Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Summer Visitors

two visiting grandchildren

The best part of the summer is rapidly approaching, the part during which the five youngest of our grandchildren are likely to be about the grandparental homestead, sometimes en masse and sometimes in discrete family groups.  The brevity of their infancy is underscored by the fact that our eldest grandchild, the college graduate, is now pursuing an exciting professional career on the West Coast.  This makes me especially conscious of the wonder of young childhood, and especially eager to attend it, to pay close attention to it, as it unrolls before my wondering eyes.  Of the many palpable blessings of retirement none is more prominent than its attendant emancipation from the awareness of having to make a living, the goad to “getting ahead,” whatever that absurd phrase might actually mean.

Just at this moment the two Montréalers, as we call them, are briefly with us.  They are actually on their way to South Carolina and their maternal grandparents.  They will travel with their mother, while their Dad, our son Luke, hangs out with us for a week and luxuriates in the anthropology holdings of the Firestone Library of Princeton University.  Then we’ll see the kids again for a day or two on their way back home.  By then our two “Washington Squarers” will also be here.  We hope, too, that a fifth, Ruby the Brooklynite, also somewhat daringly known as the Red Hooker, will be able to make an appearance during that time.

Though it has been a relatively brief time since we saw the Montréalers, the signs of their mental and physical growth are dramatic.  Hazel turned two fairly recently, just about the time I was turning eighty.  However I have not been able to observe the terribleness of her twoness, so much spoken of by her parents.  (The awfulness of eightyness is another matter, and on prominent display daily).  Her verbal skills have improved dramatically in the brief period of a couple of months, and to her increasing mastery of the spoken word she is adding a certain prowess in bel canto.  At her play-group she has been strangely indoctrinated by her Filipina minders, so that she arrived here burbling out a quite recognizable version of  “O, Canada!”.  Those are the only two words of the anthem she has so far mastered, and this means that she and her grandfather are at exactly the same level.  However, I am apparently wrong in believing that its tune is identical with that of “O Tannenbaum…”  She reacts adversely to my attempts without, however, being able to supply me with more positive guidance.  Her elder brother, John Henry, only days away from his fourth birthday, is now quite the lad.  He has a delightful temperament (most of the time) and a distinctive sense of style that manifests itself in a sailcloth fedora hat and a penchant for really bad Knock-Knock jokes—not that I wish to imply the possibility of a good Knock-Knock joke.  He now talks a blue streak, and in his conversation one finds many intimations of his two professorial parents.  Just the other day he correctly used the subjunctive in an introductory contrary-to-fact clause: “If I were…”

As somebody who spent many formative years out in the deep woods of the Ozarks I think of my current suburban circumstances as pretty unexciting and conventional.  But for the young children who visit us here the back of our house, which features a dense bamboo patch and opens onto several acres of dense woodland with a pleached path leading down to a lake, the place has all the remoteness of the little house on the prairie and the exoticism of Camp Olgagaloka.  And we have the wildlife to back it up.  Deer are abundant and likely to show up anywhere—especially at the fence line of my tomato patch.  Groundhogs—identified by John Henry as beavers (more Canadian brainwashing, I presume)--prefer to be inside the fence.  But there are also innumerable squirrels, rabbits, and chipmunks.  Occasionally a fox appears, holding out its tail as stiff and unmoving as a hunting dog.  There are birds galore including some interesting and brilliantly colored ones.  If you step outside you couldn’t escape birdsong even if you wanted to.  Nocturnal raccoons make a mess of the garbage bins once or twice a month, and there is the odd opossum now and again. All of these creatures are for these children potential sources of a Wordsworthian infantile delight that confirms all my deepest religious instincts.  Amazingly, perhaps, their favorites are the two box turtles—Chloë and Hector—resident among the lush woodruff and impatiens pots of our home’s internal atrium.  John Henry and Hazel look for them the first thing in the morning and say goodnight in their direction as they head off for bed.

two resident turtles having a morning swim