When I started at my college's radio station as a freshman three years ago, I turned to the most senior members of the station for advice on how to do things properly. By the time I came into my senior year just a couple of months ago, I was one of the more experienced members of the station who had a lot of responsibilities there. I wondered if some freshman would look to me to show him/her the workings of it just as I had done.
That's how I met Andy Davis.
From day one, this kid was eager to learn just about everything about the station and out of all the seniors he could have picked to receive advice from, he chose me most often. In addition to being heavily involved in the radio station, I am also co-sports editor for the school paper and when I went about recruiting members for our understaffed section, he stepped in despite having no previous journalism experience. Even so, his work began to appear almost every week. Already, I could see he had a lot of potential and was off to a quicker start with what he wanted to do in college than I was when I first arrived.
What I never expected was to talk with him about toys, but things happen.
Just a few days ago, I was announcing our school's football game when I got a text from my aunt, who was offering me two tickets to a basketball game that night. Seeing as I had nothing planned for later other than maybe watching TV, I was willing to take up the offer provided I could find somebody to go with. My partner in the broadcast booth had a work matter to attend to and couldn't go. I called up the few other good friends I had, but they all declined for their own reasons.
After giving it some thought, I decided to try Andy, who had been our board operator during the football game. Though it took him a few minutes, he decided to accept my offer, reasoning that he could put off his homework for the next day.
As I drove back to the station to pick him up, I thought about how good a thing it would be for a senior to bond with a freshman. After all, I don't think enough of that happens, but maybe it's just me.
After arriving at the station to print out the tickets my aunt had sent by e-mail, Andy and I got into my car and off we were to the game. At first, we made small talk with each other: why are we here, where do we live, what's our family life like, etc. He seemed very excited that he got to go to this game. No matter we had only known each other for a short time; we were developing a bond quickly.
On the way to the game, we got into a traffic jam on the expressway. I shouldn't have been surprised at the situation though. I had gone the same way for a hockey game last weekend and ran into the same problem.
By then, the small talk between us had subsided and any conversation we still had going dealt with the delay we were experiencing. That is until I saw Andy pull out a photo from his jacket pocket. I guess he was bored by the fact that we were going nowhere fast at the moment and he needed to keep himself occupied. Still, I thought it was a little unusual that someone would take out a photo to look at when someone they had known for less than two months was driving right next to them.
At first, I said nothing. When we came to another of many complete standstills however, my curiosity overtook me and I felt the need to find out what Andy was looking at.
"What's that?" I asked.
"Oh nothing," replied Andy a bit defensively.
"No really, what is it?"
"Just a picture."
"Of what? A girlfriend? A family member? A pet?"
I wasn't about to drop it though.
"Andy, I really don't care what it's of," I said. "I'm not one to judge what people carry around with them."
Reluctantly, Andy turned the photo toward me. What I saw was none of the guesses I had made.
"Is that you?" I asked.
Andy nodded slowly.
The photo was of him as a child wearing a cowboy hat and playing with various toys in what looked like his room. Most of the toys were scattered in front of him. Among the playthings in the photo was a Mr. Potato Head, which I also had when I was younger. Andy was also holding a cowboy doll in one hand and a Buzz Lightyear, another toy that I remembered used to be popular though I didn't get one myself until after it stopped being all the rage, in the other.
"Interesting," I said. "I had a couple of these toys myself as a kid. Why do you carry this around though? Don't you worry that it might get lost?"
"Not really," said Andy. "I've got other copies of it at home, but I carry this one around as a reminder of my childhood."
I didn't quite understand. Most everyone has mementos of their childhood somewhere, but why did Andy always have to have his on him?
"Have you always done this?" I asked, to which Andy told me a little story.
"Well, when I made the decision to bring it to college, and that was only because it was in my room at home to begin with, I was just going to keep it in my dorm room. A couple days before I left, I cleared the toys I still had out of my toy chest with the intention of putting them away in our attic except for the cowboy I'm holding in this picture, which I decided to take to college with me. Then somehow, the other toys got lost and I thought my mom had thrown them all away. I got all upset at her and was reluctantly ready to move on to college accepting that they were gone when they suddenly turned up again right before I left. Shortly after I rediscovered them, I saw a note posted on the box they were in suggesting I donate them to a little girl who lived just a few blocks away. I assume my mom wrote it, but it didn't look like her handwriting. Anyway, I did what the note suggested and even though I thought I put my cowboy in my college box, I found him with the rest of the toys and ended up giving him to the little girl too. I played with my toys one last time before I left her house. That day truly meant I had grown up and it was time to move on, so I felt a bit emotional. It was then when I decided that it might be a weird thing for a college kid to do, but if I carry this photo around, I'll have the memories of a time that was much simpler physically as well as in my head."
I thought Andy gave a very deep insight and I also found more common ground with him. I was also nostalgic about my childhood and often found myself wanting to go back there. I was put in a similar spot last summer when my mom had my sister and I separate the old stuffed animals we wanted to keep from those we wanted to donate. During this past summer, I found a few of the old toys I still had, including my Buzz Lightyear, and decided to put them on a shelf in my closet as a reminder of days gone by.
As I told all this to Andy, he appeared to have some sort of a guilty look on his face.
"What's wrong?" I asked. "Did I make you feel bad about giving your toys away?"
"I wouldn't say that," said Andy. "Everyone has their own way of reminding themselves of their childhood. You said you've held on to some of your toys and that's fine. I simply made a choice to give up mine, but I still have this photo of them. The way I see it, as long as you have something to remind you that life was much easier before you really had to start dealing with the pressures of life, you don't necessarily have to keep what was actually there. Anything you've had in life will always be part of you and that's what really counts."
That was about as good a reflection of looking back at childhood as any I had ever heard. Eventually, the traffic started to move and we got to the arena for the basketball game. The hometown team trailed big for most of the contest, but they came back to win big.
All the while, I got to enjoy it with a kid I still barely knew, but grew a little closer to on the way there. I can see big things for him here after I graduate in June or maybe even this year. Whatever I do with him in the near future, I know that deep down, he's still a kid wanting to play with cowboys and space rangers. Maybe he'll see those toys in the photo again someday, but for now, he has that photo that allows him to respect his past while also looking toward what's ahead.