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Those Smiling Eyes, What Will They See?

First published in the July 23 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.

What do her eyes see? A grandpa past his prime? A clown prince with a rubber face who shows up once a week with a cheap toy or a grandpa joke?
Do I seem eternally young to her, or someone on his last lap, a guy looking over his shoulder like he just missed the exit?
What do her eyes really see — her mother’s eyes, her mother’s mother’s beautiful eyes … eyes that are Italian, Irish, German, French, eyes that were centuries in the making? Eyes that miss nothing. Do they see sadness? Or do they see only the good?
For now, her frame of reference is pretty simple: Mom and Dad, her dog, Uncle Smartacus, Aunt Rapunzel, her hunky bearded uncle-in-waiting. Her little buddies Beckett, Layla and Navy.
And me, of course, her clown prince with the droopy Pete Maravich socks.
I’ve never seen my granddaughter cry. Honestly. Oh, she’ll fuss a little now and then, but Catty Cakes never scrunches her face and just wails. That’s more my thing. Cakes is too fascinated with everything around her to cry, too bemused, too buzzed on every bright, shiny object.
How long does that last? Another week? A lifetime?
What do her shimmering eyes see? How will that change? Will she — at age 15, probably — teach herself to cry?
And what sort of world will those eyes see? Orwellian? Stalinist? Forward or backward? Compassionate or greedy?
Will all the lawns be plastic? Will all the oceans be dead?

As a newborn, 14 months ago, with eyes that were centuries in the making.

In her lifetime, will Americans remain mostly decent and hardworking? Visionary and proud? What will her cherished country look like when she’s 40: radiant or broken? A promised land or a big fat charity case? Will her American Dream — whatever it is — crash or soar?
“Nothing happens unless first we dream,” said Carl Sandburg (a poet).
“If you can dream it, you can do it,” said Walt Disney (Mickey Mouse’s dad).
It’ll help that Cakes has her father’s cheery outlook and her mother’s milky smile. She really likes people. She waves to strangers as if ordering dessert. They almost always wave back.
“But where’s dessert?” she wonders.
To be honest, she throws a lot of French fries, this kid — that’s how she gets attention. It’s a delicate situation for her mother. You don’t want your daughter throwing food off her high chair. Yet when she drops a French fry or a chunk of watermelon, everyone takes notice and the dog happily Hoovers it up. In that way, she runs the world.
“Here, have more melon,” she says, dropping another piece.
“No, no, no,” scolds her mother.
Cakes just smiles.
“No, no, no, no, no,” she squeals and kicks her legs.
Know who she reminds me of? Helen of Troy. And Mary Queen of Scots, during the Reformation, the good years, before things got all complicated.
Plus, Groucho Marx a little. Maybe Lindsay Wagner, who was secretly bionic.
I wonder, is my granddaughter secretly bionic? At what point will she become physically stronger than me? At what point will she be better with a phone?
Till then, she wobbles along, with her toes flared out, like her mama. One foot faces Utah, the other Mexico. It’s kind of amazing she doesn’t take three steps and do the splits.
She has the same body language as a willow tree — bendy, sleepy, relaxed. When music plays, she dances. Even bagpipes, she dances. Church music. Cow bells. Dances.
In a too-quick 14 months, she has established a sense of style. She’s fond of floppy hats with strawberries. Lives in the least-gloomy place in America: Santa Monica. The yolky sun suits her, as does the gelid sea.
Off to New York she will go soon, for a long summer jaunt, to see her other grandpa, to work the East Coast audiences, to wow the aunts and uncles and all the cousins.
“CAKES!” the marquees will say. “Two shows a night, no minimum!”
What will her eyes see then? The planes … the airports … the bustle of a gritty and magnificent city.
Lots of smiling Irish eyes, that’s for sure. She a hugger and a kisser, and that almost always plays well on the Eastern Seaboard.
Frankly, I’ve always felt New York could use more kissing.
So, there she’ll be, the happy tourist with the floppy hat. She’ll wink the room. She’ll bask in all that shameless Irish ardor … the twinkle … the tilted smiles.
They’ll treat her well, I think, this sunny Californian with the butter eyes.
Oh, the things she’ll see.
For books, hikes, gin tips and past columns, please go to ChrisErskineLA.com. Email the columnist at Letters@ChrisErskineLA.com.

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