And Then What Happened?: The flight of the Wren

  • Nan Parati, as drawn by Wren Topitzer. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO


Published: 3/12/2023 4:00:36 PM

A lot of customers pass through a restaurant, and while you, the owner, enjoy nearly all of them, there are a few who make you stop everything, hand the hostessing reins to the nearest server and pull up a seat to hold a conversation that you know is going to fill your soul with delight.

One of those customers back in my Elmer’s days was tiny little Wren Topitzer. From the moment he could say his first words, Wren had plenty to talk about. Generally, it was all philosophy in those early days, but the stuff that ran around that boy’s head drew me in and always made me sit down to take in his 3-year-old world view.

When I read in the Greenfield Recorder that Wren Topitzer and his friend, Hannah Briggs, both now 11 years old and students at Buckland-Shelburne Elementary School, had had their entry “Sled Zeppelin” selected by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation as the name for one of the state’s 12 snowplows, I have to say that I wasn’t surprised at all that my little buddy of yore was shining in the world of witty puns, and winning prizes for his school. I found his mother’s email address in my stash from the old days and emailed her to say how delighted I was to see Wren continuing the inspired ingenuity he had shown at 4. She asked for my mailing address and a few days later I received this handwritten letter:

Hello Nan,

I haven’t seen you in so long! If you haven’t heard, I’m an artist now and when I grow up I plan on being an artist, writer, podcaster sometimes and a crepe chef. My crepe truck, which by the way is a Volkswagen Type 2T3, will be mostly in Shelburne Falls, but also in Greenfield sometimes. I want to live in Shelburne Falls. Elmer’s isn’t the same as when you were there. But, much like my old principal who no longer works at school anymore, you have to move on as it can get repetitive and not as cost-effective as before. Hope to see you soon! Sincerely, Wren

And enclosed was a pencil drawing he’d done of me, proving his artistic ability.

Delighted to hear his updates, I asked his mom for his phone number. Turns out, Wren prefers the analogue life and doesn’t feel he’ll need a cellphone until he’s “maybe” 18, so I called on their landline to catch up with him after nearly half of his lifetime.

After art, his favorite class is history, as he’s interested in how the world used to be back in (for example) Mesopotamia, and feels it’s probably better, or at least, easier to be alive today, than it was in the days of “empire after empire.”

Besides the visual arts where he specializes in drawing, carpentry and sculpting — we discussed the type of knife best used when one wants to carve a tiny person out of a pencil eraser. Wren will be playing the character of Rafiki in his class production of “The Lion King,” for which he’s rehearsing now.

As for self-reflection, Wren “definitely” considers himself a “Peace-nik” and has started a group called, EPPA, or “Environmentalist, Peace-nik, Pacifist, Artist,” proving yet again how close he and I are in our attitudes toward the world, even after not seeing each other for five years or so.

What else draws us so close in temperament? The fact that neither of us can do math, and both of us were taught to play chess by our baby brothers when we were children ourselves, and our little math-prodigy siblings beat us in all successive matches of the game. My then-baby brother grew up to work for Microsoft, which explains how that happened to me. I’m not sure what Wren’s defense against Milo’s genius is, except that Milo, too, was a brilliant child to hang out with at breakfast back in the day. He was just a lot younger then and didn’t have as many words.

Really, I believe the only difference between Wren and me these days is that his favorite Greek god is Dionysius, and I don’t think I prefer any particular god of the Greeks over another, though it’s very possible that a longer discussion about it all might change my mind.

If anyone could convince me to see Greek gods in a different light, it would be Wren, and his convincing argument would be so very matter of fact. It’s just the way he’s been since the first morning he was big enough to climb out of his highchair, there at breakfast table No. 4.

Fly on, Wren — and Milo! I look forward to the developing chapters of your lives and I cheer your teachers on as they shepherd you through history, Greek mythology, philosophy and the arts.

Nan Parati lives and works in Ashfield, where she found home and community following Hurricane Katrina. She can be reached at


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