Things I Learned

I’m lounging on my daughter’s screened-in back porch. It’s early morning and the house is quiet. I’m on my third cup of coffee when I hear footsteps from inside the house. Max raises his ears and rolls his eyes sideways when he hears the back door open, but he doesn’t move from his sprawled-out position on the floor.

Everett is 5 and still has the look of sleep on his face when he crawls up on the couch next to me. He has a Lego creation in his hand.

“What you got there, buddy?”

“It’s a giant squid.”

I’m using my best imaginative skills to conjure up a squid in my mind. The eyes are set back about halfway down his body. Everett spreads his tentacles apart so I can see how they work. He points to a place where the large feelers attach to the body.

“His mouth is right here.”

“Wow. That’s pretty cool. What does he eat for breakfast?”

“He lives in the ocean and eats fish like this.” Everett holds the giant squid up to my nose and while poking the hard plastic tentacles into my forehead and cheek flesh, he makes munching noises with his mouth.

“Boy, I’d hate to meet up with a squid like that. He might eat me for breakfast.”

“Don’t be silly, Grandpa.” My teacher explains. “Sometimes they eat whales but not people.”

“Whales? Really?” I’m interested now. Two slurps on my coffee.

“Yeah. Sometimes they eat small whales. But sometimes the big whales eat them.”

I’m taking this all in when the subject changes.

“Grandpa, did you know that the girl praying mantis eats the boy praying mantis?”

I feel like I’m on an episode of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. A miniature Marlin Perkins is taking me through the world of exotic creatures that inhabit our planet.

“Are you worried that Zelda and Dorothy might eat you?”

His eyes get big as he considers my point. “I’d be careful if I was you. You never know what those girls are up to.”

“Nooo, Grandpa.” He rolls his eyes in a big grin. “We are people. Only praying mantiseseses eat each other.”

“What do you think they’re praying about?” I like to ask deep theological questions of my grandchildren. It usually stumps them.

Everett was quick on this one. “I think they’re praying they don’t get eat.”

Good point.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of the things I learned this past weekend. If a man pays attention, he doesn’t need formal classroom instruction in order to pick up on some of the lessons that will add some constructive value to his life.

For example, the impact of a water gun shot from a close distance can enter the ear canal at an alarming velocity. No matter how well you prepare for a shoot-out at the swimming pool, a well-placed shot can disable a grown man, giving small children time to reload and resume the attack.

Note to self. Next time you’re at the pool, consider wearing foam earplugs, even if they do make you look like a nerd. These kids are vicious.

Then, there’s my hair. A thin head of hair does not protect the scalp from the deadly rays of the sun. I wear a cap 100% of the time at the tree farm. I usually have rosy cheeks and a white forehead. But not now. I made up for lost time in just two hours at the pool.

The last time the top of my head got burned was when I had a flat top in 1965. We went on vacation and I lived in the pool all week long that summer. My scalp was more naked than it had ever been, and after only one day I could barely brush the butch-wax through my hair to make the flat top stand up.

When I got out of the shower last night and went to comb my hair, I thought about that summer. Trying to pull a part in my hair was like pouring acid on my head. I mean, I knew the old top-notch was getting thinner, but this is ridiculous. Not only am I gray and receding, but now I have lobster head.

Next. Grandpas need their rest. Naps are good. I was a little bit sleepy after the pool excursion. I had caught enough footballs and fought off enough water guns to do me in. That screened porch and ceiling fan and couch was calling my name. Enough said.

Waking up. I don’t need an alarm clock to get up early most days. My internal clock usually does a pretty good job all on its own. My bladder and my back will let me know when it’s time long before any rooster crows.

But afternoon naps are different. Pool-activity induced sleep is deep. I could hear the playful squeals of children. I could feel my own wet slobber on my cushion pillow. (apologies to my daughter) I could hear the whir of the ice cream churn in the background, but it was all a part of my unconscious state. Until . . .

Somewhere in the deep recesses of my functioning brain I caught a whiff of burgers on the grill. I allowed my dreams to take me to exotic places with heavenly fragrances. I stirred slightly, like a kid who doesn’t want his parents to know that he’s really awake. Being asleep affords one the opportunity to overhear things that wouldn’t normally be said to your face.

“Do you think Papa is alive?”

“I don’t know. He’s been like that for two hours now.”

The aroma was growing stronger. My brain is trying to come awake. I can hear meat sizzling over the flames. Grease dripping into the fire and blazing up into the perfection of the grilled burger. The whir of the ice cream churn came to a slow halt.

“Yeah boy,” someone shouted. “Sounds like the ice cream is ready. Could one of you go check on that for me?”

I sat straight up and squeezed my eyes open and shut a few times. “Did somebody say ice cream?”

Boisterous laughter erupted. “He’s alive,” they all said. I like it when they make fun of me.

Weekends with family provide some of the best days you can have. Yes, our family is different without Beth. Little Dorothy mentioned Nana Beth one time. I can’t remember exactly what she asked, but we were all thinking about it. One less plate at the table. One less face in all the pictures. One less hug at the end of the day as we part ways and head off home.

But of all the things I learned this weekend, I learned that life goes on. I have said that several times before and I’ll probably keep saying it until it sinks in. It was a lot easier this time and it will get a lot easier as time goes by. The key is this. You keep loving. You keep going. You keep living.

That, or the female praying mantis will get you.

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