"Are you not entertained?!"
Becoming a grandfather to a boy named Maximus Logan Cooke is a daunting and only slightly horrifying moment. (I think I'll nickname him Baby X for a while, then Weapon X when he can walk, then he'll be an X-Man when he's older...cause anybody named after Wolverine's real name has just GOT to be cool, right? Sorry folks, but I grew up with Wolvie being Logan...not Jimmy.)
It makes me remember my own grandparents and what they brought to my life.
My grandmother taught my sister and I to play hearts and gin during our very first trip with her to Nassau. We had never been on a plane, let alone gone to a tropical island. Her family had a house on the edge of the ocean, whose color I remember today. A fresh, brilliant aqua so clean and clear it seemed like something from a dream. We could walk, or run, to the edge of the rocky cliff and leap into the bath-warm water just six feet below. Fish swirled around our legs, sparkling like organic gems and we gathered the discarded conch shells by the dozens for secret games we played later on. For two weeks in the summer of 1975, it was an oasis from the constant fighting we lived with.
My grandma would swim her slow, relaxing breaststroke across the calm water and tell us to dive deep and retrieve whatever ocean treasure she had spotted. My sister and I were fearless, never sensing the threat of sharks or octopus or even the water-soaked, long-dead Pirates who must be guarding Davy Jones locker. She would coax us out of the water with sandwiches and cold ginger beer, the bitter taste unique to children who were raised on Coke and Ginger Ale. We would have to wait an hour before returning to the watery playground, so we would sit in canvas chairs in the sun, reading the Hardy Boys or the Boy’s King Arthur (my sister read Nancy Drew and the Bobsey Twins). Before we knew it, several hours would have passed and we were allowed a last half-hour of ocean fun before the blazing sun disappeared behind the distant water.
Then, with other, strange members of the family, we would eat fish or chicken while the adults gorged on Lobster and shrimp. We were informed that children would hate lobster. A lie, of course, but ice cream for desert and all is forgiven. Then the cards would be brought out and after dinner drinks were served. A game called “Oh, Fuck!” would be played, but since there were children present, the name was changed to “Oh, Hell!” Loosely based on Bridge, there were plenty of curses, raucous laughter, sarcastic humor and many more drinks involved. My grandmother would wait until the other adults were “in their cups” as she would say and then take us upstairs to bed.
The sun was tropical and we were all red-haired and fair-skinned. The first few nights were brutal and I imagined I would burst into flames at any moment. My grandmother would cool a rag and sing soft songs as she cooled my back and forehead. Then, with lotion, she would massage my hands and within minutes I would be fast asleep. I think often of those days and the inclusive feeling I had during those two weeks. That was what family was all about. Love, protection and being included in something greater than oneself.
Every summer after that, my sister and I would spend it with my grandparents. They lived in Beverly Farms in Massachusetts, on a private road where the heirs to the Parker Bros. game empire lived. Even though their home was small and nothing like the mansions around it, it felt like a magical, special place to me. My grandfather grew cactus in the closed in annex and they were mostly taller than myself. In the heat of summer, he’d dress me in one of his flannel shirts and we would go berry picking amongst the 200 by 200 foot plot where the wild raspberries and blackberries grew. I would return with half a small box, having eaten far more than I picked. My sister and grandmother would weed the flowers and small vegetable garden and we’d eat zucchinis for dinner. My grandfather made his own yogurt decades before it was chic. He also made lace, sugar cookies, which were paper-thin and tasted of future cavities. He smoked a cigar once a day and even today, if there is a whiff of the same brand on the street, I am transported back to the back porch on a slow summer’s day…shucking corn. My grandfather had long since sold the Jute factory and retired to be an Episcopalian minister and therapist. One of his therapeutic methods to release anger involved a pillowy sword-like object and a square of wood. If you hit the wood as hard as you could, it would make a loud smacking sound and it released anger. Of course, my sister and I used them to smack each other and would beg uncles or fathers to play with us.
My grandmother, as we grew more energetic and she less so, would take us down the beach. It certainly wasn’t tropical, but it was close by and a private beach. She had a brilliant way of keeping us busy for hours. Collecting sea glass. For each piece of clear sea glass we got a dime. The price increased as the color became rarer, this being the days before the plethora of colors now available. The rarest of them all was blue sea glass. It had to be soft and worn, the size not important. If one of us found a piece of blue sea glass, my grandmother gave us $5.00. It was a fortune! Over the summers, we found enough to fill a glass vase. Filled with clear water and placed carefully on a windowsill, the morning sun bathed the dining room with blue sparkles.
Without my grandparents, I have no idea what I would have become. They taught me unconditional love…the joy of family and what it means to be special. I know they were flawed as any person is, but they sacrificed for my sister and I. They let us name the lobsters and play with them on the kitchen floor before they were sentenced to the “Pot” for their sin of tasting so good. My grandfather taught me about Fluff on ice cream…my grandmother taught me cribbage. My grandfather taught me we were fighting against the north in Vietnam and my grandmother taught me acceptance when she sponsored a Vietnamese family through their church.
Now that I am a grandfather, I realize that the time is now for me to remember all of this and to make my own special times with my grandson. In these days of terrorism and changing social morays, older parents and the Last Son of Krypton killing villains…maybe being the voice of the “old school” isn’t so bad.
When my grandparents passed away and I was asked if I wanted anything of theirs, I asked for some of the sea glass and my grandfather’s therapeutic pillow sword. Everything important I keep carefully in a beautiful box in my heart.