Rendered Fat Content


Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes:
Old man on a swing (1825/27)

" … You'll get grumpy, too."

I was not yet an old man when my grandson Roman was born. At sixty, my lifestyle had not appreciably changed in twenty years. Some enjoyed extended adolescence, while I extended my Middle Ages. Oh, I'd seen plenty of changes—two divorces and two marriages—over those twenty years, the heights of success and the depths of failure. I wouldn't want to suggest that my life hadn't been just as much a roller coaster as yours, but still, I had enjoyed good health, if not significant wealth, and great, if not necessarily sustaining success. I had managed to greet sixty with most of my optimism intact, and it was with pride as well as joy that I welcomed my grandson into this world. I introduced myself to him as "Grumps," his grumpy grandpa, a joke, intending irony. As everyone employing irony learns, irony eventually turns on its users. I grew Grumpier each year as my old age finally started overtaking me.

I was not on hand when he was born.
Still in exile, I had to fly in from the wrong coast to celebrate his arrival. This act started the pattern of Just Visiting on his birthday, arriving either just in time or a little tardy to witness the changes the prior year had wrought. He inexorably grew, renaming me his "Poopy Grandpa" by the time he was three. I still answer to Grumpy, but I feel more humbled in his presence. When he was born, I fantasized that I might one day become his font of wisdom, patriarch of his family, and offer him more than irony. Though our exile ended, a long drive still separates us, and we manage no more than three or four short visits each year. Some summers, he's able to visit for a scant couple of days. Circumstances have conspired to keep old Grumps away.

I create a new bag poem on his birthday, a tradition that started around his second or third one when The Muse and I were staying in a hotel and I needed paper upon which to transcribe his birthday poem. I repurposed a Whole Foods® bag, and a tradition was born. The poems wend their way around the advertising and feature arrows pointing to the following sections. I almost always have had to resort to using both sides. I intend those silly poems to be serious. They amount to the wisdom I originally envisioned myself providing as I aged. My grandson and I do share one somewhat surprising perspective. Neither of us knows what's going to happen next. I might forever be sixty years his senior, but those decades have left me no more familiar with what's coming next than I ever was, even at his tenderest age. So much for wisdom, I guess. It's more or less pure speculation, regardless of the age of anyone dispensing it. This alone justifies a level of grumpiness from its purveyor.

This year, Grumps was absent on the sacred day. He could not get away for even a quick visit, though he did create a poem in lieu of his presence, perhaps a better deal for the birthday boy, though that thought leaves me grumpy. At seventy-two now, cynicism has still not trapped me. In that latest poem, I insisted that my grandson is The Luckiest Person In The World, then tried to demonstrate my statement's absolute truth. I introduced The Sacred As-If, the perspective that tends to make up much of the difference between those who seem preternaturally lucky and the more unfortunate. Lucky does not mean, I insisted, that one never loses. It doesn't prevent failure. It tends to forstall crashing AND burning, though I mentioned that he might limp away from any impact crater. Lucky provides additional chances to fail or succeed. It guarantees endless second chances. Those who do not consider themselves The Luckiest Person In The World tend to surrender before mastering.

I will transcribe this wisdom onto a paper bag and deliver it the next time I pass. I didn't wish for a drive-by relationship with anybody, but not even I can manage to be in two places at once, not even The Luckiest Grumps In The World. Grumps figures he lives in Heaven or close enough for the sort of work in which he engages. He deals almost exclusively in back-handed wisdom. His old age seems to be finally catching up with him, judging by the volume of prescriptions he takes and the doctor visits he makes. He's still maintaining some semblance of a lifestyle and no longer in exile. If he's occasionally grumpy, please understand that he's happy. His grumpiness was always a paper tiger, constructed out of leftover grocery bags, and never intended to scare off any inquiring grandchild. I'm old and deserve my grumpiness. You're young, but irony and time will dispense with that advantage. You'll get grumpy, too.

©2024 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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