My grandson turns 17 today, and I can't begin to adequately describe the pleasure it's been to watch him grow up. This is one of my favorite pictures of his "bad" two-year-old self, the devil in his eyes making it clear what he thought of having his picture taken at that moment.
On his second birthday, a couple of months earlier, he sat in his highchair at the end of a picnic table, surrounded by family members, and opened birthday gifts. His expression didn't change as he ripped paper and ribbon away from present after present. No "thank you" left his lips despite prompting; he didn't say a word. It was impossible to tell whether he liked something or not until he opened a package containing a colorful, plastic tool kit. His face didn't change even then, but he immediately began to climb out of his highchair. His mother helped him down, people parted to get out of his way, and he carried the tool kit under his arm until he reached the family car parked nearby in the driveway. There, he sat on the ground, leaned forward, and began to work on a wheel with his new tools.
On his fourth birthday, he romped outside with his friends and cousins of all ages, running and jumping and all the things little kids do, until a pickup truck drove up to drop off some folding tables for the party. The rest of the kids continued to play, but the birthday boy ran to the truck and offered to help unload the tables. He considered himself one of the men, and there was work to be done.
A couple of months after his 10th birthday, my mother died, and my grandson went with us to Texas for her funeral. He asked his mother if people would think he was too young to be a pallbearer, because he'd really like to do that for Mama-Too. He was big for ten years old, but not that big; the other pallbearers readily agreed to pick up his slack and he helped lay his great-grandmother to rest. There's no greater gift he could ever have given her.
He's a good student and a good athlete. He may have a head full of fun and mischief, but his heart is full of kindness and compassion. My own heart fills with joy when I'm around him. I think about the fact that he and others like him will be running things a few decades from now, and I feel hope for the future.
So here's my message to this fine young man: Whether devil's food cake or angelfood cake is appropriate to honor you on any given birthday, I don't care. I love the entirety of you, and I wish you a wonderful year.
Legs hangin' off the bayou bridge
Feedin' fish potato chips
And talkin' 'bout the mysteries of the universe
Yeah the world was somewhere else
We had the summer all to ourselves
And the stars went off like fireworks
Only comes once in a lifetime
Don't it just fly by wild and free
Goin' any way the wind blew baby
Livin' on crazy dreams
Rock and roll and faded blue jeans
And standin' on the edge of everything
(Partial lyrics of Seventeen by Tim McGraw)