The boys grow older

“One gray night it happened; Jackie Paper came no more…”

The lesson of the Peter Paul and Mary song “Puff the Magic Dragon” is that little boys grow up, and in some ways it’s sad. I am watching it happen to grandsons Tucker and Perrin, and as I look forward to their visit early next month I wonder how long they will think Grampa is cool. They are now 12 and 10 years old and definitely pre-teens. The tickle games, the bounce-on-the-bed, the teasing, the hide and seek, no longer amuse them. Perrin is devoted to his soccer. Tucker plays piano, tuba, and three kinds of guitar; he was part of a guitar-and-drum trio that blared out a Green Day song at his middle school’s talent show.

For several years we took care of the boys here on Birch Lake for the Memorial Day weekend while their mom and dad attended the Indianapolis 500. This year all four went to the race as a family. On the long weekend Noelle and I missed cooking them fish-fry breakfasts. Helping them make personal pizzas for lunch. Taking them swimming at Sand Lake Beach. Visiting the “creaky tree” at the end of our private road. Going to the roaring water at the Rainbow Dam and stopping on the way home for ice cream in Lake Tom. Sitting on the screen porch at night listening for owls.

Most of all I missed taking them fishing. I used to treat them to evenings catching a bounty of walleyes, and sometimes perch or bluegills. Each boy at some point has had a tussle with a musky that grabbed a walleye he was reeling it in. We’ll still enjoy those things when they visit a week from now with daughter Sonya and her husband Chad. It’s actually more fun when the entire family is here, and so far the boys haven’t changed completely. They’re still kids who play with the stuffed animals on the bed in the nook beneath the stairs to our lower level, who race the battery-powered slot cars on the track they snap together on the floor, who love bedtime movies in their PJs with popcorn and soda and, as the night gets late, tire and fade and fall into sleep like cherubs.

Tucker still has a high pitched voice that belies his robust frame. Perrin still dives with gusto into Gramma’s art projects at the kitchen table. But they’re maturing, and we have to deal with them differently than when they were little. They expect it. They still love coming to our place, which they still call “the green house.” But by the end of the visit they’re eager to get back home, to their yard, their bicycles, their growing circle of friends, Perrin to his soccer, Tucker to his music.

Before we know it they’ll be high school students. College graduates, If we’re lucky we’ll live to see them as young professionals starting their careers. I can only hope I’ll have given them a treasure that lasts a lifetime: memories of Birch Lake and a love for the Northwoods and the outdoors. Maybe fishing will be the tie that always binds us. Still, like Puff the dragon, I’m sure one day I will mourn their childhood’s expiration. I’ll have no green scales to let fall like rain, but pardon me if I let fall a tear or two.