Upon the birth of our grandchild, a menacing Beast emerges.
I.A child’s birth ushers into being a new, wondrous, and blessedly humbling era. Which my wife Kathy and I seem more consciously aware of as we celebrate the arrival of our first grandchild, Kathy Jane Knight-Gilbert. “We named her for two strong women,” our daughter announced from her hospital bed. Claire and David honored Kathy—surprise!—and his grandmother. Kathy Jane was born Monday, December 15. Adding to the merriment, within days she received a letter provisionally admitting her to my and Kathy’s place of employment, Otterbein University, Class of 2032.
And then a mysterious, ugly, and clearly wicked Creature appeared from the woods nearby.
Kathy Jane’s namesake spied the beast first. Just after first light, returning from a foraging expedition to WalMart, Granny Kathy saw “It” quartering across a clearing near the house. She telephoned me, but I was in the shower. So she snapped a few pictures with her iPhone and burst into the house. I got a quick glimpse of the beast before it disappeared into the woods.
“I think it’s a bear,” David declared, looking at the blurry photo. He’d seen a bruin crossing the road, a few miles away, the previous weekend.
“I think it’s a hog,” I opined, pointing to the rather long snout and rather skinny legs.
“WTF?” our son texted, on his way to us in old Virginia from his garret in California.
“It looks like what I saw go onto our neighbor’s deck,” David added.
“That sounds more like a bear,” I conceded. Picturing a hog climbing steps was difficult, throwing the weight of available evidence toward a bear.
Little did we know, Kathy and I would soon encounter the creature in broad daylight on a roadside hardly a stone’s throw away from the babe in her crib. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned this week from watching antediluvian sitcom reruns on antenna-only MeTV in the guest quarters, it’s that plot is a red herring.
Stuff happens when you throw a group of people together in a situation: in a hapless North Carolina mountain town; in a hotel at a sleepy mostly female railroad stop; on a ranch peopled solely by bachelors beside Lake Tahoe; on the New Mexico frontier, where a widower was uncommonly attached to his lever-action rifle. It’s basically the same stuff happening over and over; it’s the different players who lend interest and relevance.
Plot exits to reveal character. The question for us at the time, vis-a-vis the Creature, was, Is this a sitcom or a drama in which we find ourselves?
Actually the only question in my and Kathy’s minds as we held Little Kathy was, Who are you? Because there has never been a cuter or more inscrutable child. Her expressions range from Picasso pensive to Winston Churchill profound to Chaplin slapstick joyous. Since she is largely silent and sleeping, she’s ripe for projection.
“I want her to major in musical theatre at Otterbein,” I declared.
“You want to major in musical theatre at Otterbein,” Kathy corrected.
Fair enough. But I’ll have to reincarnate, because I can’t sing or dance. Whereas Little Kathy needs only: to receive lots of dance lessons from her parents; to inherit a voice from her father’s side of the family; and to take piano lessons to go with her long, elegant fingers.
Her mother raised an eyebrow. She herself had promptly quit dance lessons at a tender age, declaring, “I don’t want to be dancing a flower!” At that age Claire had bigger ambitions anyway: to become the first woman president.
“She can still become president,” I wheedled. “By then we will have had a female president, but not one who was a musical theatre major.”
“I’m not sure I want her going into politics,” Claire ruled.
“David,” I appealed to her father, “look at these fingers!”
To sing and dance your way through college, practicing art at a high level at age 18, what could be better? Plus she could minor in physics, write poetry, and be a fierce little soccer star too.
III.In WalMart, Kathy had spotted a man wearing a shirt emblazoned with “Someone special calls me Peepaw.”
For some reason, I had not anticipated being asked to pick my grandparent name. I thought you were Grandfather or Grandmother, and the kid butchered it into something pronounceable and cute.
While I dithered, Kathy had pounced. Referencing an Italian folk tale about a woman named Strega Nona she’d read to our kids, plus Claire’s first sentence and command to her mother—“No monie no!”—Kathy picked Nona.
Awakening a few mornings before we left for Virginia, my grandparent name floated into my cerebral cortex. Smokey Lonesome. He’s a character in the novel and movie Fried Green Tomatoes, though why I wanted to be named after an alcoholic hobo mystified everyone.
In the fullness of time, Little Kathy will learn old Moke’s literary provenance. And, being a brilliant musical theatre major, she will grasp that Smokey Lonesome, who got bashed on the noggin trying to protect Miss Ruth’s baby from evil, represented pure love.
So when Nona and Mokie saw the Creature lurking nigh yet again, Mokie braced himself for battle. Then they saw it was only a stray dog—ugly, oddly shaped, and furtive. But harmless. So they laughed.