Well, technically they’re his and not mine, but they are all I have. Anyway, I’ve had the full experience from diapers through adolescence to adulthood.
An Old Joke
There is an old joke I told students to explain why young artists reject the styles and aesthetic values of the previous generation and look further back in time for inspiration.
Q. Why do grandparents and grandchildren forge such tight connections?
A. They are united in the face of a common enemy.
Of all my classroom “witticisms,” this one continued to provoke giggles, so it seems to resonate.
The Growing Years
As they grew, we’d see them several times a year: Thanksgiving and Christmas; a winter weekend for cold-weather birthdays; Palm Sunday; in October to acknowledge fall birthdays. In looks, the three represent very different sectors of their shared genetic pool.
The fairly easy relationship I had with them when they were small faded. Except possibly for M, the middle child. We just got each other and as he discovered his creative gifts, we bonded as well over art. D, the eldest, became shyer and shyer. He was observant and responded to the general sense of whatever conversation was taking place, but he built a wall that was buttressed over time. A, the baby, and her mother shared a private space, with their own language, cues and concerns. She, like D, became enigmatic, in a way that I could not entirely chalk up to adolescence.
Apart from M, I can’t say I actually spent time with them in one-on-one conversation for twenty years or so. Family gatherings seemed only to reinforce the spaces between us.
Now, however, I needed to have some one-on-one time. Or at least time that didn’t include their mom and dad. I needed them to engage with the spirit of their Grandpa, poking into the corners of his life they had never seen. I wanted them to pick up his things and look at them, imagine them as keepsakes in their own homes, indulge whatever desires that might be driven by memory.
M had come to visit in May from his home in California. Dan was fading but we had a wonderful day, a look around the house, a trip to Bomboy’s for candy and ice cream at Keyes before he to his parents’ home in Pennsylvania. I remained concerned about D and A, though. After Dan died, I extended an invitation for them to come down, whenever convenient for them, and have the same kind of look-see.
Finally they did.
I pointed them at a garage crammed full of stuff and shelves in the laundry room, I took them upstairs to Dan’s studio, writing room, and our bedroom. I opened closet doors and provided a few examples about how everything was up for discussion. Then I retreated to my office and stayed out of their way.
A couple hours later they shared their thoughts. We decided a few things could just go now, and I scared up some boxes. For the rest, I said I would focus on clearing a room where things could wait pending discussions about who would get them and how they would travel to their ultimate destinations.
And we were all laughing.
Then on to Prost for dinner. It’s our new favorite local. They have a strange grapefruit-infused beer–Schofferhoffer Grapefruit Radler–and it is perfect for a sultry Maryland evening. D favors their goulash. I have a thing for their salad plate, I forget what A ordered but she enjoyed it and we split a monstrous pretzel served with two kinds of mustard. Less an appetizer than an appetite killer.
A told wonderful stories about her recent trip to Vienna with her boyfriend. D was full of anecdotes about his latest tech projects. We all talked about food and cooking. We took our time and nearly closed the restaurant down.
“Who are these people?” I wondered. I really, really like them. They are all right.