This is in sharp contrast to his older brother, Cyrus, a bright, talkative little guy who is often so much like a miniature attorney-at-law that we sometimes expect him to say, "Your honor, I object" when we serve peanut butter without jelly, and demand a sidebar when it's time for bed.
But over time, mostly due to the kind ministrations of his teachers at the happy little school they've both attended, he's opened up a bit.
Of course, grandma has had something to do with it, too.
Having devoted her entire worklife to early childhood education, she is a dogged devotee of every opportunity to learn something. That's unlike yours truly, whose whole recollection of my own early school days consists of memories of a giant wooden shoe with laces we were supposed to learn to tie, plus a daily attempt at learning to skip in a large circle without falling down.
Suffice it to say, I now mostly wear slip-on clogs. And if you've ever seen me dance, you know how the skipping thing went.
So, most of the time, it goes something like this:
She: Boys, let's count all the grains of sand on the beach today. And can you spell "pelican?"
Me: You really know how to suck the fun out of everything, don't you?
...and so on.
She's even convinced me to show up at John's school every Friday, with trusty guitar in hand, to lead a restless group of four-year-olds in song. John seems glad enough to see me, I guess. But I'm pretty sure I've spied a certain look on his face that seems almost sympathetic as he watches me strumming a few sappy, kid-friendly folk tunes.
"She got you, too, eh grandpa?"
But she's right to do the things she does, because her steadfast determination is starting to pay off, as kindergartner Cyrus is making some real strides towards learning to read, while closemouthed John has shown some willingness to speak up from time to time, though his reply to too much questioning continues to be a shrug and three simple words.
"I don't know."
...even if he does.
Grandma saw a chance to take advantage of his newfound semi-verbosity just the other day, when a chat with his teacher revealed the theme for that week's show and tell activity.
Now, admittedly, we haven't got much out here at our shabby-chic beach place.
No TV, no video games, not much furniture and very little in the way of junk food or other things that kids like when they come to visit.
But we've got ocean stuff.
Our garage is jam-packed with beach chairs, umbrellas, boogie boards, air mattresses, frisbees, beach balls, buckets and shovels, plus an unending selection of little army guys, dinosaurs, trucks, cars and other material just waiting to be buried, lost, found and enjoyed.
And that's just the garage.
Inside the house itself, nearly every available flat surface features a myriad of shells, rocks and bits of coral and other treasures that we've found in our almost-daily walks along the shore.
Show and tell? Oceans?
We got you covered, kid.
While I would have probably been content to turn him loose with a bag full of miscellaneous sea matter, grandma had something better in mind. Out of all the collections we've gathered, possibly the most interesting resides in an old glass fishbowl. It's the round type, but instead of housing an endlessly circling goldfish, it's a dry, sandy terrarium containing a variety of special finds, including whelk and skate egg cases, some nice examples of olive, scallop, whelk and angel wing shells, some sea glass and--the prize of all prizes--a perfectly preserved sea horse that she found lying on the shore one day. We dropped it off at school the day before he was to show and share it, thinking it was a little too fragile to put in the hands of a four-year-old who never walks when he can run.
Then we waited for the news.
He was his usual silent self when we picked him up after school. He was mostly interested in finding out if we were going back to the beach house so he could splash in the sun-warmed tide pools and dig a few holes in the sand.
Finally, I had to ask.
"So John," I queried. "How was show and tell?"
"Good," he smiled.
"Did you show everybody grandma's shells and the sea horse?" I asked.
He smiled again.
"Well," I pressed. "Did they like grandma's sea horse?"
"I don't know," he shrugged.
"Can we go to McDonald's before we go to the beach?"
For a minute, I was kinda disappointed. I mean, here we had made an extra effort and given him some genuine treasures to share, along with a chance to really shine in school. And all he was thinking about was a happy meal and the fun he would have with us on the beach that afternoon.
Then I glanced at grandma.
Pure bliss shown on her face as she listened to his voice and looked at his smiling face.
And I realized that while we did, indeed, give the boy some treasures to share, the real treasure--for us, at least--is the boy himself.