Saturday, May 27


His name was Daddaw. He wanted to be called Grandpa, but his eldest grandson was too verbally impaired to pronounce it correctly, so it came out Daddaw. The name stuck for the following three grandsons and several great grandchildren.

He was married to Pi. She received her moniker from the same dumb tot that murdered Daddaw's name. On a visit, she greeted her first grandson with "Good morning, sweetie pie!" After a day or two, dumb grandson said "Hi Pi!" The name stuck for the following three grandsons and several great grandchildren.

I am that dumb eldest grandson.

When not much more than a toddler, I found a piece of metal. Daddaw, being a carpenter and a handyman of all trades, made it inevitable that I would find just such a castoff. In my wee mind it looked like a camera. So I followed Daddaw around when he took pictures, making sure to line up the scene with my found metal "camera," imitating his every move. I remember a chuckle, an obvious approval of my advanced and keen ability to grasp composition and mastery of the environment.

As a little older, my brother and I were throwing rocks. We got bored throwing them at a fence, at a post, at another rock. We knew better than to throw them at birds or other creatures, so what better than each other? Whiz! went my rock past brother's head. Whiz! went brother's rock past mine. Until Daddaw's kindly voice, low and quiet like a seismic wave, intoned "Stop that. Or I'll string you up by your thumbs." So we stopped. Because we knew that if we didn't, we would soon be twisting in the wind, dried up skeletons long since picked by crows, a lesson to all boys, hanging by our dead opposable digits.

A summer later and I was on vacation. It was a treat to spend it with the grandparents, and we four brothers each took our turn, watching Daddaw make sawdust in his workshop. We learned how to water tomatoes, the best time to pick kumquats, and how to trim raspberry canes. As a voracious reader, I brought a book from the library. I don't remember much about it, other than it involved a young Chinese boy and his grandfather and the Asian hobby of keeping crickets in cages. At my broad hints and without complaint, Daddaw made me a cricket cage. He also caught the inhabitant, because I was afraid of bugs. When it didn't sing like was described in the book, I lost interest. Daddaw never said a word.

One summer, Daddaw took me swimming at the pool in the mobile home park where he and Pi lived. It was luxurious. It had a diving board, lounge chairs, and a changing room. Daddaw actually changed into his bathing suit with me on the redwood bench, proof that I was a growing up. As I paddled, peddled, and puddled in the pool, Daddaw sat in the sun. No book, no music, no swimming, no nothing. Decades later I found out he was afraid of water.

Eventually, I grew into the bones and muscles that would mark me as a man. Daddaw came to our garage one summer, and he and I made a workbench. It was hot, and his hands bruised easily, but we constructed it together. He used an old candle to wax the 5" screws I used to laboriously hand-crank the table top to the legs. When I asked where he learned this, he said simply "It's an old trick my Grandpappy taught me." Even though I had never heard of, much less seen a picture of Grandpappy, I knew some immeasurably valuable piece of family wisdom had just been given to me.

A year or so later we, my father, my brothers, Daddaw, and I, went on a fishing trip to Lake Insertname. Of course, as the teen-aged eldest brother and self-appointed heir to all things wonderful, the trophy of Mother Nature's annointed favorite would fall to me. After a day in a boat, sunburned and disillusioned, all of us, especially my puffed-up self, were left with nothing. On the way back to the dock, one fish was caught. By Daddaw. One single, perfect green and pink rainbow trout. Each scale was a shining nail into my ego, each speckled flash in the setting sun a reminder of Who Was King. Releasing the trout, Daddaw was splashed with pea-green water and the smell of mud, rot and life most real. "How did you catch it?" we asked. "I don't know," Daddaw said, washing his scarred hands in the lake water. "Just lucky, I guess." Chastised, we knew better.

He had always loved travel. Pi and Daddaw (they were invariably named together) had been everywhere, and he had the Kodachrome slides to prove it. On special occasions, Daddaw would pop "the corn," set up the screen, and carefully arrange the slide carousels. (We knew, and he knew we knew, that the carousels were collated with painstaking detail in advance, but none of us would acknowledge the secret.) Where we sat was up to us. Pi, by default, always got the most comfortable seat. The rest of us unfolded card table chairs, crowded the couch, or stretched on the floor. For the next few hours we were transported to Alaska, or Utah, or Israel, all narrated by Daddaw's soft monotone. We could recite the words. The "eskimo gal" he thought was the cat's pajamas, the uncoordinated farce of Pi riding a camel on her birthday, the 1960's theories of geologic strata creating the colors of mesas near Mexican Hat. In those slide shows I learned how much his heart loved the desert.

