14

It was another exciting baseball week as Gabe’s team absolutely dismantled the last remaining undefeated team. We took the boys to the Sonic Drive-in down the street from the ball field and treated them to Slushies – not just “regular” ones, but, because they had exceeded the predetermined stolen base count or something, extra large ones. You’d have thought they won the lottery – at least until they started trying to drink. It’s awfully funny to see the swoon a four-foot-four 9-year-old develops when he gets about 22 ounces through a 44 ounce watermelon Slushy. A couple of the bigger kids had a race to see who could finish theirs first. Seven “brain freezes” later, Gabe proudly proclaimed himself the winner. Goober!

Sometimes less is more. The struggle the boys had with their Slushies reminded me of the infamous time Grandpa Hart “treated” Damon and me to Tastee Freez. Tastee Freez was a little walk-up hole-in-the-wall burger joint that we used to drive mournfully (and hungrily) by on our way home from school. They made absolutely the best burgers and milkshakes, at least in theory, though Mr. Hamburger across town was a close rival. I say “in theory” and “mournfully” because coming from such frugal parentage we were only rarely given the opportunity to sample the delicacies that emanated from the Tastee Freez to-go window. Every once in a while Dad might shell out 39c for a soft-serve ice cream cone, but that was about it.

It was hard to come to grips with my emotions, then, when Grandpa made his astounding offer: “Anything you want, as much as you want, as long as you finish it.” Joy gave way to disbelief, and then quickly to a guilty sense that we were taking advantage of a poor naive old man. But after clarifying a few of the rules (Q: “Can we order another round after we finish the first one?” A:”Yes”), greed quickly regained its dominant position, and we stuck it to him hard.

It was shortly after we ordered our second round of large vanilla milkshakes and double-decker burgers that we sought further clarification. Q: “Do we have to eat it all here or can we take it home and put it in the fridge?” A: “You have to finish it here.” Thus began two of the most singularly joyless hours I’ve ever experienced. With the patience of Job, Grandpa smiled and chatted politely and waited, and waited, and waited as we nibbled at cold, greasy fries and sipped gooey, tepid milkshakes. To his great credit, he never said a word about the painful lesson we were learning, but we learned it anyway.

Or did we? I remain a rather gluttonous eater 35 years on. The lesson may not have stuck, but the memories (and that second burger) have. Ah, God bless him.

Last week during a routine exam my dentist gave me a concerned grimace and told me I had a tongue spot she wanted an oral surgeon’s “immediate” opinion on. It was a while before I could get an appointment, and I tell you those intervening days were moody ones for me. I read up on oral cancer and found that it’s generally nasty stuff. The survival rate after 5 years is only about 50%. Isn’t it remarkable that humans calmly face a certain mortality within a very few years, but throw in a 50% chance of dying in the next 5 and we fall into a tizzy. Some of us anyway. (Before I develop this too far, let me say that the surgeon didn’t see anything at all amiss, and in fact seemed a little put out by the referral. “I don’t see anything I could even biopsy.”)

If I ever do get some kind of tragic medical news, I secretly hope that I’ll transform into the kind of heroic fighter that either defeats his villainous disease against all odds or, failing that, passes calmly away, gallantly comforting his grieving friends and relatives up to the last breath. I fear, though, that I’m more likely to just become a blubbery mess.

I was feeling a little grandparental today. Getting ready for church I splashed on a bit of Jovan Musk in honor of Grandpa Lane, then dug out my little turquoise bolo tie to remember A. C. Hart.

Damon and I learned about Grandpa Lane’s preference for Musk when we were kids. One Christmas Eve a few of us procrastinators – and this always included the two of us – convinced Grandpa and Grandma to drive us to the Warrensburg Wal-Mart for some last second shopping. While Grandpa wasn’t looking, we sneaked a bottle of English Leather cologne under the chocolate covered cherries in his shopping cart. Ah, it’s so easy to put one over on an old person! Damon and I smirked at the thought that Grandpa was standing obliviously at the checkout within two feet of his own Christmas present – until he said “You know that English Leather makes me smell like a sweaty horse.”

It was a Christmas tradition that Grandpa Lane always anonymously gave the “girls” – Grandma, Mom, and Nancy – boxes of chocolate covered cherries. Late one Christmas Eve when Damon and I were rummaging through his bedroom closet for wrapping paper, our eyes widened as we stumbled upon that year’s secret cherry stash. We stole the three boxes and rewrapped them “With love, from Mike and Damon”. Grandpa had no idea where his cherries disappeared to until he saw them opened Christmas morning. He gave us a severe frown, but you could tell he enjoyed the joke.

Have a nice (and healthy) week.

Mikal

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