll never get lost from me?”
“I promise with all my heart, I’ll do the best I can,” I told him.
For a moment my answers consoled him. He snuggled deeper in my lap. Still, he was frowning when I finished reading the story.
“Do you promise you’ll always be here to read me a story every night?” he asked.
“As long as you want me to.” I said. “But one day soon, you’ll be able to read for yourself. Then one day when you’re tall and strong and growing into a man, you’re going to be happy to leave home.”
“Will you be sad?” he said, his brow still furrowed.
“I’ll be very happy to see you begin your adventure,” I answered. “But I’ll be a little sad to see you go…Don’t worry, it won’t happen for a long time, more than a dozen birthdays from now.”
During the past week spent packing for his move away to a college dorm, I don’t recall ever seeing anyone as excited as he.
“That’s cool, Mom,” he told me after I demonstrated a short-cut version of his favorite chicken and rice dish in the microwave one afternoon. “Buy one boneless breast and add two parts of water to one part rice.” I had told him.
His grandmother had demonstrated the George Foreman grill, she and my dad had bought for his dorm room. My dad had also offered campus cuisine advice he told John had served him well during his college days more than five decades ago: “Make friends with a student from town and never refuse invitations to family dinners,” he said.
At 18, John is tall and strong. But he hasn’t lost the crooked little boy grin. And sometimes when I look up at him from just the right angle, I still see the 3-year-old who begged me to leave the light on “to keep the cats away” the night after the movie.
John didn’t remember the mouse family when I reminded him. Neither did he remember our long-ago conversation about leaving home.
We were sitting on the floor of his room stuffing a duffel with a semester’s worth of sweatshirts. “That night you made me promise not to ever get lost from you,” I told him.
He grinned an “Oh, Mom” grin.
I pulled a folded piece of paper from my pocket and handed it to John. I had used his graduation laptop to look up lyrics from the long-ago movie.
“Somewhere out there
Beneath the pale blue light
Someone’s thinking of me
And loving me tonight.”
John flashed the crooked grin, reached out for my hand and gave my fingers a squeeze. I caught my breath, stuffing back a weird mix of happiness, sadness, panic and overwhelming love.
“Promise me you’ll at least glance at this in case you’re ever homesick?” I asked
“I promise, Mom,” he said.