We We We Could Hold Hands
I’ve been sad off and on for a month now, but let’s not dwell for long on why. Let’s just say that the land I love is different now. Values, principles and manners that ground life and give it sweetness have been flogged, and I’m confused. What rules will we live by from here on? And will these rules call forth our best, not our worst?
If you can’t imagine what’s got me down these days, reading further will be a waste of time. But if you sense where I’m coming from, please accept one premise: You don’t need to agree with the reasons for my grief to accept it as valid.
The master teaches the disciple. Lesson: Lick the frosting off first if that’s what you like.
If you can appreciate the distinction I’m making, you might also be interested in a chilly, rainy walk I took with my grandson Cole a couple weeks ago.
My mission was to occupy the three-year-old with sparks flying from under his sneakers so that Grandma Kathy and son-in-law Matt could do home repair and daughter Elena could mind grandson #2, Killian.
Cole and I were supposed to go to the corner and back, but when we got there, he pointed to the next corner and said, “I I I want to go to there.” (Cole’s speech can’t keep pace with his brain, so he repeats the subject until the rest of the sentence reaches his tongue.)
Sure, why not? When we reached the next corner, he pointed across the street and repeated his previous request. I could see his point. West 4th Street beyond Beverly Drive is missing some sidewalk, giving the passage a winding charm.
“But, Cole,” I said, “that’s across the street. We can’t go there.”
He thought for a few seconds, then looked at me: “But we we we could hold hands.”
“Ah ha,” I thought, “school is in session.” That’s how being a grandfather is for me. I’ve learned to recognize instantly when Cole has something to teach his lazy Pop, and his instruction is always edifying.
So off we went, looking both ways, his cold little hand in mine. He had tree climbing on his mind, but the neighborhood maples are matriarchs that haven’t had branches or footholds within reach for decades.
I explained and explained, the mist puffing from my mouth. “They’re too big, Cole. There’s nothing for you to hold on to.”
Finally, good sense caught up to me. “Okay, pal, give this one a try.”
He ran to the rooty base of a smooth-barked giant shiny from the weather. As he hugged the trunk, he was as confident in his ability to succeed as I am when approaching a cashier to pay for a loaf of bread. No sweat.
He rubbed around to check for some advantage and marched as if the wood might reach out to him as a staircase.
If there were nothing else in the world to behold, this face would teach me more than I need to know.
To Cole’s credit, no fussing he made. A concrete telephone pole fifty of his rapid mini-strides away provided another option. “I I I could climb that.”
“You think so?” I lilted.
“Yeah!” he said. I must say, my grandson makes that word into a one-syllable hoedown. His yee dances in the clouds, and his ahhhh takes its sweet time landing.
Alas, same result, followed by the same okey-dokey shrug.
Our next stop was a pile of pumpkins Cole insisted was a fire hydrant. I didn’t argue. What he proposed was fine with me.
Even validictorians get pooped out, though, so I tempted Cole to head back home with the prospect of spotting turkeys on South Shore drive, where hens and gobblers mill about the yards of Erie’s rich folk.
Not quite there yet, he spotted an old guy bundled within an inch of his life and riding a zero-turn mower. “I I I want to see.”
Well, certainly. We stood on the boulevard, Cole in awe over the machinery, me wondering about the enterprise of getting rained on, running over wet leaves and turning pirouettes. But maybe a man in layers of well-worn gray and earmuffs also had something to teach me.
He parked, hopped to the ground and walked our way, arms swinging akimbo.
Cole froze at the sight. I held his hand again.
“You can cut through my yard,” the man said, “and take my steps down to the lake.”
That was the last thing I expected to hear, as owners on South Shore have the reputation of being grouchy toward trespassers. I guess you just don’t know the truth about people until you know them.
We said thanks anyway and waved goodbye, off to find birds.
I used to understand that no journey from A to B with a little boy could ever be direct, but I had forgotten. Cole reminded me by insisting on bending through the undergrowth and shrubbery rather than sticking to the sidewalk.
He was having fun trespassing, and I didn’t really care if we got hollered at. (It’s taken me five decades to adopt such a criminal attitude.)
Of course, we didn’t get chased off. We didn’t see any turkeys, either, but Cole jumped off of low stonework a few times. His wide eyes told me he knew the miracle of flight.
I’m not going to lie, I was glad for class dismissal when we got back home. My cheap black sneakers with elastic at the instep were soaked.
Whenever you’re ready to teach me, Killian, I’ll be ready.
I want to be honest about something else, too. Years ago, as a young man, I wouldn’t have figured a walk with a red-headed boy could lead me to a better place. I would have considered the notion mushy.
Still, being a Pop will have everything to do with how I pass through this season’s mournful valley and grow as a man committed to kindness and compassion. Call this truth what you will.
My grandsons have the wisdom I need. I can feel it. Until their next lesson, I’ll use what Cole taught me on our walk in the rain.
I’ll I’ll I’ll remember that we can hold hands, climb even when the effort makes scant sense, and look for teachers who spin like fools.
Most of all, I I I won’t give up on love.