“Come on, Dad! The kids really want to go and they want you to go with them. It’s not like you’re here all the time.” She was pressing me and I knew what she was trying to do.
“Listen, Babs,” I said. “You know I hate crowds. I get enough of that in New York. When I visit my grandchildren I want to spend quality time with them – play ball, roll around in theback yard – not follow them around some amusement park. I did all that years ago with you and Mark. Enough.”
Barbara looked at me patiently, the way a loving mother might look at her child eating, but not liking his spinach. “You’ve got to get out, Dad. It’s been almost a year now. I’m afraid you’re becoming a recluse. Mom would want you to go.” She had dug down deep for that one. I sensed I was losing the battle.
“You and Harold will take the kids and have a wonderful time. I guarantee it,” she continued. “And I’m planning a real special dinner for when you troopers come back.” She smiled and kissed my forehead, her silent declaration of having won yet another round, just as she had done all her growing years. Barbara also knew that a little guilt would add the right amount of icing to top off her victory.
“You know, Daddy, with you living so far away, Danny and Jill need to build up memories of shared experiences.” She didn’t become a psychology major in college for nothing.
“I’m going, already. You know I’m going,” I blurted. “Don’t do that to your old Dad.”
“You’re my young Dad and I love you for it,” she protested. “You’re in better shape than half the guys my age. Sometimes, I wish Harold would have as much life as you do.” She kissed me again.
I never quite forgave my son-in-law for luring my daughter to the wild midwest. True, I had been supportive of her attending the University of Michigan, but never had I imagined for a moment that she would not return to New York. Not only was it home, it was the center of civilization. Why anyone would voluntarily leave was beyond me. While Harold was nice enough, surely Barbara could have met any number of acceptable pre-dental students right in the city. But that was not meant to be. So, several times each year Annie and I would abandon our cloistered Manhattan apartment to spend a weekend with the children in suburban Detroit.
The drive down the Southfield Expressway was uneventful. While the kids counted the overpasses whizzing by, Harold pointed out the new buildings which had sprung up since the last visit. From him I didn’t want to hear what changes had taken place in the last ten months. Didn’t he know that the entire world was different now? “So what kind of amusement park are we going to?” I asked, changing the subject.
“It’s not an amusement park, Dad.” That last word hung in the air. It was as tough a word for Harold to enunciate as it was for me to receive. For the first year of their marriage I was Mr. Bartoff. Then, the women in our lives insisted that “Dad” was the proper reference in our loving family relationship. It was easy for me. Harold was Harold. So, for the next seven years it had been Harold and “Dad,” not without its awkward moments. But it gave the women a warm inner glow.
“It’s more of a trip in time,” Harold continued. “Henry Ford created Greenfield Village to preserve some local history and the Ford Museum pretty much follows the progress of the industrial revolution. It’s got a great collection of old cars and I think you’ll love it. I used to come here all the time as a kid and I think Danny and Jill are ready for it.”
I looked at my two grandchildren in the back seat. Jill smiled at me and said, “Hi, Grandpa.” She reminded me so much of my Annie. Even that simple greeting. That’s what Annie said when we heard that our first grandchild had been born.
Once past the entry sign to Greenfield Village, I was impressed by the seemingly endless serpentine brick wall leading us to the center of the compound. Someone had evidently spent some money on detail. The grounds were enormous. Just as I was starting to develop an appetite for the quaint, reconstructed buildings off in the distance, Harold announced that the March weather was a little unpredictable for walking around and that we should at least begin our sojourn within the totally enclosed Ford Museum. I was a little disappointed, but then again, I was just going along for the ride.
The museum was more of a huge warehouse for industrial and domestic artifacts than one I could recognize from my tours of the galleries in New York. Since it was all on one floor and had very few partitions, we were visually bombarded by glimmers of almost everything under the roof. The interior of the structure was not elegant, but somehow captured the pioneer spirit it was perhaps meant to convey. Instinctively, Danny and Jill ran towards a hands-on area designed to give kids a feeling for the past. They must have sniffed out their peers already at play.
“Hey, Grandpa, look at that old-time big wheel. Did you have one like that?” Danny asked, full of excitement.
“No,” I chuckled, “but I’d like to have one now. Believe it or not, Danny, even that thing was before my time.” He then climbed onto the stationary contraption, but couldn’t quite reach the pedals. After coaxing me to give it a try, he watched with glee as I gave the huge front wheel a few hefty rotations. If this is what Barbara thought memories of a grandfather were built on, sobeit. It was relatively painless. Not my idea. I was just going along for the ride.
The kids next discovered the miniature circus, done in great detail and stretched over a large circuitous area for viewing. Since the line of anxious spectators was long and slow moving, I told Harold I would pass on this particular shared experience and wander about the halls by myself. We would meet at the large train engine in half an hour.
I headed straight for the old cars just as Barbara had predicted. The primitive ones, small and black and skeletal, were fascinating in their simplicity. The elaborate thirty footers from the twenties intrigued me, not only by their obvious display of wealth, but also by the untold, yet imagined, stories behind them.
But the cars from the late forties and fifties were, for me, the most exciting of all. They were the ones I remembered. There was a black ’49 Ford – a dead ringer for what usually served as third base in after-school stickball games. Then, a ’57 Chevy. Who of my friends didn’t have a story to tell about one of those?
I was pleased with this unexpected dose of nostalgia, then wandered into a maze of household exhibits of furnishings and appliances grouped by decades. I smiled as I recognized many of the simple kitchen gadgets my own mother used, now relegated to the status of historical.
As I turned the next corner my eyes beheld something that stopped me cold in my tracks. My heart pounded as I tried to clear my vision. Through a cold sweat that appeared out of nowhere or out of the depth of my despair, I inched closer to the cause of my fixation. Perhaps the most unassuming object in the entire display, a small radio stared back at me through the glass enclosure. It was a mid-forties model Philco with a rounded wood encasement of light colored varnish, well crackled over the years. It was ordinary, but it was the one Annie had as a girl.
Annie’s family had moved into our apartment building when she was in the third grade. I was in the fourth. I watched her for a year before we became friends. Then the kids of both grades teased us mercilessly. But there was something that drew us together, even at that age, that defied ridicule.
And that friendship only grew over time. Many a rainy afternoon we would lie around her room listening to her radio. It was “The Shadow,” some milk and cookies, then “The Green Hornet.” Even now, I can summon the comfortable smell of those cookies, invariably crumbling on that fine Indian-patterned carpet.
Our parents had given us permission to stay up late together on Monday nights to listen to the “Lux Radio Theater.” While other kids lived for the weekend, we looked forward to its passing so we could sit in the dark and imagine together the wonderful movies transmitted to us by her little radio.
Perhaps the Philco I was staring at in the museum wasn’t the exact one that sat on Annie’s dresser, but it was close enough. I wanted to shatter the glass, pull out the radio and hold it close to me. Maybe, some of Annie would reach me. I could not break myself away.
Suddenly, I felt a tear roll down my cheek, then a tap on my shoulder.
“Are you alright, Dad?” Harold asked.
“Oh,” I said. “I just might be coming down with something. I’ll never get used to these damned Michigan winters.”