RIP, Sarah Bird, the Griffon Lady

It’s been kind of a rough week.

Yesterday was … day nine, I think, of this school year? And there were three fights, two of which involved at least one of my students and both of which I was involved in breaking up. They are the first fights of the year that I’m aware of; in general, this building seems substantially less violent than others I have worked in, but breaking up two hallway fights in the space of two class periods is not a situation I care to repeat anytime soon, and you can likely imagine the condition the kids were in by the end of the day. It was bloody miserable.

Today, the power went out for the back half of the day, throwing basically every aspect of the building into … well, not chaos, as honestly I feel like everyone involved dealt with the problem as well as could be hoped for, but we lost just about everything– wifi, phones, half of the toilets, a number of the sinks, all of the drinking fountains, and oh hey it turns out that every calculator in the world being solar powered isn’t a great thing if you deliberately picked the room with one window and all the light you have is from that one window and the one light wired to the emergency generator. So, no, not chaos, but a whole lot of scrambling was going on.

And then, during my team plan at the end of the day, while attempting to find an article about ILEARN testing that two of us thought was on the Tribune website somewhere, I discovered Sarah Bird passed away this weekend, and I found myself unexpectedly somewhat overcome with emotion and having to take a moment.

It’s funny, how the passing of relative strangers can hit us hard sometimes. I have been shopping at the Griffon for something in the neighborhood of thirty years– I don’t remember the two original stores, as I started playing D&D in fifth grade, which would have been somewhere around 1988. Virtually every RPG rulebook I own was purchased there, and a bunch of our board games, as after a while I developed a rule that anything that could be bought at the Griffon would be bought at the Griffon, and I probably grace their doors somewhere in the neighborhood of once or twice a year. I am not a regular customer, per se, but I am certainly a long-time customer, and the fact that the same two people had run the store for the entire time is sort of hard to miss.

I’ve had several pleasant conversations with both Ken and Sarah over the years– the Griffon is the kind of store where you don’t really just buy something and wander out– but I’m sure neither of them would recognize me, and to be completely honest I’m not sure I could have remembered their first names yesterday had you asked me, as they’ve been “the Griffon guy” and “the Griffon lady” since I was a little kid. I certainly didn’t know her last name, but I recognized their picture and the interior of the store before my brain had processed the headline on the website. I’ve never actually played anything there– my gaming group always had places to go– but it’s weird to have to explain to people how difficult it could be to be a geek thirty years ago when we damn near run the world nowadays. There was no Amazon, remember. If you were a young geek and you wanted dice or miniatures or wargaming models or whatever, it was just where you went, because nobody else bothered to carry that stuff. The Griffon was always a safe space where people like me were welcome, and the place still just sort of feels like home even though I don’t necessarily shop there terribly often.

Sarah is one of those people who had an effect on my life without me ever really thinking about it before now– if she and her husband had never opened that store, and I’d never gotten into roleplaying in fifth grade, my life could have been substantially different from what it is now. They don’t even know me, and it’s still true. All through high school and into college a lot of my friendships were people in my gaming group– not all of them, certainly, but my closest friends were all people I played D&D with. And the Griffon was a common thing for all of us, our little secret downtown that most of the other kids our age didn’t know about. It was (it is; as near as I can tell there are no plans to close the store) a genuinely special place, and that’s all due to Sarah and Ken.

She will be missed.