By Ronnie Cameron
"His mom lived in Long Island for 10 years or so, God rest her soul, and, er, although she's, wait—your mom's still alive. It was your dad [who] passed. God bless her soul. I gotta get this straight." – Joe Biden, leader of the free world.
I hesitate to bring it up. My detractors will claim I show no empathy, and the subject matter borders on tasteless. Correct and correct.
What I write about is important if only to explain the difference between fiction and nonfiction. You see, fiction must make sense, or it doesn’t work. Nonfiction, however, is as unpredictable and dangerous as a rabid dog.
First off, I declare here and now that I understand how his handlers feel. I’ve been there myself, and the struggle is real. It’s not his fault any more than it was Jasper’s fault.
I speak of Jasper, my grandson. He was probably five years old at the time of his most famous gaffe, and his main interest in his little world at that time was zombies.
The progression of his life interests is interesting and sometimes unpredictable. First love of this life was trains, a subject he naturally picked up from his maternal grandfather, who spent his career literally working on the railroad. At the same time, Jap attended the University of Bigfoot with me serving as Dean, President, and lead professor.
From trains and Sasquatch, he moved into Superheroes, then progressed naturally into Optimus Prime and Transformers. I bought him a Bumblebee car in Athens one weekend while we were on a family camping trip. He thought I hung the moon.
From Transformers, he sorta kinda skipped jumped to zombies, and he lost me at that point. I never watched The Walking Dead, and I’ve not seen many zombie movies, so he was on his own.
For clarity’s sake, I’m writing here about my grandson, not the most powerful man in the free world.
Back to zombies.
My wife’s maternal aunt, Jasper’s great-great aunt, died in 2013. It was a sad event, naturally, and I wanted to use it as a teaching moment. Though he was young at the time, somehow, I thought it wise and prudent to teach him about death and sympathy with a little love sprinkled in for good measure. Teachers teach. It’s a curse.
I dutifully explained that MaMa’s sister had gone to heaven, and that MaMa was very sad. I assured him he would brighten her mood if he acknowledged the death and offered his condolences (I’m sure without using the words condolences or acknowledged).
The entire scenario is black ice spread across the highway of my memory. I sat in my chair and methodically explained the facts of life and death and how MaMa missed her sister. I told him when we walk into her house, he should say, “I’m sorry your sister died, but now she is in heaven with the angels.”
What a sweet gesture. We practiced and practiced; he nailed it during rehearsals.
We strolled into MaMa’s house – Jasper, my wife and me. MaMa sat in her favorite chair, the very picture of beauty. My chest puffed out with pride over the good deed about to go down in Kemp, Georgia. Jasper hesitated when he spotted his GI Joe Jeep parked in the corner of the room, so I diverted his attention and pointed him in the direction of his great-grandmother, resplendent, even in mourning. He walked to her, and she held out her hands. They embraced. I glowed amidst this Norman Rockwell moment, so proud of myself.
Then life happened. Good intentions slid off into the dumpster, covered by yesterday’s garbage.
Nonfiction showed up and struck like an angry rattler. What we had rehearsed so dutifully did not cross Jasper’s lips. Instead, nonfiction thought this was a better idea: “MaMa, I’m sorry your sister died, but now she will become a zombie, and you can see her again.”
Thankfully, MaMa did not understand Jasper’s proclamation. Susan instinctively swooped in like a bird of prey to minimize any further damage. I stood there frozen like the statue of a fool, eaten up with pride, pride, pride, wondering how it all crashed and burned so quickly.
Since MaMa didn’t understand Jasper, then no harm, no foul. I’m thankful he was not at a microphone in the Rose Garden.
I say all that to say this: the struggle is real. Best laid plans can bite back, whether it’s the leader of the free world or a five-year-old child. And we handlers know best.
Sometimes we just complicate the message, I suppose.