I do not know what people remember from when they were four. I myself recall virtually nothing, other than two stories about my Dad, who passed away when I was six.
One of them involved a commuter train trip we took together to nearby Hamilton, Ontario. The other memory involved my mother’s sending me outside in the winter to get some fresh air and my father turning the TV around so I could watch my favorite programs through the window.
Other than that, it’s a blank.
Which leads me to wonder what my now four year-old grandson (Step-grandson but who’s counting?) will remember about me?
(It sometimes saddens me that, especially if your grandchildren come late, their enduring perception of you is this creaky old man with diminishing energy. I used to be this vital and exuberant crank!)
I have this strategy for having grandson Milo remember me that I am not at all certain will be effective:
I repeat things over and over, hopefully deepening the engram grooves in Milo’s “Memory Bank”, thus enhancing these experiences’ chances of not ephemerally slipping away.
There are drummed-into-his-head catchphrases like:
“I love this boy, and I don’t care who knows it!”
Set-ups for cherished “inside” jokes, like me asking him,
“Have you ever had popcorn?”
(It is apparently unsafe for little children to eat popcorn. The first time I heard Milo had not tried any, I slapped my forehead dramatically and said, “I can’t believe it! You’ve never had popcorn?” Having turned four, Milo is now permitted to eat popcorn. But we repeated the “Popcorn Routine” for interminably. And it always tickled him to death. Especially the “head slap.”)
Milo’s presence leads me to compose improvised ditties, especially when there are important lessons to be learned.
Hence, the catchy – and endlessly repeated –
“Don’t poop in the pool
It’s not really cool.
There’s only one rule:
Don’t poop in the pool.”
And the hygienically related (cribbed from a restaurant bathroom notice, sung in a lilting South American tempo):
“Laven sus manos (Spanish for “Wash your hands.”)
Laven sus manos
Laven sus manos today.
Laven sus manos
Laven sus manos
Don’t pee and just walk away.”
(Complete lyrics available on request.)
I want him to remember these things. No. I want him to remember me. And the things that I liked to do.
And so, late Tuesday afternoon, when Milo and Dr. M were heading for the garage to drive him home after his weekly after-school visit – Dr. M’s car is equipped with a “Baby Seat”, which children today are confined to until their Bar Mitzvah – I was inspired to call Milo back so I could show him the sunset.
I have always liked sunsets. That’s not exactly correct. There was a girl I liked who liked sunsets, and so:
“I liked the girl.”
“The girl liked sunsets.”
“I liked sunsets.”
Something of that syllogistical nature.
At some point – the girl now long gone – I began to enjoy sunsets without the ulterior motive, appreciating their splendor wherever I was. I watched sunsets in Hawaii. I observed fiery sunsets in Kenya. I saw the sun drop behind minarets in Istanbul.
Always a humbling and reverberating experience.
From a TV writing standpoint, I wrote one of my most heartfelt episodes for The Mary Tyler Moore Show entitled “Ted’s Change of Heart”, which concluded with the entire “Mary” cast of regulars standing transfixed at a window, appreciating the Minneapolis sunset. That script garnered me both an Emmy nomination and The Humanitas Prize.
So when I asked Milo to stand beside me,
I was sharing an experience I sincerely cared about.
There we were, grandpa (although I am called “Pappy”) and grandson, witnessing the everyday wonder of the descending sun. Which you can catch in vivid clarity when you are living by the ocean.
It is truly magnificent:
A fiery disc slipping slowly behind a boundaryless horizon.
On the Friday evening that flew off to California, departing Toronto forever, a dinner guest, my Great-Uncle Benny, lifted a wine glass in my honor and proclaimed,
“Here’s hoping you miss us.”
I have never forgotten that.
But I was not four when he said it.
While Milo remember we watched the sunset together?
But we will continue to do so.
To boost the chances that he might.