I drive my 11-year-old granddaughter Hallie to school three days a week. It's a few minutes of one-on-one time I hope she'll treasure long after I'm gone.
Mostly we talk about current events Christmas presents, the school play she was just in, favorite classes and whether she needs me to come to school and smack around anyone who isn't nice to her.
Concerned, Hallie said I couldn't do that. I took the opportunity to explain the difference between can't and not supposed to, then pointed out that I'd done it before.
Hallie: "But you'll, like, go to jail."
Me: "Done that, too."
Hallie's school is new. There are no trees, few buildings nearby, and not much in the way of grass. All of that will change over time. Mostly her time, not mine.
Last year, I drove past Garfield Elementary where I did a year's stretch in fifth grade. I recalled being dropped off in front of the place. The building towered over 10-year-old me like the castle of an ogre. I wanted to run away. Hell, I did run away. A lot.
Fifty years later the place was smaller than I remembered. It was just a crumbling building now surrounded by enormous trees and uneven sidewalks. There was no sense of dread.
Note: Maybe it's because the people/ogres whose job it had been to force me to learn at the point of a yardstick were all dead now.
Lately, I've been predicting Hallie's similar future while driving her to school. I told her that one day she will be pointing out her old school to her grandkids.
In my best old lady voice, I said, "And that's where your grammy went to sixth grade, Wally and Lurleen. In that tiny little building right there."
Hallie: "I have grandkids named Wally and Lurleen?"
Me: "And one named Poke."
"Of course there weren't any trees around it then," Grammy Hallie reminisces. "I remember the principal directed morning traffic. And not a hologram principal either, but one made of actual meat."
Wally and Lurleen: "That's impossible!"
"And before he was sent to the assisted living home on Mars, your great-great papa drove me here in a truck that used something we called 'gasoline'."
Wally and Lurleen: "We heard about rubber wheels before. That's ancient."
"We didn't have neural ports," Grandma Hallie says. "We read books. Made of paper."
Wally and Lurleen: "Will you please shut up about the pre-oil days!"
"Food wasn't served by those horrible Lunch-o-Bots. They were real people. And we had to stand in line and get it ourselves."
"Oh, and I remember that candy bars only cost $3, and weâ¦"
Hallie finally objected loudly enough for me to stop. She swears she'll never be that old or, worse, have grandkids named Wally and Lurleen. And Poke.
I don't have the heart to tell her it will happen faster than she thinks. Our days are brief shadows in a river of light.
Watching Hallie lug her backpack into the school, I can see it already happening. The day isn't far off when she'll be parked in this exact spot, telling her rude grandkids what it was like for her in school.
They better not hurt her feelings. With the right technology, I might just come back here and smack them around.
Robert Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.