hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

June 27, 2012

Poor Tom's Almanac: A young girl named Alice

Tom Vartabedian

Her name is Alice and if you want to get poetic about it, she's sugar and spice — everything nice.

You'll find her at an occasional Boston Celtics games with her dad, Chuck. She's the one dressed in green doing her gyrations in the aisles, just to get noticed on the big screen above the court.

She enjoys pizza and ice cream, the Disney channel and books. A bio sketch tells me she's sometimes emotional, awkward and artistic, cute yet sympathetic. She'll win your heart in an instant, given the chance.

I first met her about five years ago when she escorted her dad to one of our YMCA lakeside outings. It was one of those "guy" soirees and Alice was quickly adopted as a mascot. While we discussed the throes of our men's racquetball games, Alice gushed forth with her own impression.

"My dad says he can whip you all with one hand tied behind his back."

It brought some levity to our charmed circle and a little discernment to the father, but Alice quickly became a regular. Being raised by a single dad left little choice, except for a sitter. We greeted the child with open arms annually.

A job change set Chuck off toward a new path. One day before a game, he voiced his concern. The company was sending him to school in the mid-west and he needed to leave Alice with someone he could trust.

"We'll watch her," I volunteered. "It'll be a pleasure. It's like having a grandchild stay with us."

Actually, we've been blessed with six grandchildren and the older ones have bunked here often. They get to be spoiled with affection and defy all the rules of the house.

"Let the party begin," I proclaimed after dropping her dad at the airport. "It's not Disneyworld, but we'll have our share of fun and games."

What transpired over the next five days was akin to a modern approach of "Alice in Wonderland." If fact, we set the tone by watching the film that evening. In the days that followed, she entertained herself in the clubhouse pool, watched her favorite movies, dined with pleasure, ran amok in a supermarket, and played some of her favorite games.

With school still in session, Alice would get dropped off in the morning and picked up later that afternoon. She was exposed to classical music during both drives.

"This is Beethoven," I explained, after a rendition of his "Pastoral" suite. "He wrote that when he was deaf."

Alice was impressed with the great composer's life, but more with the St. Bernard movie bearing the same name. She was also attuned to a movement of Bizet's "Carmen" and, just for kicks, I slipped in a CD of Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker." Most cultured kids will enjoy that, even if their tastes aren't classical.

We bonded nicely, getting our bearings on such fantasy icons as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. Alice is still on the credulous side when it comes to the world of make-believe because, as she puts it, "Dreams won't come true unless we give up on them."

Sage advice, kid. There'll always be a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, provided you get to it first.

In the days we spent together, Alice nixed the veggies on her plate and turned a dissenting eye to fruit. Cocoa Puffs got her day started and no McDonald's Happy Meal was turned down.

She could sing the entire lyrics to "Eye of the Tiger" and never saw a "Rocky" rerun she found tedious. Her latest fling with Hollywood was a bit of a stunner. She's got the movie and sequel to "Men in Black," impervious to the horrific graphics and green slime.

Until she arrived, I did not know Alice was an accomplished knitter. Put a couple needles in her hands and she's a whiz, provided you get the pattern started. Her dexterity with magic markers and crayons shows another artistic side.

There's the conniver side, like the time she faked insomnia to finish a movie we had started. It was "Annie," and like the song, "The sun will come out tomorrow."

On the final day of school, Alice saved the best for last. She hopped into the front seat, meticulously attached her seat belt, and broke out a wide smile. Up went her hand with an envelope.

"It's my report card," she rejoiced. "Want to see it?"

Me, before her own dad?

"Why I would be honored. Am I being prepared for the worse?"

"I think you'll be very happy," she replied.

Except for a B in music, she had pulled all A's. Above all else, Alice was an exceptional student.

We celebrated with a visit to Chuck E. Cheese, complemented by a book-shopping spree.

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Photographer and writer Tom Vartabedian is retired from The Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.