They say Tim used to do magic shows for my birthday parties in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Rumor has it he was pretty popular among the pre-school set. I don’t remember.
Tim didn’t go to Japan with us. He was 14 and stayed at Todd boarding school in Illinois, flying over to Japan alone after he graduated from junior high school. Later, when I was nine, he left the family again to fly back to the States for college (Antioch). I remember that. I was inconsolable. “Families should stay together!” I mourned–or so my mother often told me. Tim gave me an oval eraser when he left, with the picture of a geisha girl on it. I kept it in a special lacquer box along with the two yellowed teeth of Boompty, the horse we had for three months when we lived in Tucson. Except for one brief contact in New York, that was the last I saw of him until I was married and had a family. He moved out to Southern California, got at job at Arco in Los Angeles, and visited us periodically to see what a Christian family looked like and whether it “worked.” (He told us years later that it did.)
Tim has always liked kids. He keeps lollipops (in cellophane) in his pockets for any children he meets, always carefully shielding and showing them to a parent first. One time he slid out of his pocket what he thought was a lollipop and showed it to a mother surreptitiously; he got an arched eyebrow and a questioning look. He looked down at his cupped hands and found himself holding a plastic spoon.
We visited our niece Naomi in Northern California recently and she took us out for Italian. After we had been seated, Tim stood up again unsteadily and caught the eyes of a couple of wary children at the next table. With his scarecrow hair even I who know him well and know him to be harmless was a bit guarded as he reached across to the little girl and slowly extracted a quarter from behind her left ear.
He did a couple more tricks, a bit clumsily–“out of practice,” he said–but the children’s eyes were riveted on him and lost in wonder. When he accidentally dropped the coin, the little girl picked it up and held it to her chest with both hands, cherishing it.
Her parents were gathering their things to leave, smiling at Tim. “Give the quarter back to the nice man, Simone,” the mother said. “We need to go now.”
Her face fell. She held it out to him and he laughed. “No, no, that’s hers! It was behind her ear!”
Fifty years from now I’ll bet Simone will bring that quarter out of some special shrine and say, “A man found this behind my ear when I was little and let me keep it.”
Just the other day, Jerry and I were sitting with Tim in the doctor’s waiting room, waiting–although we didn’t know it at the time–to learn that Tim had been having seizures. Jerry was reading a magazine. I was reviewing the questions Tim wanted me to remind him to ask Dr. G.
I suddenly noticed that Tim had stood up and was doing bizarre things with his face. He was staring gravely down at something, had poked his tongue out of the right corner of his mouth, and was carefully tugging on his left ear. As he did his tongue slowly moved to the left side of his mouth.
I followed his gaze and saw a shy little Latino boy watching him from the curve of his mother’s arm. Tim pulled on his own right ear and the tongue followed. He had the child spellbound.
Then he reached down and plucked the boy’s nose right off his face and showed him the tip of it between his fingers. Overcome, the little boy tucked into himself like a sea anemone.