Tag Archives: red-letter day

LSS: A red-letter day

Today is a red-letter day,” the high school principal said over the intercom system long, long ago.
I was a high school junior back then. I didn’t notice the kids around me snicker when he said it. Maybe they did, but more than likely, the folks in my homeroom weren’t paying attention. Later that day, I realized the principal’s “red-letter day” comment had legs.
In the way high school students can turn an innocent comment into a cult phenomena, many students were repeating the phrase over and over.
I didn’t get it.
I thought, “In fact, it is a red-letter day. We’re playing our archrival in football. We’ve got a big pep rally. It’s crazy dress day. What’s not red letter about it?”
My friends, who were enjoying the red-letter silliness, noticed that I didn’t get it and, to their credit, they tried to shield me from it—the way people try to shield the innocent.
Not that I was innocent, but still, in this one case, my friends went above and beyond the call of duty and tried to have their red-letter day fun when I wasn’t around. Perhaps more than I realized myself, they knew the high school principal and I had more in common than was cool for me to admit or acknowledge.
I suppose I had heard the principal use the expression before.
A red-letter day. The expression comes from medieval times. Even back then, calendars had special days and dates printed in red ink.
In lots of ways, I suppose that my high school principal taught me a lot about embracing occasions. He tried to teach students the beauty of turning blasé moments that could have passed without anyone thinking twice into moments that could linger for a lifetime. He was one to take bold steps, rarely holding back. For me, watching him pull off crazy stunts no one else would have tried was contagious.
I couldn’t help it. I had to try them too.
The truth was that I had been paying attention to that particular high school principal for a lot longer than the morning announcements lasted.
He was my dad.
I knew the cold hard fact of the matter was that students were going to rib the principal to some degree. I thought it was kind of sweet that my “red-letter” friends realized a split-second too late that they were having good-natured fun in front of me. They tried to cover up the way kids do, but we all knew the score. I wanted them to know I didn’t mind. However, I didn’t want to betray my dad either. We all silently agreed to agree that I didn’t hear it.
In the weird way these things work, because of that flash of a red-letter moment that no one else likely remembers, the phrase has stayed with me much more than it would have.
Today is a red-letter day. That high school principal taught me that turning just another day into a red-letter one was energy worth spending—no matter what anyone else thought about the effort. He knew how to drum up excitement. He knew how to organize something and get other people on board. Truth be told, making an occasion or a party out of something that could have been boring or humdrum is a gift that served him well throughout my growing up years. That ability is a gift that continues to serve him through to this very day. Though my efforts often pale in comparison, the perspective of age has taught me what my friends probably realized back then—my dad and I have a lot in common.
In my house, like the one where I grew up, we are of the mind that there is nothing wrong with having a celebration whether it be organized to the nth detail or spur of the moment.
And on this day, I have all the faith in the world that celebrating my dad and his day will be a red-letter day too. We will make it that way.