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Sometimes, on warm summer nights, we sat out on the porch, Gramps and I. We sipped iced tea as we stared up at the stars. It often felt as though we were waiting for something - a meteor to come crashing to earth, maybe. Nothing ever happened, though. We just sat there together, looking at the night sky.
Once in a while, we talked. Just the two of us, like friends would. Funny how I never thought of Gramps as a friend, even though he was probably the best friend I ever had. He really was a great man. Every time I saw him, he had something for me - a book, a coin, a piece of advice. I'd always ask him if he had any words of wisdom for me; he usually did. Gramps was a very wise man. To me, it seemed like he knew everything. He understood things, too. That was the best thing about him, he always understood.
Gramps used to tell me how life was back in the good old days. "This was a great nation once," he'd say. "Every man could dream of making it big." Together we'd lament the fact that so many people in the world were struggling to make ends meet - living from day to day without a thought for the future.
"Don't worry, Gramps. When I'm President, things will be better," I would assure him.
Gramps would just chuckle softly and say, "Honey, some things that are broken just can't be fixed. Spirit is one of those things. Once it's been broken, there isn't anything that can be done to restore it. That's the problem with the world today. It's suffering from a great big case of broken spirit."
He was right, you know. Everywhere I looked I saw people with vacant faces, methodically going about their business. They didn't look like happy people, but I couldn't really say they were unhappy. They seemed to be robots, moving from one task to the next without ever really thinking about what they were doing.
Once I saw a lady with three little kids in the supermarket. The lady was pushing her shopping cart up and down the aisles, stopping now and then to grab a box from a shell. Her children were having a wonderful time. In the produce section, the two younger ones chatted on banana phones while the eldest juggled with three shiny, red apples. Next, they played a game of touch football with a box of cereal. They were just rounding the corner to the meat counter when all three suddenly stopped. Then they sprinted over to the large tank containing live lobsters. Pressing their faces against the glass, the children gaped at the fascinating creatures.
The youngest, a girl of four, turned and tugged at her mother's sleeve. "Mommy, what are those?" she inquired, pointing to the strange animals in the tank.
"Lobsters," her mother answered.
"Oh," the little girl thought for a moment. "Can we get one?"
"What would you want a lobster for?" asked her mother impatiently.
"To play with," replied the child matter-of-factly, as if this were the most basic fact in the world.
"Sweetie, lobsters aren't for playing with. They're for eating." Upon hearing her mother's words, the girl began to weep. The lady tried to quiet her as she ushered the three children out of the store.
"The poor kid," I said to Gramps that evening as I told him the story. "Imagine how she felt when her mother told her that the cute critter she wanted for a pet would soon be on someone's dinner table."
Gramps sighed, then said, "I remember the first time I caught a fish big enough to keep. I brought it home to my mother and she cooked it up for dinner that night. I couldn't eat fish for quite some time after that." He paused to take a sip of iced tea. "I used to love going shopping with my mother," Gramps continued. "Mr. Piccardi, the grocer, would always give me a piece of penny candy. Those were the days."
The days of penny candy were gone, replaced by the era of the fifty-cent candy bar. I wondered how much a candy bar would cost when the children in the supermarket grew up.
"I hope those kids always enjoy grocery shopping," I said to Gramps.
"So do I, dear. So do I. But things change. Things change, children grow up, we get older, and there's nothing we can do about it." Gramps stood up slowly. Taking one last look at the blanket of stars above us, he picked up his empty glass and went into the house.
I sat there for a bit, just thinking, much as I am now. I didn't think Gramps could be right. I was sure that there had to be a way to keep things from changing. After all, change was so disrupting, so unsettling. There had to be a way to avoid it.
Now I realize that Gramps was right that night long ago. I wonder if, like me, he had tried to fight it. Had he tried to keep things the way they were, and finally saw that it couldn't be done? Perhaps he had always known, but for some reason I don't think so. His wisdom seemed to come from experience.
I sit alone now, on warm summer nights, drinking lemonade. Even though Gramps isn't here anymore, a part of him lives on. I learned a lot from Gramps. He taught me that things don't always go the way we want them to. Thanks to him, I have the ability to face the world, no matter how unpleasant it may seem. It is difficult sometimes, now that I have to do it by myself, but when I think of how Gramps would have done things, it becomes easier. 1