A game even grandfathers can play


Boys are different.

Somehow, as a grandfather, I had forgotten that.

Ted, his wife Erica and their twin daughters live in North Kingstown, so I get to see them often. It’s always fun to learn what’s going on in school and what they like and don’t like. They’re still into dolls – Ugly Dolls. I can’t understand the attraction, although I prefer them to Barbie and the fixation with stylish clothing, hair and the like. Ugly Dolls are just that. There’s no pretense, no accessories, just weird shaped stuffed terrycloth creatures with equally odd names.

Alex and Sydney can name them all.

Ugly Dolls aren’t a boy thing, though.

Next, in terms of proximity, are my daughter Diana and her husband Scott and their daughter Natalie. They don’t exactly live a half-hour drive away, although, with a six-hour flight – they live in Jackson, Wyo. – they’re a lot closer than my eldest son Jack and his family.

Jack, Jen and their children Lucy and Eddie made the trip east from Vietnam to Chicago this Christmas. So, although only for a long weekend, we flew to Chicago. Diana and Natalie also made the trip from Jackson.

Lucy is 9 and her brother, Eddie, is 7.

One of the best things this Christmas was shopping for Eddie.

I knew what I wanted and, naturally, made the assumption it would be what he would like. Grandfathers understand grandsons. It’s that simple.

My gift had to be challenging, intriguing and something we could do together. There was only one gift that fit the description in my estimation – a radio-controlled helicopter. That surely would not only captivate Eddie, but also his father. I was certain of it.

There was a problem, however.

Every other grandfather must have thought of helicopters. Benny’s was sold out of them, so I went to Radio Shack.

Radio Shack has eight to 10 models; from the one that can be controlled by a smart phone, has a homing device and carries a video cam, to the $30 indoor-only model. From a store circular, the outdoor copter looked like the next best thing to a personal drone, which Vietnamese customs would probably confiscate.

“Sorry, we’re out of that one,” the sales clerk said when she noticed I was lingering on that page.

“What about the indoor model?”

“Well, those have been really popular this season. We should be getting a shipment by the end of the week.”

I went down the line. There wasn’t a helicopter in the store. The clerk made calls to other stores. The story was the same everywhere.

The clerk picked up a control device, and a very red Porsche shot out from behind the counter and across the floor.

“We’ve got these,” she said.

I was sold, although I would have preferred the helicopter.

There was an awkward pause.

“Well, we did have the Porsche ... We’ve got a Mercedes,” she said. It was the last one, so I didn’t fuss.

Eddie thought the Mercedes was OK, but it really needed a hard floor to show its stuff. The carpet was a bit of a drag and after a couple of spins around the Christmas tree, it was ready to go back in the box.

I was beginning to wish finding a present for Eddie was as easy as getting an Ugly Doll for the twins but we did do some fun things in Chicago. The gang of us invaded Yoke restaurant for Saturday breakfast, with all of us passing around the pancakes and bowls of berries. Berries are hard to come by in Vietnam, so Eddie and Lucy piled on the blueberries, strawberries and blackberries. We went to the Field Museum of Natural History, watched “Titans of the Ice Age,” a 3-D show about wooly mammoths. We explored an Egyptian burial chamber and stared in awe at the skeleton of Sue, the tyrannosaurus rex, who is the signature lobby exhibit. We could have spent a week in the place and not seen it all.

That night, we decided to take in “zoo lights,” when the trees in and around the zoo at Lincoln Park are brightly lit. It was cold and we braced ourselves against the wind, clustered and with heads down as we headed for the zoo, which was a good six blocks away. Eddie had a cap pulled down over his ears and he wore a heavy parka and oversized gloves that made him look like a miniature version of the Michelin man.

As our huddle crossed one street and steered in the direction of the zoo, I realized Eddie was missing. I looked back and saw him kicking a snow mound between the sidewalk and the street. Granddaughters may do that, but they wouldn't be so intent as to have everyone walk off.

I stopped to watch. The rest of the gang walked on. I don’t think they missed me or Eddie.

Soon Eddie had what he was after, a chunk of iced snow about the size of a soccer ball. He began kicking it down the sidewalk.

This I understood.

As the Michelin boy ran and kicked, the chunk diminished with each blow. By the time he reached me, it was no bigger than a hockey puck.

Nothing was said. We knew what we had to do. Both of us took turns kicking at the nearest snow mound until we had another chunk. Eddie raced ahead for a pass, and then I charged past him for his pass. The game went for three blocks before I was winded.

Eddie caught up and grabbed my hand.

“That was fun, Peppy.”

I spotted the ice-snow ball and so did Eddie.

But before I could reach it, Eddie jumped on it, sending ice skittering across the sidewalk.

“Let’s go,” he said.

It was time to catch up with the others.


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