The world according to Jeff l Chuck’s World
Last updated 10/10/2018 at Noon
“The rabbit died” is an expression that I assume is meaningless to most people, although maybe not you. It would probably not be meaningless to my mother, for example.
From the 1920s until the early 1960s, women who suspected they were pregnant supplied a urine sample to their doctor, which was injected into a rabbit. The hormone concentrated in pregnant humans will cause a rabbit’s ovaries to become deformed, thus indicating pregnancy.
Therefore, “the rabbit died” became a euphemism in an age when the word “pregnancy” was considered too racy for common conversation (and movie dialogue, and newspaper articles). Reproductive health was a gold mine of euphemisms back then, in fact.
To be clear, the rabbit always died. It didn’t matter if the test was positive or not. This is where euphemisms get into trouble.
But eventually science got better, as it does. The cruel and wasteful practice of using the cast of “Watership Down” in modern medicine was replaced by switching to frogs that did not have to die but were, frankly, not nearly as cute.
And eventually a chemical process was developed, which soon became available as an over-the-counter home pregnancy test in the 1970s, no frogs or bunnies necessary.
So my wife and I were of the first generation of expectant parents to get the big news in our bathroom. Actually, the bathroom was the appropriate place, since my wife had been developing a habit of throwing up in there every morning, but we needed a little verification.
Fast-forward 29 years, and the product of that first positive test had her own bathroom moment. I found out early, long before I was allowed to say a word to anyone, so I had time to prepare. I was 54, certainly old enough to be a grandparent, but the whole thing felt a little theoretical, and far away.
And then one day I was mowing the lawn, and I got a text message from my son-in-law in Austin. He’d attached a sound file, and so I stood there in the spring sun, a thousand miles away from their doctor’s office, where they were getting an ultrasound, and I listened to the sound of my grandson’s heartbeat for the first time.
I mean. That kind of takes away the theoretical nature of things.
I’m not going to indulge in the joys of being a grandparent in this space, don’t worry. We’ve all heard the stories, and the countless clichés of the overwhelming love and wonder at the arrival of a descendant. Those clichés are all true, by the way, but I don’t need to go into detail.
I would, however, be glad to write each and every one of you a personal email describing how amazing my grandson is. It would not be a problem.
He turns 5 this week, which strikes me as a big deal, for a very personal reason. He will remember being 5 years old, because I remember being 5, which means he will remember me.
Given our distance, up until now I’ve just been Johnny Appleseed, planting nuggets in that developing brain, showing up every three months to get reacquainted. I expected to bond, but not stick. That would take some time.
The time has come, I suspect. I now have to become the grandfather he will remember long after I’m gone. Research seems prudent.
There are certainly examples in my own family, but I was open to suggestions. My first thought was that I wanted to be like the grandpa in “The Princess Bride,” with my overcoat and fedora, carrying a copy of a timeless story.
I might skip the moustache. And the kissing parts.
My son suggested Grandpa Joe from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” who guided his grandson toward a lifetime of golden tickets, but honestly I have some problems with Grandpa Joe, and not just his moustache. That whole thing about staying in bed for decades until he got motivated by greed bothers me.
We discussed this for a while, in fact, maybe a little longer than some people would think of as normal, until I figured it out.
I want to be whatever kind of grandpa that Jeff Goldblum would be. Full stop.
First of all, I already have the glasses.
I can learn to dress elegantly. I can play the piano well enough to fool a 5-year-old, no question. And I’m whimsical. Everybody says so. I’m definitely going to be a whimsical Goldblum Grandpa from here on out.
I’ll be curious and fascinated by this burgeoning brain. I’ll express genuine wonder at how a toy truck can transform into an alien monster. I will be the coolest grandpa ever.
And at night, we’ll settle down in the dark to discuss big ideas, such as how life began in the ocean and how birds are really dinosaurs in disguise. We’ll talk about the speed of light and the magic of Harry Potter.
I’ve seen every Jeff Goldblum movie ever made, I’m almost positive. I got this.
I’ll tell him stories about when his mother was a little girl, and when I was a little boy, and he’ll yawn and grow tired, and wonder aloud about how this all works. He’ll drift off, then, and I’ll lay my head on his chest gently.
“Life, um, finds a way,” I’ll murmur, but he’ll be asleep and I’ll really just be listening for the sound of his heart, as I have for a while now.