Mar 22, 2023–One Wednesday every month I have a date with a special lady.
Since last fall, “Pearl” and I have programmed robots, designed circuits, studied bugs, and built structures. You see, Pearl is my 7-year-old granddaughter, and our dates are to the Science Mill in Johnson City for Home School Days.
We tell her the event is for her, but it’s really for me. There is something elemental about a skipped generation spending a day together. I never experienced it as a child. Our family was so large I can’t recall spending a day alone with either of my parents, let alone grandparents. By the time I came along, we literally had dozens of cousins. Some were already having kids of their own. I’m still not sure I’ve met all of them.
I remember one time my mom let Grandpa take my brother and me to a parade in their small hometown. Grandpa completely forgot about us. When he returned home alone, Mom had to come find us. Though we were sunburned and severely dehydrated, it was probably the best time we’d had in our lives up to that point.
For me and Pearl, the most interesting part of the day is the 45-minute drive over and back. There is something about sitting side by side, facing the same direction, that is conducive to intimate conversation. A kid that is shy about talking to you across the table or at a family get-together, somehow opens up when you are sitting next to each other in a car, or fishing, or riding a Ferris wheel. It’s like you’re talking to a shimmering image in the future, one with infinite patience, that only replies in silent asides.
While the Science Mill is an amazing destination–a story for another time–our day out is more about the events bookending the destination.
Once we have completed our sessions, we cast off in search of lunch. Finding a mutually suitable place to eat in Johnson City is becoming a challenge. Pearl summed it up best as we were trying to choose between burgers and other burgers: “Johnson City sure is a cute town, but there aren’t many places to eat.”
Before the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce comes down on me, consider these are the words of a 7-year-old, whose favorite cuisine runs from chicken tenders to chicken strips. Within a few trips we had exhausted all options on the poultry menu, and she was not keen to try barbecue, Thai, or Mexican, or any “artisanal” options.
After lunch, we try to take in a local tourist or educational stop. As you can deduce from its name, Johnson City offers a lot of educational stops featuring a certain president. As a result, Pearl has become a prodigy in the presidency of Lyndon Baines Johnson. We’ve visited his birthplace, the LBJ Ranch, visitor center, museum, the Saur-Beckman Farm, airplane, herd of Herefords (at her request), and (also at her request) burial site. The other day we hiked the Nature Trail at Lady Bird Park in Fredericksburg, where she paused and observed, “The Johnsons sure did a lot of things around here.”
This column has no moral; it barely has a point, and it’s not about fishing for “Greatest Grandpa” T-shirt. It’s just about an old fellow spending one uncluttered half-day a month with a kid. And though I pretend it’s for her, it’s not. It’s really for me.