These observations appeared in my Frederick News-Post column the December sleigh-bell-bedecked horses pulled wagons through downtown streets; a spectacle that had disappeared several decades before. It was also the season when my column first appeared.
More than a generation has passed. But in the daily walks with Pushkin down North Market Street, the current crop of youngsters remarkably resemble their mothers and fathers who inspired these thoughts 24 years back.
* * * * * * * * *
I fall in love every day.
There are eyes I cannot resist; eyes that flirt and beckon for affection.
Some are bold and some are shy. Eyelashes flutter, and I am lost again. It happens every day.
Sometimes it's a smile that dimples its way into my heart. But frank grins have the same effect. A missing tooth is no problem.
I do not demand perfection, and beauty can be enhanced by slight discrepancy. Furthermore, age brings with it wisdom: a wonderful smile derives not from finely formed features, but from an inner glow.
Nor can hands, arms and skin be omitted from the items that cause my daily downfall. I have no protection from certain fingers that caress my white beard; spontaneous embraces, or the silken textures of cheeks against my own.
There is no escape.
My loves and I find each other in every part of Frederick, especially in the crowded aisles of supermarkets.
I am a man who loves children; a firm believer in the creed no boy or girl can have too many grandfathers. Although this may be rationalization on my part. I know no man can have too many grandchildren.
Part of my personal joy with Frederick comes from the generosity with which mothers, fathers and other grandparents permit me to express my love for the little ones in their charge.
A friend commented: In Washington I would be arrested. He was right only in the respect that all big cities enforce a definite paranoia. But parents with their children are all the same.
My father's bird trills have drawn startled smiles in Rome, Moscow, Paris and Berlin. Little Spaniards, Turks and Egyptians have seemed fascinated by my cracked baritone singing a Dutch song about little dogs and cows. Kids in Caracas, Chicago and California giggle at the chickens with wooden legs. They have knocked off my glasses and jerked my beard with assured impunity.
Mothers in mid-town Manhattan appreciate my appreciation for their offspring – when I do. For I am not completely indiscriminate, nor totally profligate. Some sweet brows receive no more than a single kiss.
There are some children I cannot love, as much as I want to. These are the products of unhappy people who pass their self-dislike on.
No one can love anyone who doesn't like himself: girl or boy, man or woman – it's all the same. And unfortunately there are youngsters I cannot love.
This becomes an even greater tragedy for someone who understands the basic nature of small children. They all start out being enchanted with themselves. They have to be taught their imperfections. They must learn to dislike themselves.
Recognizing all this, there are still children I want nowhere near. I make no apology, beyond the explanation that I cannot undo, in brief encounters, the damage that the permanent adults in their lives work at, all the time.
Life presents no greater personal pain than these occasional brushes with children I cannot love. Fortunately, they rarely happen. And almost never in Frederick.
I can pay this community and its people no greater compliment than to offer my congratulations on the number of happy children I find here. They are boys and girls who reflect the values and love you give them.
While adults provide the substance, the decency and the warmth that make this Frederick such a special place, children furnish their special grace. This is at no time more apparent than during the holidays.
So, a Merry Christmas to you all, young and old alike. I hope you enjoy and comfort each other, as much as you do –
THE MAN WHO LOVES CHILDREN