The spring breeze picks up, fluttering the fronds of the areca palms, as we turn the corner of our suburban street. We are heading south now, away from the dying sun that had forced our eyes to squint into slits.
Kyla, one of my granddaughters, and I are walking my dog. She must, absolutely must keep the leash and she does this with a ceremonious air, as if entrusted with an important job. With her free hand she holds mine. Though she’s almost 5 and she has long, tapered fingers for her age, her hand rests easily in my palm: a perfect fit.
Grandparents know that sensation well, that complete and absolute awareness of a special moment that will endure long after time has moved on. They experience it with two generations, during two very different phases of their lives. I’ve known both stages well and early.
As my friends’ children followed the trend of marrying late and providing grandchildren later, my three older ones appeared to be on a different race track. College, check. Marriage, check. Kids, check. I still had children of my own at home when the next group of cribs, diapers and worries came along. My high school kids didn’t want to hold hands anymore, though. They had girlfriends for that.
“We’re not walking far this time,” I warn her, hoping to prevent the protests and laments that are sure to follow when she realizes I’ve shortened the route. “Remember, I’m sick.”
She doesn’t complain. She knows she’s visiting on the final leg of my short bout with bronchitis, sinusitis and a 102-degree fever that knocked me silly for two days. Undaunted, she prattles on.
“Here is where you showed us the dead frog.” I did.
And: “This is where that big dog barks mean.” It does.
And: “White Sox is getting real old.” She is, indeed.
Our dog got her name from her white paws. For years her fur was the black of midnight, interrupted by lightning white on the inside of her plumed tail and her long muzzle. But lately the gray has been creeping out and up and around. She doesn’t run in circles anymore. She likes to sleep for hours in the afternoon, too. We think she’s going deaf, and her eyesight… well, who knows.
Kyla has noticed. In fact, so have her cousins. It’s a topic of great interest to the girls. But today Kyla seems preoccupied with the subject. How old is White Sox? Is she going to die? How long do dogs live anyway?
Suddenly she stops short, yanking the dog, the old dog, backward. Her hazel eyes blink hard at me. She opens her mouth, closes it, then begins again:
“Don’t worry, ‘Buela. I’m going to take care of you.’” A solemn pause. "I’m going to take care of Zi, too.”
"I know you will, Ky." And I mean it.
When we return home, I recount the conversation to my daughter and my husband, who the girls have named Zi (kidspeak gobbledygook for Zayde, grandfather in Yiddish). I tease him about his white beard. I joke about his bald spot. I laugh at his old man Crocs. Almost seven years younger, I savor being a spring chicken.
During this time Kyla has been darting about the room, playing first with a plastic shopping cart, then a long empty cardboard roll waiting to be recycled but being used as a fairy wand for now. But she stops and topples next to me on the sofa.
“Stop, ‘Buela, no,’” she says sternly. “Zi is handsome.”
We crack up. I know this moment will live even when we’re gone.