It was just a normal day, like any other day. I was off running some errands on a busy summer afternoon. Nothing special. I had just parked my car in the parking lot of a strip mall and was walking down the sidewalk to a Walgreen’s to pick some prescriptions. That’s when I saw him.
The focus on my errands took a decidedly unexpected turn as I became aware of a familiar figure walking next to me step for step. Through my peripheral vision, I noticed an unmistakable gait, that recognizable shape of the head, the grey, thinning hair and those slightly stooped shoulders. The hair stood up on the back of my neck as I stopped and turned to my left. There, standing just a few feet away from me, was my grandpa staring back at me through the reflection of a store window.
I’m getting old. I can feel it in my bones. I can sense it in my energy level. I can see it in the reflection of a store window. The years have crept up on me faster than I had ever envisioned. Without even realizing it, I have become what my grandfather was to me, a slow, wrinkly old man. At least that’s what it seemed like to me during my pre-adolescent journey. Everybody seemed old back then.
Snowbirds returning back north for the summer are suddenly reminded of just how old they are getting. After spending half a year rubbing elbows with other grey-haired retirees, they are now forced to mingle with the rest of society. Everywhere they go, grocery stores, theaters, and churches are filled with families, children and young adults. At their summer places of residence, Snowbirds are no longer in the majority. The summer is spent adjusting to this new population dynamic.
But every summer there’s one thing that takes me away from all this, takes me away from the worries of advancing age, takes me away from unexpected encounters with my grandfather.
For one glorious week, we are blessed to have a visit from Emily.
Since the day she was born, my nine year old granddaughter, Emily, has been a ray of sunshine in my life. Her smile, her innocence, her “wonder of it all” attitude captivates me whenever I’m around her. Time spent with Emily is always a special treat.
Weeks before she arrives we spend hours making and revising a list of things to do with her. The zoo, children’s museums and movies top the list as we rummage through brochures and pamphlets on things to do in the area. For a week I’m thinking like a nine year old as the list is pared and added to with each passing day. Visits with Emily on the phone become more frequent as the time gets closer for her arrival. I can tell in her voice she’s excited and the anticipation for both of us is palpable.
Finally the long awaited day arrives. Diana and I take the drive across the other side of the state to pick up Emily. Our glorious odyssey begins.
The next day I find myself sweltering in a long line at the zoo, waiting for our chance, along with dozens of other grandparents with their grandkids, to feed the giraffe pieces of a giant lettuce leaf. This is called an interactive exhibit, something that was never heard of when I was a kid, but seems to be all the rage today. Emily is delighted when her turn finally comes to walk up to the giraffe as it extends its long neck over a fence and grabs the pieces of lettuce from her hands. Smiles all around. Pictures are taken. Sweat wiped from brows.
The next day we find ourselves at a Fun Zone, a money sucking affair in the guise of an arcade with loud, whirring machines, blinking lights and spinning wheels. Ten dollars put on a swipe card lasts about as long as you can find a chair and take a sip of soda. But it’s all worth it to see the joy on Emily’s face as she returns again and again so grandpa can load up the card for more arcade fun.