Who are these people?


Another year in the hopper. And what have we learned?

Friday, on Main Street, the lovely young woman wrapping Christmas gifts for a good cause said my name. Years ago, she and her family visited Hadley Harbor aboard their schooner. We were there too, so the two crews shared a meal and a few hours, dominated by the adults who told stories and laughed, while this young woman, really a child then, and her contemporaries among the two families watched, doubtless wishing it would end soon.

Fortunately, the accident Sunday on Lambert’s Cove Road, in the midst of the snow/rain/sleet post-Christmas nastiness, left no one hurt badly. But, the two 20-year-olds who found their car spinning off among the trees were friends of my youngest son. When I read to him the story from The Times website, his eyes widened as he recognized the names of the young man and woman, his contemporaries.

Succession is one of the lessons of an exhausted year. Succession is a concept we often apply to run out fields growing up in thistle, poison ivy, and briars, or old growth woods giving way to scrub oak and black cherry, or other examples of ways in which the hand of man has had its way with the landscape leaving it poorer, susceptible to a lesser species.

Among humans, the lesson is that the opposite is true, that what we’ve created freshens and enlivens life itself, that the restocking promises greater not lesser achievements, that it’s an upgrade, never the saddening opposite.

The older child, a psychologist, mother, and partner. The older son, a lawyer and partner, the youngest two about to end their college careers on variable currents of accomplishment, eagerness, optimism, anxiety, and uncertainty.

Folks change, but sometimes we miss the transformations and misunderstand the implications. But in a small community like this one, and at Christmas when so many who have been away reconvene, parents — this one, in particular — are often late to the lesson that they actually have two sets of descendants. There are the ones we have in mind when we think of the kids. And then there are the ones who the kids have become. Surprise.

How to reconcile what they were and what they are? It requires an exacting accounting, but it’s certainly not for an accountant to do.

It can be shattering. Speaking of no one you know, of course, Charles Dickens described his creation Pip’s uneasiness as he contemplated what he suspected was the true nature of the man so strange and so linked to him:

“Words cannot tell what a sense I had … of the dreadful mystery that he was to me. When he fell asleep of an evening, with his knotted hands clenching the sides of the easy-chair, and his bald head tattooed with deep wrinkles falling forward on his breast, I would sit and look at him, wondering what he had done … until the impulse was powerful on me to start up and fly from him … I doubt if a ghost could have been more terrible to me …”

It can be a relief. Off the young ones have gone. The college bills are done (though the loans linger). The little woman and I can start living life again. That sort of relief.

Or, it can be prideful. Well, she was an odd little duck as a child. Charming, but a challenge. And now, she’s got a responsible job in a big city, helping to make the world a better place. Wow, things have certainly worked out just the way I planned.

It can be a troubling moment of adjustment:

Dad, meet Anatole. He’s French. I met him on the drive through the Mojave. He’s into mushrooms and cacti. I was hoping he could stay with us. (Pregnant pause ensues.)

Or, Dad, I don’t think I will be coming back east this Christmas. It’s hard to get the time off, things are really cooking with the new line of business, and besides, Anatole and I were thinking of a quick trip to Maui.

Every step I took along Main Street this weekend brought me face to face with young men and women who had been, in my memory, kids. Or with their parents, their heads shaking helplessly.

One chattering mother — her words masking, I’m sure, her bewilderment — told me her daughter, just back from a long student sojourn in India, has found a Manhattan apartment to share. Eight hundred a month, and she hasn’t even got a job yet. What’s a mother, or a father, to make of that, I thought.

It ain’t your father’s world out there anymore, I guess.

A question remains: must we change too? Would these mutating offspring be happier with us if we parents transformed ourselves into hipper, more mobile, less security-minded, more cyber-iffic, and barely recognizable incarnations of the duds we used to be and apparently insist on being still?

Or do these successors take satisfaction in the gaping mouths, the popeyed looks, and the head shaking that they provoke in their elders?

With luck, and if they have their droids with them, the kids will text us an answer.