Out and About (Sort of): “Grin of Salt” by Howard Freedlander


Nine days ago I watched my seven-year-old grandson play ice hockey at the Talbot County Community Center. It was thrilling and wrenching at the same time.

I loved his enthusiasm, his skating skills, his scrappiness, his desire to win and his positive attitude. An Annapolis resident, he was playing in his grandparents’ backyard, following in the footsteps of his mother, who once upon a time displayed her keen athletic skills on Talbot County field hockey and softball fields. I was bursting with pride—though far abler to restrain my sometimes obnoxious behavior once on full display 20-30 years ago.

I stood in the shadows, happily so.

As I watched my grandson, I thought about his age and mine. My years to watch him grow as a person and athlete are limited. In, say, ten years, I wonder if I will be able to enjoy standing around a cold skating rink. I wonder if I will require too much attention, more than I would want or like.

At this point, a friend quickly approaching his 88th birthday, would frown upon my gloomy forecast. A biker, hiker, and traveler, he would recommend taking full advantage of the moment. Rightly so, he would scoff at viewing age as an impediment or source of despair.

But I think that grandchildren compel you to look into the future and realize, perhaps painfully so, that a grandparent’s role will be restricted by time on earth—and common sense. By the latter, I’m suggesting the obvious: a grandchild’s parents are the principal actors in this production called life. We grandparents are but bit players. We are merely supporting characters who must speak our lines carefully and unobtrusively.

As I ponder the finiteness of life, I also think about my 17-year-old grandson, who is spending a high school year abroad in Toulouse, France. Before he left last August, he applied to two colleges. He asked me to advocate for him with one of the schools. He was accepted by both. He has chosen the one attended by his mother, needing no boost to gain admission.

My efforts, though appreciated, clearly did not sway his decision. He decided on his own. He’s a young man empowered to forge his own path, to achieve and fail in his own. His grandfather must accept that fact.

At the risk of courting self-pity, I have to accept that as a grandfather my influence is minuscule. Truth be known, when my daughters were college age, I came to realize that I simply was an unpaid consultant whose advice bore questionable value to them.

All of this retrospection leads me to the worthy concept of legacy. In my self-appointed status as a senior statesman, I have to place credence in hope and belief. I have to hope that my grandchildren will lead honorable and productive lives. My belief in their parents and their values gives me confidence that my grandchildren will stumble, fall, get up, achieve and repeat this sequence over and over again.

Giving up will not be an option, however tempting it might seem at the moment.

Aging, passages of time and generational transfer can easily lead to empty clichés and hopeless pondering. I will avoid that temptation. I will continue to view time with grandchildren, whether at a Christmas pageant or sports event or graduation—or a family gathering—as something to enjoy and savor at the moment.

I will always be glad to voice positive encouragement. I will assign any inkling of criticism to my “unspoken” file. The one where discretion overrules possibly hurtful comments.

To quote my favorite philosopher and legendary baseball catcher, Yogi Berra, please take my thoughts with a “grin of salt.” It’s better that way.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Letters to Editor

  1. Kristen Greenaway says:

    “Truth be known, when my daughters were college age, I came to realize that I simply was an unpaid consultant whose advice bore questionable value to them.” Good advice for us all, Howard!

  2. Howard, how true that as grandparents our advice is miniscule. But remember our presence is not. Your grandchildren will always remember that you were there and, where they’re older, will realize that your ‘grin of salt’ comments were spot on.

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