I always have a reason for doing what I do. It may not be the most rational, understandable, or expected of reasons, but it’s a reason nonetheless. That reminds me of George Sanders telling Marilyn Monroe in All About Eve (1951) that her reason for calling the butler at a dinner party “waiter” was idiotic but a reason nevertheless. She was worried that a guest at the party might be named Butler and thus get confused.
So, without getting confused, I had a reason for turning right instead of left. As I told my six-year-old granddaughter who looked on in the backseat, I wanted to venture out, break the bonds of established custom, throw caution to the winds (and rain), and explore. Most of all, I wanted to search for a new route to her home from her aunt’s house. I was, in effect, acting in the spirit of Lewis and Clark, who set out to survey and explore the vast Louisiana Purchase in 1803. She looked at me and then asked if that meant we were going shopping.
I turned right, showing her the freeway that we paralleled on one side and office parks on the other. I had her read street addresses and road signs. I gleefully boasted about how we were explorers par excellence first of all because neither one of us knew for sure where we were going (I generally can’t find my way to the corner), and, secondly, because we knew that no matter how long or arduous the trip, we would see it through to the end. That’s just the kind of stock we come from.
And then it happened. The road ended. I came upon a chained gate preventing us from going on and a sign saying that the road was closed. Believe me when I tell you that not only did I not expect this, but there had been no clue at all that this was coming down the pike, as it were. Nothing about the road changed to indicate that we were headed onto private property or into some wilderness area, for instance. It just happened, and it happened in spite of my plans, boasting, and vision. Homo proponit deus disponit (Man proposes, God disposes).
“Well, look at that,”I told my granddaughter. “We’ll have to go back over the same road we were on. I should have turned left instead of right.” And then, in an attempt to teach her that a failure here or there should not deter us from striving to achieve our goals, I added, “They tricked us! They tricked us!” I beat my chest and shook my fist for added emphasis and a little drama. After all, you never know what kids remember by the time they’re adults. I wanted this to stand out.
We drove in silence for about a mile, retracing our route, when a soft voice from the backseat asked, “Who, nonno?” (Italian for grandpa). “What?” “Who tricked us?” “Who?” “Yeah, who tricked us?” It was the question, of course, and I told her so, which is a professor’s way of buying time. I started to answer and then stopped three or four times. Every answer I came up with sounded ridiculously complicated or conspiratorial. I pulled down the visor and looked at her in the mirror. She sat there innocently, patiently, waiting for my answer.
I had to tell her the truth. I had to face the truth. I finally answered, “Me…I’m the one who tricked us. I tricked myself.” After I said it I waited for a cascade of questions about what I meant and why would I do such a thing and did I really think turning right was the right thing to do. Those are all the questions I would have heaped onto a nonno driving around claiming to be the reincarnation of Lewis and Clark.
Thankfully, my granddaughter did none of that. She is much more gracious than I. But she did leave me to ponder a few things like am I my worst enemy and why is my greatest challenge getting out of my own way? I could have turned left and made my life and hers easier. Instinctively, I knew it was the right thing to do. But then we wouldn’t have had this fine moment, one that she just might pass on to her own grandchildren.
Image credits: Annie Spratt (feature); Jon Sailer; Everett Bartels. Like fiction? Check out the Mercury “trilogy” (The Gringo, Laura Fedora) here. Also, go to Robert Brancatelli.
I have two little grandsons, who think I’m cool, smart and funny. I wish I could freeze them (and myself) so none of us will grow any older.
But, Vic, you are cool, smart, and funny…
Lord, we know what we are, but not what we might be. Hamlet.
This quote came to me in response to your recent post regarding the treatment of two imprisoned men, in San Francisco, by a crowd in frenzy.
Just lovely, Robert:). I can see your granddaughter in the backseat. I can see her belief and trust in you, her question, waiting, and knowing that you would respond, because it was important.