David Nightingale: Grandson's Visit

Dec 23, 2018

Children, especially males I am thinking, often go away for long periods once they are grown. I recall, in my 20s, going overseas to work, not returning to see my parents for a period of three uninterrupted years.

This past Thanksgiving it was good to see my grandson after what had seemed like an emigration.

A phone call – and a suggestion for a walk. Once again he and I trod local snowy trails – the snow had hit us in November – and I have a cell-phone photo of such a good-looking healthy young person in his twenties. But now he has flown off again, from Kennedy Airport at some ungodly hour; and in a quiet moment I recall old images, some almost super-imposed upon each other in a blur as I try to sort and distill. Two decades of memories, and other vignettes keep popping in. From some weekly study times in my house for high school chemistry, to a photo, taken by a neighbor, of my holding a bright fair-haired 10-month-old in my arms. And a picture I have of a long-ago colleague hand-in-hand with my 3-year-old grandson while they venture down some steep steps and rocks behind my house. Unafraid of anything, the confident little boy leads the way, with a big grin. There’s also an earlier photo of a 1-year-old in a monk-like one-piece suit imprinted with the usual corny pictures of farm animals, he smiling up at the picture-taker with all the trust that new life has.

Then, when he was barely four, my turn to look after him for the whole day, driving past my ex-wife’s house, and his poignant question: ‘grandpa, djoo know grandma?’

How life passes so fast, although not for a child. At four and a half he’s already got a one-year-old sister. Years pass, and the two of them are rolling snow balls and making snow-men; or its summer and they are playing in the woods barefoot – while all the while I worry about ticks.

Little bikes, little bike helmets; all since donated to the Y. The wonders of climbing trees, especially my flowering dogwood, which could not really have appreciated it.

Swimming, and then, some years later, on the swim team. And another photo, this time at a rented cottage on an Adirondack lake, my faithful lab mix sitting patiently, while grandson and grandpa build little things with twigs and sticks near the shore.

Quite often there was picking him up from middle school, after first fetching granddaughter from elementary school. And oh dear, some screaming matches in the back seat, necessitating no further forward motion of my car until they calm down. Oh yes, of course these things happen.

A school play, soccer games, and the construction of a giant clothes pin, still on my table, devised by an imaginative shop teacher.

Its summer time, and he and I explore the ice caves. After we’ve emerged, a time-delay selfie as we sit on a rock in the sun – then running and climbing. Sprinting ahead of me he disappears, only to come up behind me when I pause.

None of this is different, of course, from any other grandparent’s experiences.

Before he flies away, a group photo – this time with his girlfriend, father, uncle. Then, bless him, he has organized a table for eight at a German restaurant two days before leaving.

The images are just totally too great.

All families take photos and videos of course, stored on flash drives or CDs, but it’s not the whole thing. All the ambience, all the little goings-on and details behind those scenes, are conjured up in quietness today – after the grown man has flown on his way.

David Nightinglale is an emeritus professor of physics at SUNY New Paltz where he taught for 31 years. His first novel, The Centauri Settlement, is produced by TheBookPatch.com .

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