November 13, 2013

Mark Millican: Trying to keep up with the youngest generation

— You hate to waste a brisk fall day by staying indoors, so on a recent afternoon off from work I went and picked up my grandson Elijah. He and Pop had some chores to do — which included a lot of fun written into the list.

Our first stop was the church fellowship hall, where we carried some desserts the ladies had made out of the fridge and loaded them into the truck. Our destination was the Mountain Top Boys Group Home in Snake Creek Gap between Villanow and Sugar Valley, a pass in the mountains that was part of regional Civil War history, namely Sherman’s March to the Sea. The home was hosting a weekend appreciation luncheon for supporters that we would be unable to attend.

While there, Elijah made quick friends with two large boy-familiar dogs, then we headed back to Villanow and stopped at a crane construction business owned by another church member and his son. We got to see the huge crane engines being “fixed” in their shop. Elijah (who will be 3 come January) understands this language: when he breaks one of his toys he always brings it to me and says, “Fik it, Pop!”

Another big friendly dog made the scene, the same one who was on their property the Sunday afternoon we baptized a teenage girl in a farm pond there back in the summer, so Elijah remembered him.

We also visited the owner’s wife, who had been sick, at their home next door. It was there we ran into Simba, an old and ill-mannered yellow cat who meowed menacingly and bared his teeth and hissed as if to bite.

We steered clear of that “mean cat” Simba.

Then it was on to the train depot in Dalton, where as soon as I unbuckled his car seat, we heard a horn in the distance. Pop the Train Whisperer came through once again, and we clambered up the steps to the train-watching platform.

Observing Elijah get such joy out of seeing a noisy, diesel-smelling train rolling down the tracks made Pop reflect: this is the beauty of grandparenting young children that I am sure non-grandparents just don’t get. At least, I never could understand it before the last four years. But for a while, at least, you see the world as they do — the same way you once did decades ago — and you’re their age again.

Next stop was Civitan Park, where I pretended I couldn’t catch him as he outran me around one side of the lengthy walking/jogging track. The other side bordered a stream coming out of the mountains, so this is where we caught our breath and found rocks and nuts for him to throw into the water — a whole lot of rocks and nuts, some I had to dig out of the dry ground with my fingers.

After a little time on the playground equipment, I had to talk him into leaving to meet Gran for supper, telling him there would be another playground at the restaurant. He finally relented and after the meal with Gran and Elijah’s mom Elizabeth and his little brother Samuel, we ventured outside to the play area.

Fortunately, there was another boy already there who told me he would help Elijah climb up the platforms to the top one at a time. I thanked the lad profusely. The other boy’s younger brother and sister were there also, so altogether the clamor in the enclosed playground area was enough to make one believe fighter planes had just started to dive-bomb your position.

But then the older boy left, and after Elijah came down the slide, he had to have help climbing back up this tower of platforms. Oh, boy. Not only was I out of breath by the time I pushed him and pulled myself to the top of this “not adult friendly” contrivance that looked like a firefighter’s obstacle course, but my knees were screaming from their time on the hard plastic.

Couldn’t they make these things a little more kinder for adults, as in ... softer?

From the ground I had spied him from time to time through the plexiglass windows up top, and thought the slide was right there by the tower platform. But oh, no. When I got up there it appeared I had become entrapped in a Byzantine maze, so I had to go crawling on all fours — Ouch! — looking for an exit.

Elijah took off on the slide, hit bottom and hollered, “C’mon, Pop!” Oh, brother, I didn’t know about this. But the only alternative was to go back down that tower and face imminent knee replacement surgery.

I crammed myself into the corkscrew slide tunnel and pushed off — but didn’t go anywhere. One would think a hard plastic slide inclined downward and 200-plus pounds of body mass would lead to Mr. Gravity taking over. But noooo, Pop had to keep moving like a crab using his hands and feet to get down this monstrosity obviously created for lab rats, fearing all along I’d get stuck on the way down and EMTs would have to come cut me out with the jaws of life. I was again out of breath by the time I thankfully — but slightly claustrophobically — reached the bottom.

I suggested an ice cream sundae for recuperation, and Elijah was all for that. Back inside, I thanked his mother for the afternoon of fun and assured her all the activity would make the boy drop right off to sleep when he got home.

Pop sure did.