Thursday, February 05, 2009

Sign of the Times

By Rick Rantamaki

There are many signs posted along life’s twisted road, some warn of danger (such as: “Drunken Dad – Next 15 Years”, or “Lunatic Girlfriend Ahead”, or “Workplace Advancement Prohibited”), while others simply serve as milestones; marking the years as they blur by (like: “First Roller Coaster”, “Graduation Day”, “Got Married”, “Had Kids”, “Discovered TiVo”). Oftentimes, I’ve been too distracted to notice the significance of many of these signs (or inclined to deny their existence). Fortunately, though, reality loves to make sure there are some signs I just don't miss. Take last week, for instance…

An “old” friend of mine just became a proud new grandparent. Initially, I shared in the joy of the moment, after all, the miracle of life is certainly a joyous occasion. My enthusiasm, however, quickly subsided when I realized my friend, my younger friend, was now a grandparent. So, I surmised (after some frantic calculations), if my friend is a grandparent…then I’m old enough to be a grandparent.

How could this be?

I wasn’t even supposed to get anywhere near grandparent age. I was supposed to die young. How? I had no idea, but I sure spent my youth like I wouldn’t survive past 30, let alone 40. In fact, I once made a pact (long ago, during a late-night poker game), that if my friends ever found me mowing the lawn in front of a house with a white picket fence, a wife on the porch and kids running around the yard, they were authorized to put me out of my misery, on the spot, no questions asked. Does this sound like a request someone would make if they had plans on becoming a grandparent?

Besides, I’m not grandparent material. I’m not ready to parade around in over-sized plaid shorts, wing-tipped shoes, dark knee-high socks, and floral-print shirts. I don’t drive an Oldsmobile. I have no need for reading glasses. I don’t belong to one of those funny-hat-wearing lodges. I pay no attention to those overactive bladder commercials. My television doesn’t need a converter box. I don’t even use Ben Gay…heck, I still have the ability to smell Ben Gay.

Even while I was compiling my denial-defense, reality was already summoning a series of signs from my past. Little signs I noticed along the way, but really hadn’t bothered to piece together, like: my first gray hair…at the age of 20. The first time someone called me “sir”…and meant it. Having to explain to my son what a Big Wheel was. Having to explain to him what a cassette was, what floppy disks were, and the bionic man and woman (and yes, my explanation included the renowned “na-na-na-na-na-na-nah” sound effect).

Reality’s seemingly endless stream of signs continued: Seeing Sally Field in an osteoporosis commercial. When I first saw that Zaxby’s commercial and said, “Those grandmothers look remarkably familiar—aaaAAAHHH!! can’t be…EGAD!! What happened to Laverne and Shirley?” When I recognized Kathleen Turner as the senior, militant-type, dog trainer in the movie “Marley & Me”, then tried to convince myself it must’ve been a different Kathleen Turner who romanced the stone.

As the signs continued to pile up, reality brought in even more damaging evidence by replaying numerous sportscasts when the commentary inevitably turned to the subject of the veteran players in their waning years…players who are years younger than me and now considered “past their prime”. Enough already!

The evidence was irrefutable. I could deny it no more.

I slumped in my chair and thought about my long-since dearly departed grandparents...

Grandma in her woolen coat, silver-rimmed glasses, and a scarf pulled tight over her gray permed hair. She’s rooting through her change purse and rambling on about going to the grocery store. Grandpa stands silently beside her, wiping the grime from his hands after finishing the lawn.

A large black DeSoto coasts to a stop near the mailbox. Two elderly men struggle to hoist their shotguns through the car windows. The blasts from their barrels and the subsequent shattering of white pickets sends the birds scattering, but Grandpa doesn’t flinch.

Grandma turns and shouts, “Go on! Get out of here!” and shoos them off with her hands.

The DeSoto slowly accelerates away and, as the gravel crunching beneath its tires fades, Grandma says, “Why don’t you tell your Shriner buddies to stop that, Alfred? It’s the same thing, everyday for 42-years. They’re liable to hurt somebody.”

Grandpa looks at me blankly and says, “Ricky...choose your friends wisely.”

Reality illuminates the road sign ahead which reads, “Entering Eldersville – Home of the Hoveround – Population Dwindling”

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think this is my exit.

Copywrite 2009 Rick Rantamaki

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