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Selected Podpieces


Taking Aim
My Companion and I had a visit this summer from our twelve-year-old grandson and his mother. He’s two inches taller than he was last year, he has braces, and he still wears his beautiful blond hair in a buzz cut, which might look fine on a military man but is not what I’d prefer to see on a grandson. However, until someone consults me on the style I prefer, I will hold my tongue.

He’s a reticent boy, which I guess is normal for a twelve year old person who only sees you once a year or so. But his reserve is compounded by his inheritance of reticence genes on both sides. His father is a quiet person of Austrian ancestry who also wears his hair very short and has been known to vote Republican. And on his mother’s side...well, I could go on long and volubly about my Companion’s reserved nature, monosyllabic replies, and apparent deafness even when wearing hearing enhancement devices in his ears, and his daughter is clearly an apple that fell very close to that tree.

But monosyllabicism is their family tradition, and I have become accustomed to it and don’t expect much in the way of lively discussion or insignificant chatter. I have learned to be content with grandsonly conversations like, “So, how was camp this year?”

Or, “Check out the baby catbirds in this nest in the Oakleaf hydrangea!”

Or “Would you like something to drink?”
“I’m good.”
At which I try not to reply sharply, “You mean, No thank you, Grandmother dear?”

I did have a successful conversation with him one evening when we were at my sister’s cottage for dinner. It was my birthday, so I had no responsibilities for the meal except to sit drinking on the deck waiting to be served, which I did. As I was swizzling a stick in my beverage, the grandson suddenly came charging out the door brandishing a rifle.

I took one look and cried, “My BB gun!”

“Yeah!” he cried. “I didn’t know you had a BB gun! Look, you carved your name on it!” And sure enough, there carved into the stock in scraggly letters was ALISON BAKER.

“Wow,” I said, taking it in my arms. “It was my dad’s when he was a boy. He took the barrel off so I wouldn’t put anyone’s eye out. I remember it was really hard to cock. I had to stand it butt first on the ground and lean on it.”

“Yeah, it is stiff,” said the grandson, taking it back and easily cocking it.

“So,” I said, “have you been hunting with your dad?”

And he launched into stories of hunting birds in Wisconsin, and the differences between hunting quail and hunting ducks, and yes, they eat them, but his first one they stuffed and it’s in his room, a wood duck, and no, he probably wouldn’t get to go deer hunting till he was fourteen or so.

All the while he’s swinging the gun around, cocking it and pulling the trigger for little nearly-inaudible pops, aiming at various inanimate things in the yard.

Watching him, I remember how much I liked holding that gun, swaggering around the yard feeling as manly as Marshall Dillon or Palladin. Or Bart, not Bret, Maverick.

“Does it bother you to kill things?” I asked as neutrally as I could.

“Nope,” he said. “Well, maybe the first time, but not any more.”

Just about then there was a knock at the front door, and in a moment my sister poked her head out the back and said to the grandson, “It’s for you.” I followed him inside.

It was a couple of girls from a nearby cottage who apparently had seen him handling his equipment in the yard. They had manufactured some Rice Krispy treats, and thought he might like one, which he would.

“Want to walk down to the beach?” said the one with green hair.

“Sure,” he said, and as the grownups watched in astonishment, they headed off down the road. Fortunately, none of us had the presence of mind to call, “Be back for supper!” We just went back to our drinks.

And he set out on that journey that no doubt will bring him to many more girls, and many more treats, along the way. He might want to work on his conversational skills a little, but I took it as a good sign that he had left our BB gun behind.

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