Daddaw was a quiet man, so the first great-grandson, my first child, came with few words from him. The event didn't need any, for Daddaw's eyes said more than any orator could. And for the first time, I read words he had written.

The second great-grandson bore Daddaw's name. Still few words, but his smile said more than Mona Lisa's.

The third great grandchild, a girl, brought misty eyes and no words at all, just quiet emotion. The memories of his first daughter, my children's grandmother, were written in every line of his face.

Others followed, but that is a story for another father to tell.

Pi slipped into senility. After 70 years of marriage, and for some reason we never understood, she talked about her beaus before she and Daddaw married. One of them, she said, had died recently. I smirked "Hey, Daddaw! Now you can make your move!" The silence that followed made me uncomfortable, but the low rumbling hawhawhaw let me know I had finally earned my place as a man.

Then Pi died.

In the visits that followed, Daddaw talked to me. Not as a grandson. Not as his daughter's child. He talked to me as one good man talks to another. We would be quiet, standing together, watching the geese and trees and pond at my mother's farm where he spent some of his last days. One day, without preamble, he said his favorite bird was the mourning dove. When I asked why, he said because he had always liked the sad song they sang at twilight. More, he did not say, but I knew there was more. I didn't ask, but stood by his side.

The last time I saw Daddaw he was in his bed. I had never, in my entire life, seen him other than upright, defying age and gravity and inconvenience and pain. When he spoke, it wasn't to me, but the window of his small bedroom. He was, simultaneously, bewildered and focused. He said he loved me. I hugged him and said take care old man i love you too. He chuckled and fell asleep. I knew he would die soon, but I wasn't sad. He was old. He had lived better than I could hope to. He had loved. Loved his wife, his family, his work, his world.

The quiet strong soul that was Daddaw slipped away shortly thereafter.

On a sunny weekend morning a few months ago, I was touring our little backyard gardens with my wife and visiting sister-in-law. We admired the spring flowers, the windchimes, the hummingbird feeders, the cacti.

"Oh, look!" said sister-in-law.

Perched on an iron hook, from which suspended a feeder of sunflower seed, was one perfect, sleek, beautiful mourning dove, eyeing us with no fear, fluffing his feathers, the golden morning sun glinting off his cheek patches.

This backyard, the province of a dumb eldest grandson, lives in the middle of the desert.

In this backyard are rocks thrown by my sons, for which I have yelled at them to stop. In this backyard crickets sing on warm summer nights. In this backyard is an above ground pool where my children have honed their swimming skills. In this backyard my wife and children and I have planned and built and painted projects of wood and brick and dirt. In this backyard are tomatoes that have grown green and red and sticky and warm and delicious.

In this backyard Daddaw says Hello.

Saturday, May 13

Where's My Damn Moon House?

I was reading a story in Asimov's Science Fiction this month, You Will Go to the Moon. It reminded me of one of my favorite childhood books of the same title. I hadn't thought about it in a long time. It inspired me to look it up online, whereupon I came upon this rare gem of a website documenting the best of 20th century spaceflight optimism. I found many books I recall from my boyhood, especially this beaut of an illustration from You Will Go to the Moon:

I remember turning the pages of this book with my first grade playground pals, oohing and aahing over the sheer coolness of it all, certain that one day we would be the grownup in the picture, proudly showing our fidgeting and impatient son the grandeur of our lunar ranch. Of course it was going to happen. After all, the book didn't say "Maybe we'll get there" or "Tommy dreams about space." No, it emphatically declared you will go to the moon!

Let's turn back the clock to a time somewhere between Sputnik and Neil Armstrong, to a time of infinite and attainable possibilities, to a time when promises were made to a wide-eyed man-child named Kingfisher.

Now, that's the stuff. No girls allowed. Space hiking with your buds. Tool belts with a gravity drill and solar windlass. Toss me a vacuum packed KoolAid, Joe! Stupid girls.

None of that sissy diplomacy for us, Boys! No Sir! Space is there to conquer! With bulldozers! And mechanical spiders!

As a member of Space Patrol, you don't just get a spacesuit. You get an Official Space Suit. As an added bonus, the lack of gravity causes your moon unit to swell and stretch the crotch!

No subways or station wagons for us. We get to buzz through the stratosphere on the way to work in our brand new Chevrolet XT-2100 Super Blaster!

Time for hard working spaceman's lunch. What? How am I going to get that baloney sandwich through the faceplate? Spaceman worries not about such trivial things! Puny Earthling.

Back to work. A reminder: It's MAN in space. You girls stay in Houston to take messages and make baloney sandwiches.

No job is too difficult if you've got your human to mosquito conversion suit.

It's not all work and no play. We've got Moon Tonka Trucks!

And a Galactic Hi-Fi Close'n'Play that launches bottle rockets!

Finally, it's back to Home Sweet Habitrail. If it's good enough for hamsters, it's good enough for Spaceman Steve!

* * * * *

Where are we today? Mars global surveyor is giving us glimpses of our planetary twin that are almost as good as Mapquest. Cassini-Huygens is sending back spectacular pictures from the Saturnian system, complete with icy seas, volcanoes, frozen deserts, and enigmas by the truckload. There's even the New Horizons project recently launched to Pluto. Older Voyager craft have already slipped away from Sol's warm embrace, destined for the infinite mystery and wonder of True Outer Space. Exciting stuff, to be sure, but where probes go, humans are supposed to follow. Instead, creaky shuttles are delivering Evian, freeze-dried ice cream, and $7,000 screwdrivers to the International Space Station. No jetpacks, no zap guns, no history-buff day trips to Mare Tranquillitatis.

By now I was supposed to live on the moon, work on Mars, and vacation on Triton, all with unbelievably cool spaceships and gee-whiz gadgets. (Although now I will gladly admit that space would be even more fun with girls along for the adventure.) Promises were made, dammit, and someone's gonna pay if they aren't kept soon. So listen up, NASA or Mitsubishi or whoever. BUILD ME MY DAMN MOON HOUSE.

And while you're at it, get cracking on my spiffy chaufferbot copterocket car.

Saturday, May 6

Real Love And Small Things

As is my sorta weekly habit, I was writing on my laptop at the local sports bar and watching whatever Saturday noontime game piqued my interest. It was the end of a bad week, and the e-mails I received heaped despair on misery. So I packed up the laptop, downed the beer, and went home earlier than usual. Before turning off the cell phone, I called my oldest son with instructions that his young man weekend was mine, and he would take care of things. Then I called Her.

"Can you come home?"

"Okay. I'll be there in a few minutes." I had interrupted her sorta weekly habit, but she knew I was upset by recent events. Goddess bless her. She walked into the bedroom about ten minutes later.

"You've got five minutes," I said. "Pack what you need. Me, I've got what's on my back and in my pockets. That's all." To my amazement, she threw a change of underwear in her bag and said "Let's go."

We hit the road.

"Where are we going?" she asked.

"I don't know," I said. "We could be in Laughlin or Kingman pretty quick. You choose." A moment's silence, and she said:

"Laughlin. But the river run is there this weekend."

We arrived an hour and a half later, thousands of Harleys BAROOOOOM-ing along the main drag of the small town overlooking the Colorado River. At my inquiry, she pointed at the Edgewater Hotel and Casino. With the serendipity of a trip unplanned, we found a parking space, acquired the last room they had, and within twenty minutes were strolling along the river with a Corona in our hands.

Neither one of us is much of a Harley fan. But we saw 20,547.3 million motorcycles. We saw a woman bare her tits and ass from the bow of a speedboat on the river, while everyone on shore hooted, hollered, and cracked up. I dropped a bottle of beer that sprayed and made me smell like a brewery becuase I didn't bring a change of clothes. We threw food pellets to carp the size of Volkswagens. We ate at a crappy buffet. We ambled among the tents of vendors catering to the motorcycle crowd. I bought, and reveled in smoking, a big aromatic cigar. She laughed at the bikini babe contest. She bought her father a motorcycle babe calendar. We saw a vendor attracting customers with bikini-clad pole dancers. She lost $60 on slot machines. We sat and watched the bikers strut their hogs along the main drag. We drove and toured the (original, no kidding) London Bridge at Lake Havasu. We had lunch in the sun with the slowest waitress this side of Jupiter. We watched ducks dive and cliff swallows flitting about their nests. We got drunk and screwed.

The time was ours. The memory is ours. The experience was another brick in the house we continually build together, adding, changing, demolishing, creating.

I will never tire of you laughing.

I will never tire of your hugs.

I will never tire of the marvel of watching you put on your bra.

I will never tire of buying you flowers for no reason.

I will never tire of our good-natured jokes and banter.

I will never tire of your warm woman wife smell.

Happy Anniversay, Sweets, the most golden and perfect heart I will ever know.

I love you.