Read Old Man Scanlon


28 December 2012

As a new year impends and winter claws its way up its freshly secured beachhead, I could easily do worse than slither into a ratty sweater of a color not found in nature, finish off the last of the left-over French meat pie, pour myself a stiff dose of rotgut industrial cabernet, and settle in to reflect on a June evening with my grandchildren. Our customary weekend supper with them tomorrow is likely to be snowed out, so warm memory will have to suffice, and in the bargain will help balance a year which has seemed to me darker than it needed to be.

It's a midsummer Saturday evening of simple pleasures. Gram and I join our grandchildren at the neighborhood soccer field. Swallows assassinate mosquitoes, flaunting their aerobatic skill in aggressive tight circles around our waists, and distant thunder rumbles. Our grandson and his dad horse around. Our twin granddaughters horse around, their backs radiating strongly in the infrared due to a day of sunburning at the beach. The dogs horse around, sniffing, growling, and peeing. I don't horse around. I stand gazing at the kids, across my face a simpleton's grin. Dad gives the girls piggybacks until they can no longer stand the jarring their teeth are enduring. The boy denies having anything to do with the sudden appearance of a dilapidated lawn chair atop the mystery shipping container parked by the chain link at field's edge, and I'm inclined to believe him.

Growling stomachs and dusk urge us back to the house. When the kids dash ahead of us, Gram touches my arm as she watches my eyes track them. In the kitchen measuring cups, mixing bowls, and baking tools proliferate as Gram and the girls start to fabricate brownies. Dad, the boy, and I continue out to the patio to shuck corn. Animated voices, sometimes sequential, sometimes simultaneous, effervescing with laughter and the occasional shriek, follow us out. I can't tell what they're saying, but I know girl talk when I hear it. Dad ignites the grill and puts on steak tips and skewered chicken. I offer encouraging opinions to the boy, who's melting pennies into little blobs of slaggy zinc with the propane torch I gave him for his fifteenth birthday.

At table, none-too-subtle glances flash from kid to kid. They start to mug, hoping to bust up Gram. We all explode laughing in a sort of spontaneous combustion that feeds on itself, uncontrollable, the slightest gasped syllable fueling further laughter. At last it dies out, after we've used up all the oxygen in the room and can no longer even breathe. Not much later, the girls drift to bed. They'll whisper, giggle, and text their friends until exhaustion overtakes them. The boy and his adults watch the Red Sox beat Atlanta, one of the five or six games they won during the season.

I understand. This is boring. There is no conflict. No drama. Yet Gram and I take lawful pride in the young teens' unwitting gift to us, an estimable one whose value they are unconscious of, and one which when they were three or four I never had the wit to expect: they are growing up well. Now even I see abundant hints of their maturity. No mouths full of gimme. Openness, an easy courtesy. Sophistication of humor ratcheted a notch higher. Offering unsolicited help during the rituals of family meal preparation. The June day, even with only nine hours of night, is still not long enough for me to savor my fill of this delicious ordinariness. That evening I observed sure signs of parents having done their job, and that will sustain me long after winter finally breaks.