Granddad's slippery lesson in standing tall

Though I'm an antiquity myself, in my mind's eye my grandfather is still spry. Not always calm, not always approving, but wholly alive, full of energy my local utility has found no way of billing. Or of tallying.

Nor have I. But I do occasionally acknowledge the lessons he taught.

My granddad told me stories about his childhood, sometimes to correct perceptions of mine that were a bit off the mark. Even when what he was telling me was not a story at all, just simple instruction, he was able to whet my curiosity.

One cold St. Louis morning in the 1920s, when I was 5 or 6 and in haste to play outside "for a few minutes," I slipped going down the porch steps. My granddad to the rescue, I was checked out, found whole, and reassured that lost time would not count against the allotted excursion into fresh air.

But first, my granddad said, there would be a further brief delay. His hand on my shoulder, he steered me back inside the house and positioned me at a window from which I could see those steps.

"Now stand there, dude," he said, "and watch. I'm going to go down those steps the way you can when they're slick a bit."

I waited at the window while he went out the door, then came again into view. He turned to see that I was attentive, extended his foot, grasped the handrail, and was dealt a ... quirk - an unpredicted turn that made art into comedy, an action gone awry.

Whereas I'd slid hard on my bottom to the lower step, he'd taken a rangy, 6-foot-tall, slim-man's entangling bend over the rail into fairy-iced bushes.

He rose and stood, briefly still. Then, his head slightly forward, so that the silvering bangs above his eyes gave them a boyish rue, he came close to the window's glass and said, "See, dude? See how it's done?"

I never fell again on those or any other steps.

When he'd come inside and lifted me in his arms, he twirled about the room. Both of us were laughing, my remarkable grandmother withholding comment. I knew then I had learned something important. Not only about going down steps. And not only about children, but about how the best of grown-ups could misstep. And recover.

And the quirk? I do not, to this day, know for sure.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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