One of my second-grade classmates has the demeanor of a little man.
In 1953 Brooklyn, boys are required to wear ties to school; most of us have one or two clip-ons, worn until they become invisible. Except for the little man—he has many ties, and they are always perfectly knotted. Each morning after he takes off his coat he pauses at the classroom mirror and adjusts his tie. “Windsor knot,” he announces to anyone who stares.
One day, the little man and I stay after school to help the teacher rearrange the bookshelves. It is taking a long time, and I start to toss in the books. The little man says, “My father always says, ‘If you are going to do something, get it right.’” I am impressed, and we redo the shelf.
On the first day after Christmas vacation, the teacher—younger than my mother—asks the class to gather in the story area because she has something to tell us. The little man was killed in a car accident over the vacation. She could have told the class he moved away, she says, but she thinks we should always know the truth.
Now a grown man, I can’t remember what the little man looked like. But I can picture this vividly: It’s a December blizzard night. The little man’s family is going visiting. His father is warming up the car. “Hurry up, dear, we’re late,” his mother says gently as the little man stands, his back to me, at the mirror next to the Christmas tree, getting his Windsor knot just so.