A HAZY SHADE OF WINTER

     “Time, time, time, see what’s become of me
     While I looked around
     For my possibilities
     I was so hard to please
     But look around, leaves are brown
     And the sky is a hazy shade of winter…”

How often have I heard the expression “It’s as simple as ’1 plus 1 is 2′”? Indeed, there was a time life was that pure….when the world was black and white.

Often I’ll be in discussion with a child and say something compelling a roll of his eyes or the thrust of her cheek (accompanied by a “Dad, that’s not what I want to hear”). These reactions, you should know, always make me smile and sometimes make me laugh. They don’t get it. They don’t see my advantage in these debates. I after all, have been their age; they’ve never been mine. Who do they think has a wider lens?

Growing up I had it all figured out—arithmetic on the important stuff:

Addition was simple. If I had eight hits going into the game and went 1 for 4, I’d have nine hits on the season. RBI’s were more difficult. Listening to Jimmy Dudley do the Tribe on the radio: a guy’d hit a home run with two men on base and they’d give him three runs batted in. I never understood (when young) how you got credit for hitting yourself in. What a revelation!

Even subtraction came easy. At Rowland each spring I’d count the days ’til school was out. By Brush I was counting down to my 16th birthday (and driving rights). Heck, even into the 70′s it was “Eight weeks of Basic Training take away the two I’ve been in Ft. Polk…leaves six more.”

Multiplication and division? It was the spring of ’69 and sitting with my Dad at Johnny’s State Restaurant on High Street, he was explaining how if I just worked hard that summer, I could buy a new car.

“There’s no reason why you can’t sell 50 units a week and still get into Cleveland for your softball.”
I nodded.  “Just forget about Bobby and Alan for a few days.  Trust me, they’ll survive without you.”

“If you just make ten sales a day—and we both know you’re capable of more—you can go back to Cleveland Thursday or Friday and be with your buddies.”
“OK,” I said. (He made it sound so easy). “But what kind of car will I get”?
“It’s just a question of how long you’re willing to work,” he urged, and, unable to control himself, “and if you don’t piss away your money.”

I spent all June and into July knocking on doors. Week by week funds accumulated as the Old Man’s formula played out. By Independence Day, though, I was getting lazy. My Dad sensed it perhaps, and suggested I go with Dickie Lomaz to look at cars. This culminated in typical Al Bogart division, which he related in the showroom of Worthington Ford:

“You’ve got $1,750 and the car’s $3,500. That divides out rather equally,” he started.
(I still didn’t know where he was going).
“Why don’t we each pay half, and you can go into Cleveland and enjoy your summer?”

There was, looking back, a predictability, but still…a purity to it all.

My age has doubled since then. OK, tripled. Sightlines too, have changed, and I’m using The New Math.

It still comes easy…computation…on important stuff:

Addition: Let’s see, if I started the year with two grandchildren and add in Matthew and Lucy—2 plus 2 is 4. Subtraction: We lost Will’s Dad this year, and Corky, and…

Multiplication, of course, hasn’t changed…really. My father’s gone now, but substitute the kids for the Mustang and the game goes on:

“Dad,” says Michael, “If you just put your extra change away each day you can easily afford to fly here. Even ten dollars a day.”
I nod.
“That is,” he continues, “If you don’t piss away your money.”

And then there’s division: It used to be a tough one; no more! I stopped dividing, you see, some years back. Just saw no use for it.  Life’s too short, I’ve learned. It doesn’t matter any more.

Another year ends.  Still people choose to divide. And for what?

I’m comforted, though—and confident.  I am buoyed by a belief that as they grow older Matthew and Lucy will learn the New Math, where the common denominator is love. 

     “…Hang on to your hopes, my friend
     That’s an easy thing to say, but if your hope should pass away
     Simply pretend
     That you can build them again
     Look around, the grass is high
     The fields are ripe, it’s the springtime of my life….”

                             Paul Simon

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