Niagara Gazette

January 31, 2014

HAMILTON: The red box: Do you really see what I see?

By Ken Hamilton
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Before we start something with someone, both of us should clearly know the expected finish. When you have finished reading this, you’ll better understand.

I skipped watching the state of the union address the other night and opted, instead, to watch the more important video of the local city council meeting. There came a citizen speaker to the podium and upon completing his long and winding speech, no one was completely sure what he wanted the council to do.

I too have been guilty of not clearly telling people, upfront, what it was that I thought that the end product should be, and what their place was in it. We must let people know exactly what it is that we want them to do before wasting all of our times in explaining details and never stating the wished-for end product — preferably up front.

Here is a simple case from my personal life that exemplifies this — and you almost have to have been a boy, or raised one, to appreciate it. 

In my mid-20s, never having spent too much time being responsible for a child, the mother of my then 4-year-old godson Curtis asked me to come to Hartford Conn., get him and to care for him back in Niagara Falls until she had her surgery and a two-week period of recovery.

Raising Curtis for those two weeks was a challenge, but I was nonetheless saddened when the time came, well, to give him back. 

By the time that we pulled off the Thruway and into the rest stop west of Syracuse for gasoline, night had fallen. Curtis had talked himself to sleep for a half-hour or so before; but as I was pumping gas, the Virginia-born tyke sprung from the car, excitingly danced around me as he held himself and proclaimed, “Godfodda. I’ve got to go to the baffroom.” 

Two weeks isn’t enough time to become a good parent, so I dismissively said to him, “Well go.”

Curtis looked about the bright pumps, the streaming buzz of red and white lights on the highway, and the busy, churning parking lot and then asked, “Where?”

Rest stops were pretty much cookie cutter in those days, consisting of two double doors near either end of the building — the one on the right for the restaurants and the one on the left for the lavatories. With one hand on the gas nozzle, I pointed with the other to the building and said, “Over there.”

“Over where?” the dancing lad, with urgency, said.

There was a red Syracuse Post newspaper box next to the left lavatory door. “See the red box over there,” I asked and Curtis acknowledged. “There,” I said, and off he dashed.

I turned my attention back to the car, was nearly finished filling the tank and was thinking about emptying my own when the lad returned. Puzzled that he had gone to the bathroom that quickly, I asked him, “Curtis, did you wash your hands?”

“Wash my hands?” he said; and then added with exclamation, “Where!” 

The car could have taken three or four more gallons, but I stopped pumping anyway. Too embarrassed to look around, I ordered him to immediately get into the car. I returned the nozzle to the holder, paid for my gas and then sped away from that rest stop — still having to ‘wash my own hands,’ so to speak.

Sadly, Curtis died 10 years later. It is still hard for me to even drive past that rest stop today without both tearfully and laughingly recalling the last set of incomplete instructions that I gave to him that night — that picture that I had painted in the mind of my not easily embarrassed godson’s head — all those years ago. 

In fact, any time I see any color newspaper box, I often think of what fell from the brush of my words, the incomplete description that became the image that I painted upon the canvas-coated mind of a 4-year-old that evening. As it is with all things, as it was then, when someone, not knowing, asked me where he could urinate, my verbal brush simply dripped the indelible words, “See that red box over there … there!”

We must help the other person(s) see what we see, so that they can better act to help us to better act; if not, then we should not wash our hands of the results.

Contact Ken Hamilton at

Contact Ken Hamilton at