In a couple of hours I’m heading north to my family’s home to begin a weekend-long celebration of my Grandfather David’s 80th birthday. Some of the people who read this column/blog/weekly catharsis have met him and will understand why this is such a big deal for me. It’s going to be one of those picnic type affairs, under the sun, soaked in drinks and drowned in laughter.
The invite came to my house a few weeks ago; “No Presents!” it said in the perfect, school teacher handwriting of his second wife and my third grandmother, Peggy. What a relief, I thought, what in the hell do you get a guy who gave you his name? Somehow a tie or the latest book you’ve read hardly seem measure up. I’ve got this kidney I don’t really need, but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want it.
Eighty years is a big milestone by any standard the world has to offer. Regimes have risen and faded in far less, sports dynasties have come and gone; disco was born, died, ressurected and then killed again in a tragic platform shoe accident.
We’ve got the same name, which has had its ups and downs. When we’re together I’m Davey, which honestly, makes me sound like I’m a children’s TV show host with a substance abuse habit and a secret life as a Furry.
Living in the shadow of that name has been a little disheartening. Having done the math, I’ve realized that the statistical probability of me leading half the life he’s already led is on par with winning a US Open, any of them. But it’s worth a try, right?
To some extent we’ve all got the crippling handicap of seeing the world through our eyes only. For me, David’s life is limited to my 26 years on the planet. For all I know he didn’t exist before I was around, that goes for all of you, too. In truth, I’ve only been around for a third of his life, the sunset years as they’re so incorrectly called in his case.
His latest third has been more active than my first by many orders of magnitude. While most grandparents move to Florida and take up doctor prescribed shuffleboard, he jetted off to Taiwan to teach English as a Second Language. I don’t think they even know what shuffleboard is over there.
He’s set up and help run a massive food pantry in Northern New Jersey. Feeding the less fortunate, making a difference, being the man that Bono wants to be. All of this, well after 60. You know what I’ve done? I gave a guy some change the other day because he was blocking the path out of the Popeye’s and I was scared of his facial hair.
The other day my mother mentioned to me that David had mellowed out in his most recent years, slowed down a little.
You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. This guy’s got more energy than if Lance Armstrong had both of his balls. If what he’s like now is mellowed, then I really wonder how he made it through the first sixty-odd years of his life without constantly being in traction.
What I DO know about David’s earlier years is built from a series of tellings and retellings spaced out over two decades. Exaggerations and reductionist games of Telephone in my own mind have him sometimes wearing the plaid shirt of Paul Bunyan when he topples the Nazi regime, or knocking out Pecos Bill’s teeth with a can of Campbell’s tomato soup.
Whether I like to admit it or not I’ve tried to do as many of the things he did: we attended the same college, lived in the same city, gone to the same bars. If plagiarism is the highest form of flattery, call me Jayson Blair.
We’re storytellers, me and him. I can’t count the hours we’ve sat around sweating booze and swapping tales. Whether it’s him claiming to have spent three days pretending to be a deaf mute just to avoid having to chit-chat with strangers on a train, or it’s me ratchetting up the bust size of a… “law infraction” just to hear that trademark grenade blast of a laugh, we’re here for two things: The moment, and then the retelling of that moment to who ever will listen.
I retell his moments all the time as well. Many of my friends have heard about his drink cards, which were a gift from Peggy. Five hundred business cards with the correct instructions on how to make his favorite drink, a Canadian Club on the rocks, in a rocks glass, with a twist. I think I’d pass on teaching the Parables to my kids in favor of this one in a heartbeat. The moral? Waiters are practically retarded and DID need the card.
I like to think of Grandparents as the closest real life approximation to the fourth dimension (puts on nerd glasses) we’ve got. They’re your past, where you came from, and your future, what you’ve got to look forward to, and they’re right in front of you rolled up into one person.
If that’s true and I’ve got a future like his to look forward to, I’m thinking I should head back to the gym.