My granddaughter was, back then, just a little girl, third grade maybe, but one Sunday morning, I remember, she was already starting to wax nostalgic.
Here’s what she said. “You remember when we still lived in the old house, and you used to walk me home on Sunday afternoons?”
Sure, I remembered. It had been a joy, but then so much about grandchildren is.
“Remember that?” she asked. “We’d walk in the grass and I’d find all those golf balls?”
Her grandmother and I would walk her back to her house, cross-lots, through the thick grass of a perfectly manicured field behind a college dorm.
“That was really fun,” she said.
That’s what she remembered. When she said it, I remember, I didn’t know exactly what to feel or say.
Years ago, we crossed that broad lawn, and once upon a time I found a golf ball. Some college kid must have pulled a 9-iron out of his bag and hit a few, then left one lie there or else simply lost it. My granddaughter was maybe a kindergartner then, easily charmed. That bright white golf ball picked out of long grass was like a totally unforeseen Christmas present. She loved it.
So, on a few subsequent walks home, her grandpa snuck down in the basement first, grabbed a golf ball, and set us both up for her joy. I know–it was a lie, but you can’t blame me. I was a new grandpa. We’d walk home–same route–and when she was chasing a monarch or watching robins, I’d flip another golf ball out where I knew she couldn’t miss it. Once again, those darling eyes would dance, and all the way home she’d hold on as if that ball were some precious jewel.
But she was older then, and those sweet little walks were in the scrapbook she’ was already piecing together in her memory. There it was, listed prominently in an abundant category titled “Sweet Things”: “the-times-Grandpa-and-Grandma-walked-me home-and-I found-all-those-golf-balls.”
The whole thing was a set up. Grandpa planted that joy. Those precious golf balls weren’t there by chance but by determined manipulation. There were no brilliantly white golf balls just lying out there randomly for kids to pick up, just as there is no Santa Claus, no Easter Bunny, and no free lunch. The Wizard of Oz is really just as funny-looking as the Emperor with no clothes.
In trying to be nice, her grandpa just set her up for a imminent fall.
So I tell her? I told myself she really ought to know the whole truth. I couldn’t have her go on thinking that just behind that sidewalk lies a harvest of Titleists?
Here’s what I was thinking right then: if I’d told her, it jolly well wouldn’t have mattered a whole lot anyway. If I’d taken her aside to tell her that Grandpa planted all that joy so that she’d find them, she probably wouldn’t even wince. She wouldn’t have turned cynical or swear never to speak to me again. Whenever she’d say, “Papa, I’m hungry,” I’d still scamper off for cookies. She was a kid after all, and her faith, as a child, is legendary. Jesus loved it.
Years have passed. Very soon, yet another little granddaughter should be appearing smack dab in the muddle of this vile pestilence all around. The POTUS claims deaths from the Coronavirus will peak next week at just the time this precious baby pins down a birthday. It’s amazing, but today a hospital is a dangerous place, says her grandpa.
We already know she’s a she, and we know her name–little Charlotte. Her bedroom awaits her. It looks comfy; a couple nights ago we were blessed with a video tour. She’ll love it, and she already has a little sister who’s two.
We’ll love her. We know that. Already do. Soon enough her darling face will show up in our kitchen on the little Google tele that plays pics of her sister 24/7. More than anything, I want her to ask me for cookies someday, just like her cousin did long ago. I still have a bag full of golf balls.
Dear God, keep Charlotte safe. And her mom. And her dad. Hold us all in your big loving hand.