A boy shares his thoughts, dreams and fears with his grandfather.
“Grandpa, will you go for a walk with me in the morning?” The words came suddenly from the back of the car, breaking the tired silence as we travelled relentlessly homeward in the gathering storm clouds. It was yet one more black and rainy day of our fall vacation, visiting with our son and his family in the Maritimes.
My grandson’s question was a ray of sunshine through the gloom. “Sure, I’d love to, Chris,” I replied. In truth, I felt proud to accept.
We’d spent much of our vacation renewing our relationship with grandchildren Mary and Christopher. We hadn’t seen them for a while, so we noticed big changes. What struck us most was that, while Mary had bloomed into a chatty, confident eight-year-old, Chris had faded into a quiet, withdrawn pre-teen already exhibiting the first signs of sullen, hormone-driven belligerence towards authority.
Despite this, Chris and I had quickly renewed our casual, easy link and naturally seemed to gravitate towards doing things together – looking for snakes in the bush (“Wow, look at this garter; it must be three feet long!”), checking for fossil rocks at the disused quarry, creating family quizzes. Chris even took me to his bedroom to share his treasures and keepsakes (“won that pennant on the swim team; painted this pottery myself.”). But now we were on our way back from our last family outing before leaving for home the next afternoon.
The next day dawned bright, and the early sunlight filtered magically through the trees as Chris thumped around in the hall closet, looking for his habitual red baseball cap and shucking his feet into battered old sneakers without undoing the laces. “You ready, Grandpa?” he asked, then yelled, “Mom, we’re taking Major, OK?” before grabbing the dog’s lead and crashing the screen door back on its hinges as he went looking for his pet in the yard without waiting for the answer to either question.
Chris and Major had grown up together almost from birth and it was easy to see the total understanding they had for each other. Chris clipped the lead, then looped it through Major’s mouth. The golden retriever bit gently down on it and looked up adoringly at Chris for the command to move off. “I taught Major to carry the lead like this,” explained Chris. “That way, he thinks he’s taking you for a walk and he’ll stay with you.” Giving the dog a quick, affectionate ruffle of the ears, Chris cracked me a gap-toothed grin. “Neat trick, eh?”
We hadn’t gone far down the road before Chris told me he was starting junior high at a new school in a few weeks. “Nervous?” I asked.
“Most of my friends are going to another school, so I’ll be a bit lonely,” Chris lamented. “New teachers, new subjects – it’s all a bit scary.” I told him about my first-day-at-school experiences and how I was so frightened I’d once actually tried to run away. We were soon both laughing in the glinting sunshine. As we wandered on slowly among the giant, rustling maples, we chatted easily about the terrible weather, the spicy tacos we’d shared a few days before, his favourite sports – karate and swimming, a visit to the vet with Major, post-school plans and many other things.
“Do you think this could have a fossil in it, Grandpa?” Chris pulled a muddy rock from the loose earth bank beside the country road while we waited for Major to sniff at a new scent. I’d earlier shown Chris how to split open rocks and we’d actually found a fossil in one, really sparking his interest. “Think I’ll take it home and check,” he said as I nodded in agreement. “Oh, yeah,” he added. “I found a couple of good websites on fossils, lots of information.”
We continued our stroll, lost in a private world, and, as we climbed the last hill homeward, I was amazed to see from my watch that we’d been out for two hours.
It had been a very full vacation but, for me, that walk was the high point. Just a boy and his dog out alone with his grandfather, but more than that. The walk cemented the renewal of our special relationship. My grandson had chosen me to share in his intimate personal thoughts, brightest dreams and lowest fears. It was a too-short experience that left me deeply touched and more than a little honoured. Thanks, Chris.