Mellowing. By Martin Green.
Christmas. Season of good cheer and good will toward men. My son Mark had invited me to Christmas dinner. (My wife Amy had passed away a few years before). He lived in a large house in a upscale suburb of Sacramento. He was a manager in a State agency. His wife Sylvia had a good job with a non-profit (so-called) agency. They were doing quite well.
Mark greeted me at the door, took my coat and led me into the living room. It was nice and warm in there, which was good as it was cold and damp outside. My two grandsons, Peter and Will, ages eight and ten, came in from somewhere and gave me their customary hugs. They thanked me for my presents. Id given Mark the money to get them something. Going shopping in a store like Toys R Us was beyond me now. Sylvia came in from the kitchen, her face nicely flushed, and kissed me on the cheek. I noticed that she seemed taller than me. When had that happened?
Finally, I was installed in an armchair and Mark brought me a glass of beer. He asked me how I was getting along. I lived in a retirement community just outside of Sacramento. Pretty well, I told him. I asked about his job and we talked about that for a while. Id also worked for the State before retiring but hadnt advanced nearly so high as hed done. Our conversation was interrupted by a crash and then a cry from Peter. Will had broken one of his toys and Peter had hit him. Will was crying. In earlier years, this kind of spat, which had been going on since the boys were infants, it seemed, would have irritated me, but now I just let Mark handle the problem. He (and Sylvia) were the ones who should have ended this kind of thing years ago.
Dinner was, as Id expected, late. Sylvia may have been a whiz in the office but not in the kitchen. Shed never learned how to cook properly. The boys kept asking when they were going to eat and I myself felt hunger pangs. Once, this too would have irritated me, but now I just sat back and took another handful of peanuts. It was something Id noticed in myself. Id been pretty cantankerous in my earlier years. Maybe that was one reason I hadnt gotten promoted at work. The many stupidities of the State bureaucracy bothered me and I let people know it. Then, at the retirement community, the little feuds and rivalries of the old fools made me mad. Amy kept telling me to stop being an old grouch.
But lately, ever since Id gotten over Amys passing, I guess, Id mellowed. When people forgot appointments I told them it didnt matter. When someone spilled wine over my pants at a luncheon, I lied and I said it was nothing. When some old duffer cornered me and gave me a hole-by-hole recital of his last golf round I listened politely. When one of the old gals told me all about her many disabilities I again listened politely and nodded wisely. Even when some old fool backed into my car I told him not to worry about it, the insurance companies would take care of it. Other people noticed my new demeanor and I was elected as an officer to several committees.
Dinner was finally ready, only an hour or so late, and we all trooped into the dining room. Mark carved the turkey, which had been overcooked. The boys began to squabble again and Sylvia told them to hush or Grandad would get mad. I told her I was fine. She and Mark discussed their vacation plans for the next year, a tour through the wine country of France. Once their talk of different vintages and the like would have annoyed me, too. I let their conversation pass over my head. I couldnt help but asking if they could pay for such a trip. Between them they had a good income, but they also liked to spend their money, too much so, if you asked me. They assured me they could afford it.
Dessert was pumpkin pie. Luckily, it was store bought so it wasnt bad. I asked for a cup of coffee. Id had another beer with dinner but was feeling okay. The boys kissed me good-night and went to their rooms to play with their toys. I finished my coffee and got ready to leave. Sylvia asked if I was sure I was up to driving back; I could stay over in the guest bedroom if Id like. The thought of getting up in the morning with the two boys fighting sent a little shiver through me. No, I looked forward to my own quiet house. I told her Id be fine. The retirement community was less than half an hours drive away.
Outside, it was even colder than earlier and little wisps of fog floated in the air. I took my usual route back, a road that left the development and soon went through farm country. As usual, there was little traffic on it. It was now dark and the fog was starting to thicken. I drove slowly. I became aware of a car behind me. Its headlights went on bright and almost blinded me. I was driving too slowly for this guy. Why didnt he simply go around me? The headlights went on bright again. All right. I pulled over to the narrow shoulder and slowed down. He went past me, but then he swerved and stopped just in front of my car. What the hell? I got out and there he was, a young guy in a hoodie. What do you think youre doing? I yelled at him.
He laughed. Why dont you learn how to drive, old man, he said.
He was playing with me. I have to admit I dont know exactly what happened in the next two minutes. I literally saw red. When I came out of it I was standing over the young man, a golf club, a putter, in my hand. I remembered Id been practicing putting that morning. I must have thrown the club in the car and when I got out Id grabbed it. I bent down and checked the young mans pulse. No, I hadnt killed him. He must have a hard head and maybe the hood had softened the blow. I made sure he was well off the road in case somebody drove by. I got back in my car and drove home.
It was good to get back to my warm house. I sat in an armchair, sipping a hot cup of coffee, and reflected on what had happened. I didnt think that kid would go to the police or tell anybody. Knocked out by an old man, he wouldnt want to admit that. No, that didnt worry me. But I was worried about what Id done. Id thought Id mellowed. I guess not. Maybe those little irritations at the dinner had gotten to me after all and when that fool kid had stopped me on the road Id exploded.. Id have to work on it.
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