The old man sat down in the overstuffed chair while the rest of the family gathered in the kitchen and the other rooms in the large house, chatting, laughing and preparing for the holiday meal.
He was 90 now, but he still lived alone, still drove his car, and attended all the family get-togethers. He had been widowed 10 years, but he remained stubbornly independent. He had no trouble living alone, and he wasn’t lonely. Family members stopped in often to visit him – in fact, more often than he preferred sometimes, although he would never say so.
So, he had arrived for another holiday meal, this one hosted by a granddaughter and her family. His son and daughter were there with their families, including all his grandchildren and great-children, along with assorted nieces, nephews and cousins.
He had said his hellos when he walked in, spent a few minutes making small talk, and then wandered into the next room by himself to turn on a television and watch an old movie or maybe a ballgame, killing the time until someone would yell out that it was time to eat.
He had just settled on a movie to watch when one of his granddaughters came in holding a baby.
“Wanna hold her, Grandpa?”
He smiled, and said sure, even though he really didn’t care about holding the baby. But he was being nice, playing the grandpa role, and she walked over to his chair and gently placed the baby girl, decked out in her holiday baby best, in his arms. The granddaughter walked back into the other room, leaving them alone.
I hope they don’t leave her here long, the old man thought to himself. He had umpteen great-grandchildren now. He had actually lost count. He loved his family, but he wasn’t even positive who the new baby belonged to – the granddaughter who had carried her to him, or another grandchild, or maybe even someone else. Another year, another baby. That’s how often they seemed to come, and he couldn’t remember most of their names.
He glanced at the baby and said, “Hi there.” The baby looked back at him, blowing saliva bubbles. Never much point in talking to a baby, he thought.
His eyes returned to the television, focusing on the action on the screen. After a minute or so, the baby reached up her tiny hand and touched her fingertips against the old man’s cheek.
“Hey!” he said aloud, surprised but smiling. He looked down at her face. The baby stared back at him with huge blue eyes. He chuckled, and turned his attention back to the TV, unconsciously lifting the little bundle a little higher against his chest. The baby was cute alright, but how long were they going to leave her here with him? He’d held the baby long enough.
Suddenly, the baby grabbed his nose. He laughed, and said quietly, “What are you doing?” This time, the baby seemed to smile back and made a noise, still firmly gripping the old man’s nose and staring at him intently with those huge blue eyes.
He reached up and gently pulled her fingers off his nose, and when he touched her hand and her tiny fingers he realized he had forgotten just how soft a baby’s skin could be. He placed his finger against the baby’s cheek and softly caressed it for a few seconds, amazed as he was reminded how smooth it was.
But where were they, anyway? If someone didn’t come back for her soon, he was going to get up and carry her back to them. She was precious, alright, but he’d held her long enough, and he was trying to watch TV.
He focused again on the television, but the baby began cooing, reaching her hand again toward his face, this time grabbing his eyeglasses and nearly pulling them off.
He chuckled, pulled the glasses from her surprisingly firm grip, and put them back into place.
“You want to play, huh?” he said, teasing her now, moving his face toward hers and then pulling back as she tried grabbing his nose or his glasses. “You think that’s funny, huh? You’re a pretty girl, aren’t you? A very pretty girl.”
The granddaughter who had brought the baby to him finally came back into the room.
“You ready for me to take her, Grandpa?” she asked.
He looked again into the baby’s smiling eyes.
“She’s alright,” he said.
His granddaughter smiled, and the old man said, “Tell me her name again.”
She had told him many times before, but she said again, “It’s Emily, Grandpa.”
He nodded, and looked at the baby and said, “Hi, Emily.” And then he asked, “She’s yours, right?”
His granddaughter gave him a stern but loving look and said, “Yes, Grandpa.”
His granddaughter stood there a few seconds more, watching the two of them in the big, overstuffed chair, and then she glanced at the television and asked, “What are you watching, Grandpa?”
“Nothing,” he said. “You can turn it off.”
She picked up the remote from beside his chair, and turned off the television. “Well, dinner’s almost ready,” she said.
She started to walk back into the other room when the old man said, “You and Emily should come visit soon.”
She smiled and said, “We will, Grandpa,” and then added jokingly, “Is it okay if Rick comes, too?”
“Who’s Rick?” the old man asked.
“My husband!” she replied, exasperated.
He laughed and said, “I know. I’m kidding.” They both laughed, but she wondered whether he was really kidding.
And then they were alone again, the old man and the baby. They stared into each other’s eyes, each trying to figure out the other, one just beginning to make memories, the other holding on to the ones he had, but each, for today, happy and content.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.