October 28, 2004
Grampa’s Advice: Pass on ‘First-Tell’
It took me six years of being a grandfather to accept the fact that my grandchildren may not be more brilliant or athletic than everyone else's.
Here's how I realized it. There's this thing between grandparents I like to call "first-tell." Say you meet your friend, another grandparent, and are the first to tell some amazing stories about your grandchildren; if he or she responds by telling you stories that make their grandchildren out to be as talented or more-so than yours, you have every right to assume the grandparent you are talking to is lying. And vice versa: they'll assume you're lying if they have "first-tell." Or, in both cases, you could assume, with great difficulty, that your grandchildren are not above and beyond all others.
What impresses us so much about the abilities of our grandchildren? In my case I must admit it was the comparison of them to me. Ross, at age 3, hits a wiffle ball with a plastic bat better than I could hit a softball with a wooden bat at age 12, even though the bat had Joe Dimaggio's signature on it. And Max, 6, throws a hardball accurately from third base to home plate. I couldn't do that until I was in summer camp at age 14 -- and then not consistently, costing my green team the championship game against the blues in color war.
But in my defense, I didn't have a grandfather to drive crazy and exhaust with pleas to "catch with me, grampa," "pitch to me, grampa."
One grandfather had passed away before I was born, and the other had lost a leg in some war for or against Russia prior to my birth in 1932. My own father was on crutches from polio he acquired at age 3, and while he could throw very well, since I couldn't, a game of catch meant him throwing, me catching, me throwing and me chasing the errant ball that I threw back.
The only ball I ever threw both strongly and accurately was a snowball I threw at a target, drawn with chalk on the side door of my synagogue, which was the entrance to the Hebrew school in Englewood, N.J. The snowball would have hit the bull's-eye had not the rabbi opened the door at that instant to call us all in to class. I lived with guilt for many years -- not for hitting the rabbi, but for Sammy Wides' getting blamed for it (although he took it well and enjoyed the celebrity). In that neighborhood, in those times, I would have been looked down on by the "gang" if I stepped forward, hero-like and said, "It wasn't him, rabbi, it was me." (I would have been a total outcast if I said "It wasn't he.")
It was less than a week ago that I bumped into a friend with his 6-year-old grandson at the park. Ross and Max were wearing their mitts and I was carrying a bag containing 10 wiffle balls and a bat. It is easier pitching 10 balls and then retrieving them all at once rather than pitching and chasing one ball at a time.
My friend quickly jumped in with "first-tell," -- an unnecessary move, since we were about to see exactly what our grandchildren could do.
"You won't believe how far Amos can hit a ball," he said.
"Great", I replied, deciding I would have my satisfaction when he saw how much better Max and Ross could hit and throw a ball.
"Do you want to pitch?" I offered. He did. I became the catcher.
We all agreed that each child would have five swings, and the other two would play the field. We also agreed that Ross would be the first batter, then Amos and finally Max, who didn't mind being last when I told him he would be batting "clean up" -- a spot usually reserved for the best batter on the team. Max and Ross knew the lingo because they went to many Dodgers games and watched even more on TV. Ross hit two of his five pitches beautifully and although my friend was properly impressed he mouthed, "Wait till you see Amos."
Amos got up and hit five balls very well, but no better or worse than Max did. Did my friend see what I saw?
Our grandkids are great -- but not any greater than each other. I wonder, though, if he was more disappointed than me. He'd bragged about Amos, and I didn't brag about Max. We both had to learn that our grandsons are special; not because they can throw well or run fast or bat hard, but because they are ours.
Hopefully, Amos' grandfather will also learn that sometimes it's good to pass up "first-tell."