Celebrity encounters are fun, but it’s friends, family, and colleagues who truly touch our lives.
Every semester, I read aloud the picture book Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco to my children’s literature university students. It’s an emotional book. I usually cannot get through the reading without choking up. The story is about two young men who fought for the Union Army during the Civil War. Pink is African-American and Say is Caucasian.
At one point in the story, Say tells Pink that he once shook Abraham Lincoln’s hand. “Touch my hand, Pink. Now you can say you touched the hand that shook the hand of Abraham Lincoln.” The two young men are captured by Confederate soldiers. Before they are separated, Pink reaches for Say and cries out, “Let me touch the hand that touched Mr. Lincoln, Say, just one last time.”
As fun as it is to compare close encounters of celebrities with my friends – and many of my friends have met famous musicians, authors, actors, and politicians – I am placing more value on shaking the hands of my friends themselves. The folks right in front of me. I am proud to shake their hands.
Pink was hanged a short time later. The story is based on Polacco family history, and was passed on down to the author who, if I added correctly, is the great-great-granddaughter of Say. The book ends with young Patricia hearing the story from her father who says, “This is the hand, that has touched the hand, that has touched the hand, that shook the hand of Abraham Lincoln.”
That story got me thinking of whose hands I’ve touched. I like to brag that I shook the hand of Bob McGrath from the television show Sesame Street. As a teen, I won a radio contest, and my prize was a visit from actor/singer Martin Mull, who came to my house for two hours and, of course, shook my hand. I shook the hand of actor and civil rights activist Ossie Davis. I also tell everyone I know that I got to hang out with author Neil Gaiman for a few hours and shook his hand as well.
Therefore, this is the hand that shook the hands of my colleagues at UW-Eau Claire and former library co-workers, who, to a person, go to work each day with the purpose to help others;
This is the hand that shook the hands of my many current and former students who set out to make this world a better place;
This is the hand that shook the hands of my neighbors, the reason we’ve stayed in the same spot for 27 years. This is the hand that shook the hand of all those kids I entertained as a storyteller these past 36 years, and hopefully mad e them laugh.
I could fill the rest of this article with other “non-celebrity, non-family member” folks I hold in high esteem. I hope they know I’m thinking about them and how much I value the contact we make, not only through handshakes and hugs, but also knowing that we are there for each other.
Friends. Colleagues. Celebrities in my book.
Well, now that I’ve rightfully paid tribute to the folks who deserve it, I do have to end this article with one last, somewhat brag-y celebrity anecdote.
I had the privilege to shake Patricia Polocco’s hand when she visited campus several years ago.
Therefore, this, my hand, has touched the hand, that has touched the hand, that has touched the hand, that has touched the hand, that shook the hand of Abraham Lincoln.
Think about that the next time you and I shake hands.