Doc Rioux At Large

The world through a 9-year-old's eyes

Richard "Doc" Rioux · January 19, 1997

The fireplace burns with a crackling fire as a quarter moon sets below the black mountain horizon. Winter grips the night with a chill. My two younger children often cuddle up to my wife and me before going off to bed to dream in peace. Our older daughters have men to keep them warm. Where do birds go off to be when it's cold?

Jeremy, the youngest of our four children, is 9 today. We must value the lives of our children and remember how vulnerable and impressionable they are.

Things happen over which we have no control. An accident can take a child's life in the blink of an eye. A loving parent can experience nothing worse than the loss of a child to the departure of death. A child can feel nothing more awful than to lose a parent to the eternal obscurity.

I can no longer see the moon, but the stars are out over the black mountain horizon. My fingers move to hold my wife's hand. She carried our four children in her womb, and they were all born healthy. Each birth was special, each child unique, each child a fascination to watch grow.

Suzanne and I read to our children from the time they were born. They had crayons in their hands before they could talk. Jeremy could read at 3, run a computer at 4 and write at 5. He wants to be a basketball player. I think he'll be a paleontologist or astronomer. He knows the names of more dinosaurs than there are trees along Orchard Village Road.

At 6, he knew as much about the solar system as did the tour guide at Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He can name every country on the planet. The last time we went to the Monterey Aquarium, he named almost all the fish in the tanks. I wonder if I should ask him where birds go when it's cold.

The world turns. Old ways give way to innovation and invention. The milliards of Fall River, Mass., were my playgrounds on weekends and during summer vacations when I was 9 years old. It was 1952, and many of the textile mills in the city were closed for good. Manufacturers had gone to the South to be closer to the cotton fields and non-union labor. Dwight Eisenhower was running for president, Alaska and Hawaii were not yet states, and my parents bought their first television.

My dad was a milkman. He got up at 3 a.m. to peddle milk, come fog, rain, snow or icy streets. I don't recall him ever missing a day of work. He lived to work and feed his family. Sundays were always about the same with church, breakfast out, and family gatherings in the afternoons at grandpa and grandma's. The adults played poker for pennies, spoke a Canadian French-English dialect or patois, and laughed a lot while the kids played outside in their Sunday best, making sure not to fall or tear their clothes.

I never saw my dad take a drink of alcohol. He and mom drank tea more than coffee. Dad cleaned up the kitchen after supper. There were no showers that I can recollect ever seeing in anybody's house. My brother, sister and I took baths once a week on Saturday nights whether we needed them or not. We never heard about heroin, cocaine or marijuana.

The nuns who taught in the Catholic school I attended were a conservative bunch. I got in trouble often. Sister Mary Joseph, the principal, almost expelled me once for lofting snowballs at a parade of nuns crossing the street to arrive at school one early morning after a cold and wet snow storm. Sister Mary Joseph is in her mid-80s, and we write to one another several times a year. She won't admit to ever having come close to throwing me out of school.

When I try to see our present world through Jeremy's eyes, it seems to be spinning faster than it did in 1952. Computers, CNN, the Internet and the information revolution have brought the problems and pathos of the world into our homes. Powerful telescopes take pictures of galaxies billions of light years away. Super bookstores carry thousands of new books issued each year to choose from and buy. The world population in 1952 was less than 4 billion people. It is currently approaching 6 million. Jeremy has heard about cocaine, heroin and marijuana.

In the mountains, rain turns to snow. White flakes sweep through the tall trees on brisk pulses of wind. The forest receives a blanket of snow to cover its shadows and floor until winter's solstice has long gone before.

Jeremy and his sister Natasha couldn't sleep one night this week. They came and stood by me like cherubs in the dark. I awakened. Natasha crawled into bed with her mother. I placed my arm around Jeremy and escorted him to his bed. He went right to sleep as I lay beside him filled with the warm feelings of being his dad. History and genes join us together closely on a bridge through time and space. It doesn't get any better than that. Thank you, Lord.

Happy Birthday, Jeremy.

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