As I approve of a youth that has something of the old man in him, so I am no less pleased with an old man that has something of the youth. He that follows this rule may be old in body, but can never be so in mind. -Cicero
They tried to stop us from going because he'd had a bad morning, but the little ones and I had already left for or from the bus stop. If a phone rings in a house and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? I don't know, but--even as I buckled in babies, watched dark-haired boys descend and scramble, drove east on sunlit road, found with ease X Marks the Spot, unfolded double stroller and tucked babies inside--it felt as though all of heaven were for me, behind me.
The armless, legless woman at the door smiled out a greeting, and the girl in the tight little number at the desk smiled up the correct room number. A wheelchaired woman with no words hummed a smile at us, and everyone lining the hallway parted, smiling, to make way.
When we found him at very dead end and greeted him as Grandpa, he smiled biggest of all.
He's the only ninety-year-old I know with e-mail and facebook accounts. He said again today: he hears my Boy Scout (to whom he slipped a beautiful penknife at Christmastime) singing clear as a bell in the choir loft. He asked the other boy of his heart--the boy who accepted, eagerly, my invitation to visit Grandpa--about fishing.
Then he took us to 1932, when he was twelve, and the boys leaned against the doorframe and listened. The older baby with round dark eyes chewed up and swallowed slowly--from the stroller--each of Grandpa's every graham cracker and listened. The younger baby in my lap beamed silently, leaned forward, and listened.
And I traveled--on his voice, with no distraction--south near Tampa in the midst of the Great Depression. I saw trees laden with fruit, a boy in cap catching fish from sinkholes with nary more than a hook. I heard his mother suggest, on her way out the door in the morning, "Let's see if we can't have some rabbit, tonight," and I watched young Grandpa in the fields, with his gun.
"The first rabbit," he said, "was mine. The second was for the owner of whatever field I was in."
He told of how his mother checked meat, carefully, for worms that infected many rabbits and nearly all deer. He spoke of the challenges in shooting squirrels out of trees hung with Spanish-moss, talked of being part of a "broke" family of six; of how his father--having been kicked in the back by a mule--couldn't work, leaving his mother to provide; of how Grandpa helped scrub his family's floor.
Then he grinned and twinkled and said, with absolute sincerity, "I had a wonderful boyhood."
I looked at the children, at the old man, at the boy in the old man. I sent up silent glory for my being--very near the hot center of my life--in the midst.
To be (in the Sandra-Cisneros-"Eleven" sense) all the ages we've ever been, and glad for it. To be thankful for what has been, what is, what will be. To be every breath closer to fullness and Father. To be everyone's grandparent. To be, by choice, the grandchild. To listen, to learn, to live in and through. To tell a story: once upon a time, happily ever after, the end, amen.