Read Old Man Scanlon

Idyll Hoarder

26 April 2012

Nearing the end of their annual northward migration to Maine, alligators frolic with the spring peepers in my backyard swamp, and honeybees ravish the copious dandelion crop. A robust but dry spring manifests itself early this year; soon yellow rocket will burgeon on the roadsides. It's idyll time in my shack at the edge of the city.

With the weather so conducive to outdoor living and the end of school in sight, my grandchildren grow and thrive even as I gaze at them. I am gathering rosebuds while I may, accumulating idylls with the kids against the day when the pull of a life distinct and apart from the family will be too strong to ignore. Signs are already evident. The inexorable hormonal tide is coming in, and the grandchildren's basic cylindrical shapes have changed to reflect it. My grandson has angles here; my granddaughters have curvature there.

Jeff, my son-in-law, has invited me to Saturday supper, the classic venue for intense rosebud-harvesting action. When I pull into his driveway, my grandson Jord waves as he mows the lawn; he can barely throttle his pace down to a trot. Inside, I gladly accept Jeff's hospitable offer of a Guinness, at American temperature, and confront my twin granddaughters sitting at the dining room table, the de facto homework station. Denying that the lumpy tubular brown thing on the table between them is a distasteful dog byproduct, Ali insists it is a papier-mâché llama, with a pelt of glued-on cotton balls, spray-painted brown. She and Hunter share a laptop to research llama facts, which they transcribe to file cards: a quaint juxtaposition of technologies. Their amicability is not always so perfect. They are thirteen, an age when their moods can turn black on a dime.

I'm the amused witness to Hunter's blitzkrieg campaign to get Dad to take us to the park. Righteous indignation at a perceived broken promise fails. She masters her temper and shifts tactics in a flash, but a siege of wheedling also fails. Then the big guns. She turns on the charm, all sweetness, light, and honied smiles. Mission accomplished.

The park is an open piney woods on the shore of a local reservoir. Charred logs and crushed beer cans trumpet its popularity, but we are alone except for screaming gulls, Canada geese, and crows. Snail shells dot the beach, abnormally wide because of the lack of spring rain.

Jord and his dad toss around a football. There's not enough room for any impressively long runs or passes, but even in the constrained space I get to observe the essence of male sports bonding. Manly language flows back and forth, coupled with alternating acts of competition and cooperation: the verbal and physical give and take of teamwork. I hear apologies for a botched throw or a fumble, contrition at poor execution. Well-controlled exulting at a successful move. Needling, but not over the edge: "Sorry I hit you in the hand" and "What is this, farm league?"

One of the girls arcs over the beach on a rope swing and the other takes her picture. The swinger's duty is to hold a glamorous pose while in motion, one hand extended, arching backward into an insouciant head-toss. Looking casual isn't so easy, one hand clutching for dear life, and the knotted rope trying to pull through your legs. The photographer's job is less strenuous but more exacting; she needs to synchronize the pendulum's period with the digital camera's shutter delay. They take turns for the better part of an hour.

The girls point out a great blue heron passing just over the treetops. I soak in the idyll. I am the human sponge, sucking it all in, greedy, hungry, and grateful that I will never get enough.