I recently bowed out and took refuge at my maternal grandparents’ charming abode in a retirement village for something of a writing sabbatical and a much-needed escape from Big City Life. And I have to confess that up until now, a part of me had begun to lament the current state of my grandfather, just having made it to 82 years of age. Fit as a fiddle health wise (or as best you can be at 82!), but with signs of dementia setting in. He seemed no longer the philosopher I once knew, the man who would ponder and discuss with me at length the meaning of life and with it, a spiritual life. Our discussions would go on for what felt like an eternity, hours and minutes forgotten, on long hikes, or beach strolls, or in the garden while my Nana busied herself with lunch preparations or whatever task was at hand. Busy bee that she always is.
But something struck me on this last visit.
My Papa has simply been blessed with the chance at a second childhood, though it may come with its own fair share of difficulties. I know this in my heart to be true because in him I see my own reflection, in the wonder with which him and I cannot help but fall in love with this world for all its mysterious beauty.
Finally, well into my thirties, I’ve returned to my love of nature and can merrily watch birds at work and at play for hours on end, and in this, my Papa is no different, calling me to come and look with every bird that graces their fair garden or sits atop a neighbour’s roof. On my grandparents’ dining room cabinet, you’ll find an upturned golf tee with one of my Nana’s fake plastic grapes stuck atop the spiked end. And on my bookshelf, you’ll find a broken miniature toy dinosaur, his top half rising forth from a candle holder shaped like a lotus flower. (Well you would’ve. I’ve gifted him since to a friend who I know will take good care of my little legless friend. I know there’ll be more broken toys in need of rescue in my days to come.)
Sometimes my Papa goes off walking around their complex, for the gardens there are quite lovely and lush. He returns home with little trinkets, flowers picked from here and there, that he places wherever he can, around the home, like little secret surprises for you to find. And I myself have a similar habit of picking up lost children’s playing cards or broken shards of tile or mirror on my walks around my own neighbourhood, things I bring home as tokens of the day for my happy little space.
And so it dawned on me, for all I thought our connection was lost, between my Papa and me, that in other ways it remains as strong as it ever was.
Perhaps in many ways, from birth, that was my gift to my grandfather. While he was teaching me how to be wise (and oh, what a way I’ve got to go!), his first grandchild was teaching him to delight in the imaginary of an innocent. Tucking me in at night, as he did, and reading to me the Adventures of Mrs Pepperpot, or marvelling at the little books I’d make myself and proudly show him… And now, it would appear that the roles are a little reversed, for it is I who reads to him from children’s collections, and marvels with him at the delightful visit of a curious wagtail, or the majesty of a swallow in flight. So instead, methinks, maybe, just maybe, he has not aged a day in mind and soul, but returned, though his body may be ailing him in the inevitable end.
As Mark Twain once said, “Whatever a man’s age, he can reduce it several years by putting a bright flower in the button-hole.” A wise man, that Mark Twain. Best I take heart, before I let the Bah-Humbugs of the world taint my rose-tinted glasses. For you see, there can be no harm in being naive… In hoping for the best in others… In looking upon nature’s bounty with wonder and awe… It is perhaps sometimes a tad unfashionable. But fashions come and go. I for one, would rather have a chance, like my Papa, at a second childhood. And there’s no time like the present. Ah, Papa, you are still the philosopher I always knew you were.
Feature image: art cover for The Magic Pencil