Jewish World Review Oct 27, 2011 / 29 Tishrei, 5772
A new grandfather's coming-of-age story
By Reg Henry
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Profound moments of insight would seem better suited to a majestic setting -- a beach sunset, a mountain peak, a deep canyon, a medieval cathedral. But as someone dogged by absurdity, my recent epiphany came in a night noodle market at Hyde Park, Sydney.
My wife and I had flown to Australia to meet our first grandchild, Matilda Grace Gilpin, known as Tillie. We were delighted to discover that she is like a little mouse and her small talk mostly consists of little squeaks, although her squeaks become squawks at dinner time, just like her grandfather, if I might proudly say.
As you know, the job of babies is to eat and be cute, and Tillie has already mastered the basics in her first month of life. Indeed, so much grandparent-instigated cuddling went on that by the end of two weeks we had not seen too much of greater Sydney, but instead the area dedicated to burping and diaper changing.
So Tillie's mother, my daughter Allison, and father, Critter, decided on our last night to take us to the heart of Sydney to the night noodle markets, a popular annual event.
We found dozens of Asian food stalls set up in the park together with several bars -- because those noodles can make a person parched, and in Australia being parched is considered just about the worst thing that could happen to a person. Hundreds of people were noshing and drinking to avoid such a catastrophe. Young adult people, to be precise.
What strikes the visitor to this beautiful harbor city is how young everybody is. Who knows where the older people have gone -- perhaps they have been sent to wrinkle re-education camps in some more staid city such as Melbourne.
The national anthem of Australia, "Advance Australia Fair," actually starts out with these words: "Australians all let us rejoice / For we are young and free" -- and indeed nearly all the rejoicing at the noodle markets was done by the young. They were joyfully sitting at tables or on the ground.
As I walked through this youthful happy throng of Sydney-siders, I feared that someone might come up and ask if I had known any of the pharaohs personally -- not a good feeling for someone who has resisted the idea of being old.
Usually, if asked by a barber if I am retired and entitled to a senior discount, I always make a point of saying that I am not -- if I look ancient it's only because I've had a lot of worry (which you would too if you worked in the newspaper industry).
Recently, a reader of my blog accused me of being old and out of touch, and I took great offense. How dare someone call me old (that I am out of touch, of course, is not in serious dispute).
So, feeling conspicuously gray that night as I looked for a vacant table for our little family, I suddenly came face to face with apparently the only other person in the park about my own age. He said: "I've been waiting here for some older person to walk by." He then pointed to his wife. "We're leaving and she's saving a table for someone older, because the young people already have their own tables."
Well, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Sure, it was very nice to be given a table by such a thoughtful Aussie. Sir, if you are reading this, I am sorry I did not thank you enough. In the rush, I didn't even have time to say I have had a lot of worry.
I just wish I hadn't got the epiphany with the table. There was no doubting its message: Reg, you really are an old fellah, at least for noodle-consuming purposes. You are a grandfather, for goodness sakes!
Why, if Tillie gets married at 25, young by today's standards, I'll be 88 and sitting in the corner saying, "These young folks don't do the chicken dance like they used to."
And what a grandfather needs for such future times is a special affectionate name to note the gravity of his decrepitude. For my tastes, it can't be too silly (Dadoo), can't be too undignified (Geezer Guy), too formal or precise (Ancient One) or even too suggestive (Gramps, sounds like grumps).
No, it must convey love but be simple to say. I think Papa works for me. Even before the epiphany, I was saying to Tillie "Papa's here" -- this to make her familiar with me and to pre-empt her other grandfather.
But Tillie is there and Papa is here, and that fact is freighted with sadness. I'll have to use my noodle to think what can be done.
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© 2011, SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE
© 2011, SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE