Pop-Pop's day starts around 7 a.m., gasping for air. It's not Father Time who's on Pop-Pop's heels; it's his 2-year-old grandson, who giggles at his bedside after he pushes the off button on Pop-Pop's sleep apnea machine. Our little tot is learning about cause and effect. Punching the button causes the machine to silence; the effect, Pop-Pop's eyes bulge open as he yanks off his Darth Vader mask and sucks in as much room air as his 77-year-old lungs will hold. • "Pop-Pop, up!"
While I have both my toddlers restrained in their high chairs, Pop-Pop drops into his green leather rocker/recliner with a cup of coffee and a bowl of Frosted Flakes. He snaps on the TV to watch Don Imus and his cohorts quip about current events. Within minutes Imus' voice has drowned under the commotion of mutinous toddlers: demands for more juice, their bowls of oatmeal crashing on the floor, and of me coming unhinged at only 7:30 a.m. After a few minutes of this, Pop-Pop snaps his headphones on and stares at the now-silent TV screen. He smiles and occasionally snickers in his sliver of momentary solace.
After the boys have been let down from their high chairs, Pop-Pop is accosted for his Frosted Flakes until his bowl is emptied and his two grandboys waddle away with sticky chins. Once Imus is over, Pop-Pop shares a word with me. "They oughta throw all these lousy politicians out of Washington and start over." Although Pop-Pop is a Republican and I am a Democrat, I nod my head in agreement about the sad state we are in.
As I begin to share some of my own talking points I can see that I have lost Pop-Pop's attention. It's no fog of age. He cranes his neck out the front window, in the opposite direction of me. His eyes are riveted on the fit blond bouncing her pink sports bra behind her baby jogger. A minute later she U-turns for one last peep. I walk away.
My father-in-law enjoys the confines of his home, despite the fact that we have seized most of it for ourselves. After his wife died two years ago, the financial burden was too much, and we were invited to share his home. Regardless, my husband barks at him before he leaves for work. "Turn off the TV already and go for a walk." My father-in-law defends his inertia with, "Don't you know I only have 30 percent use of my heart?" My husband drops his head in defeat and slips out the front door. I, too, observe Pop-Pop seated motionless for hours and jest with the housekeeper, "just dust and wax him as needed." I realize that my father-in-law's lax routine lies in stark contrast to the bedlam in which we live in, and that our judgments rise partly from envy.
Pop-Pop's schedule is simple indeed. Every day at noon, he cruises his Grand Marquis through neighborhood streets to Publix. After purchasing a quarter-pound of deli ham, he bellies up to customer service to place his bets. This former Brooklyn horse bettor has tamed his gambling wagers to $1 and $2 on Powerball and Lotto, and the random scratch-off ticket. His occasional wins incite me to ask, "What would you do if you won the big money?" To this, he stares out the window rubbing his chin nervously and chuckles, "Gee, I don't know." I think I do know, and I don't blame him a lick.
Once he's home from the store, the boys rise from their naps ready to rumble. They hop onto Pop-Pop's lap with more than 50 pounds of vigor, slamming knees and elbows onto his chest, threatening to sever his pacemaker wires. On some afternoons Pop-Pop may take a plastic bat to the knees or a hard plastic ball to his temple. He takes his lumps in stride.
About 6:30 p.m., Pop-Pop is summoned to the dinner table and must decide if he wants to use his week's sodium allowance on one of his son's black beans and rice concoctions or if he'll settle for a low-sodium ham sandwich of his own making. As he dines, his profile is spattered with milk and beans from the high chair that I have nestled next to him. After all, family time starts at the dinner table.
After dinner, Pop-Pop escapes again to his green chair in front of the TV. He has survived another day in the loving care of family. He unwinds until bedtime watching the Military Channel — ballistics training. Hmm.
Kathy Smith, who has a bachelor's degree in advertising from the University of South Florida, lives in St. Petersburg, where she owns and operates a hair salon.