There’s always something to howl about

A future more vivid

A Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie story

“Salve, caudex,” the big little boy said to his father.

“Salve, caudex,” the father replied.

The boy turned to me, a stranger, and said, “Salve, caudex.” I smiled at him and he confided, “That means, ‘Hello, blockhead’.”

We were sharing a bench at the mall, as one must at Christmas. When I had sat down it was just the father and me at opposite ends of the bench. But then the big little boy — too young to be big, too tall to be little — had come bounding out of the toy store across the way.

He was his father in miniature, seven or eight years old but very tall, very lean. His hair was brown and a little shaggy and his eyes were gray and very bright. He had his father’s large hands and long fingers, and it won’t be long before he has his father’s prominent proboscis. He walked fast and talked fast and he moved his body with a blinding abruptness.

“You like it, don’t you?” his father asked.

“Boy, do I! I think that’s the best video game system ever! That’s what I want for Christmas!”

“How interesting.”

The boy spun to me and said, “That means, ‘I don’t care’.”

I said: “I’m sorry?”

“When he says ‘how interesting’, it means he doesn’t care.”

“What it means,” said the father, including me, I think, because he felt he had to, “is that you have said nothing to motivate me to act. You haven’t asked for anything, and you haven’t given me any reason why I should honor your request in any case.”

“It means he doesn’t care.”

“Attend me, sir,” the father said.

“That means, ‘Listen up’.”

Attend me, sir. I think you’re right. I think it is the best video game system ever. At least the best so far. Have I told you lately how much I despise video games?”

“He hates video games,” the boy confessed.

“I hate video games,” the father confirmed — to the boy, not to me. “And yet you love them. And a Christmas gift should be what you love, not what I love — what you love, even if I hate it. Isn’t that a reasonable proposition?”

The boy pondered this for a while and I could almost hear the gears grinding. “It sounds right to me.”

The father smiled. “I’m sure it does. On the other hand, there’s the small matter of what I want…”

The boy said nothing at all. His lips were a tight little line.

“Cum taces, clamas.”

“What’s that mean?”

“When you are silent, you shout. Tell me what it is that I want.”

The big little boy put his chin in his chest and said, “You want me to learn Latin.”

“I want you to learn Latin.”

“None of the other kids have to.”

“You’re not them.”

“None of their parents are making them.”

“I’m not their parents.”

“They’ll probably just make fun of me.”

“Solum stolidi rident linguam Latinam,” the father declaimed. “Only fools make fun of the Latin language. Anyway, they won’t make fun of you, they’ll beg you to teach them Latin insults.”

The boy smiled. “You’re probably right. They already do, the caudices.”

“An hour a day, every morning before breakfast. Plus you’ll have Latin homework. A quiz every Friday and a test once a month or so. We’ll put the game machine in the den so you won’t have to compete for the big television, and you can play it as soon as all your work is done — schoolwork, chores and Latin. That’s my offer. Are you taking it?”

The boy was looking at his chest again. “I still don’t see why I have to do this… What good is stinkin’ Latin, anyway?”

“A future more vivid,” his father replied.


“It’s a subjunctive condition. It’ll be a while before we get to it. Si laboraveris, vinces. If you work, you will win. Learning is about mastery; we go down that street all the time. And learning is about competence, being able to get the job done. And learning is about success, which in the instant matter means having the means to buy expensive new toys. Learning is about confidence, standing tall in your mind. And learning is about every virtue I could ever think to name. But there is a point at which learning is just about learning. You soak up knowledge when and where you can, and if you happen to find a use for it later, so much the better. In omnia paratus.”

“I know that one,” the boy said to me. “It means, ‘Prepared for all things’.”

“Qui non est hodie cras minus aptus erit.”

“That’s on the wall in my room. It means, ‘He who is not prepared today will be less so tomorrow’. I think it’s about homework.”

I smiled. “I think it’s about everything.”

“Nemo est casu bonus,” the father intoned. “No one is good by accident. Do we have an agreement?”

“…We have an agreement.”

“Excellent! What do you say we go buy a fancy game machine and stick it under the Christmas tree?”

“Great!” The big little boy leapt to his feet and gave his father a hug, forceful and abrupt. He spun to me and said, “Festum natalem Christi!”

“Don’t tell me,” I said, “That means, ‘Merry Christmas!'”

He smiled his delight and then he and his father walked off, hand in hand, in pursuit of a future more vivid.


2 Comments so far

  1. Brian Brady December 22nd, 2006 12:08 am

    Nescio quid dices (I don’t know what you’re saying).

    Just kidding.

    In lingua bona veritas (There is truth in precise language).

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