The steps not taken | Chuck's World

 

Last updated 9/9/2020 at 12:06pm



There is something egalitarian about taking a tumble. I’m sure Queen Elizabeth has fallen a few times in her 94 years, losing a battle with gravity exactly as a commoner would, although possibly wearing more jewelry.

Everybody does it, at some time and in the same way.

So I don’t feel particularly special when it happens, although I’m always surprised. I spent some time in emergency departments for this very reason when I was younger. It seems to me that I should have filled out my ration card by now.

I fell on some stone steps at a castle, even. I was visiting Urquhart Castle in Scotland, on the banks of Loch Ness, just enjoying the scenery, when I went down the stairs with less than an upright posture. I was fine. A little humiliated.

We’ve all heard about the Ugly American, the rude, demanding, uncouth visitor from our side of the ocean (I saw a few in Scotland, in fact). Lesser known but just as common is the Clumsy American, and that would be me.

I’m not really clumsy. This is a myth perpetuated by family members who have nothing better to do than laugh and then help me up. And I don’t always need help. Sometimes I just stumble – sue me.

But it’s been a year since I last took a header of any significance, and the significance is somehow important to me today.

We’d traveled to Texas to visit family, including my grandson, as it had been a few months and we were trying to slip one more trip onto our final summer itinerary before it got busy again. It was early September and the sun was shining brightly, along with temperatures not seen this side of the Cascades in a while, if ever.


We headed inside the house, dark and cool, where the boy was waiting. I was wearing sunglasses, and that plus the transition from light to dark was all it took. There were two stone steps leading down to the living room, and in my eagerness to reach my grandson I pretended they didn’t exist.

The results were surprising, although not unexpected.

None of this matters. I took a step into midair like a cartoon character, although unlike Wile E. Coyote I didn’t linger there, suspended until I realized my predicament. I just went boom.

The boy’s eyes widened, as his excitement about visitors turned into a physics lesson. I don’t think he was all that displeased, actually. Grandpa did a little dance, my suitcase swinging wildly as I tried to overcorrect, it eventually cushioning my landing.


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I hopped back up, quicker than I might have, just to show everyone I was all right. I was. It was just a slip, a funny story to tell.

Here’s the thing: The story exists, now, in the mind of a 7-year-old boy. The other day, out of the blue, he said to me, “Do you remember when you fell down the stairs?”

My daughter said, and she was serious, that I should write a book about being a grandparent in the era of COVID-19, when it’s not possible (or at least advisable) for me to hop on a plane to travel those 1,800 miles.

I survive the way many of us do now, trying to build a relationship one pixel at a time.

It’s always been a challenge, though. I try to maintain a few long-distance relationships, helped along by technology, but that’s about sustaining, not establishing. These people knew me years ago, when we all lived on the same block and I always tripped over the same curb. I had to start with this kid from scratch.

It’s not like any of our memories are perfect. Part of the fun with social media (and there’s so little fun) is comparing our recollections, trying to determine details left to decay and degrade many years before. These are fun arguments to have, trying to figure out the past.

But I always knew I’d be in the memory business with this boy, given his developing brain. Those many visits when he was months old only, rocking him, singing stupid songs that apparently had resided in my brain since my own kids were little, are lost to him, aside from a few videos and photos he will never be interested in.


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I knew going in that I was, at best, constructing little nuggets of recall, reinforced every few months when I’d swoop in to visit for a week. He wouldn’t really remember, but maybe a little. I just had to wait until he grew up a bit.

And now we’re there.

“Do you remember when you fell down the stairs?” he asks, and now I know he will always remember me. Not for that – it’s just a sign that he’s beginning to retain memories of me.

We continue to exist, it’s said, until the last person who remembers us is gone. Maybe I should write that book, although it feels awfully human and unremarkable. In the midst of this mess, it just made my day that he laughed at the thought of me falling, that he remembered me from a year before, and that now I suspect he always will.

And then Robert Frost showed up:

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere, ages and ages hence:

Two steps arose in the dark, and I

I skipped them both, just flew right by

And that has made all the difference.

 

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