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Earthly Delight


Twenty pounds of physical perfection rests in my arms. Thelook and feel of my first grandchild is an earthly delight. I marvel at her form -- the tiny blue veins that fan out beneath the blush of her cheeks, the petal-like softness of her skin.

It has been 26 years since a creature so small has slept in my home. This time, however, the burden of constant care is not mine. I sleep through the night in queenly fashion while the baby's mother, around whom I once danced in attendance, has her ear cocked, ready to jump when her infant sounds the alarm.

My daughter and her husband came from opposite ends of the globe. She was born in Boston. His early years were spent in Poland, his young adulthood in Israel and now, in his mid-30s, he is the father of a new American born in Ross Perot country.

Dallas, like so many American cities, is a patchwork quilt of races and nationalities. A foreigner need not feel foreign for long. My daughter and son-in-law, for example, buy traditional Middle Eastern foods in a shop owned by Iranians and dine at a restaurant run by a Syrian famiy. Their babysitter is a recent immigrant from Tashkent in what was formerly the Soviet Union. Their closest neighbors are from Ethiopia. Not long ago, my son-in-law met me at the Dallas airport in his ancient pickup truck. In the back, tired after a days work, was his nine-member Mexican paint crew.

Soon my grand-daughter will learn her first words of Hebrew and English, and down the road some Russian as well. She is one of the millions of children born in this country each year who root their foreign-born parents in our soil. These young people, with their diverse cultural traditions and languages, enrich the American stew and help bridge the chasm that often separates their parents from the mainstream.

My grand-daughter is a constant reminder of the role chance and physical mobility play in our lives; of how people from far-away places meet by accident, marry and multiply. In my father's time, it took weeks to travel from one side of the world to the other. Yet he, a Russian immigrant, managed to meet and marry a woman from Missouri and raise apple-pie American kids in a small New Jersey town. Even our Yankee born "Texas" president has a Mexican daughter-in-law and grandchildren who reflect their mixed parentage.

In addition to all this cross-fertilization, my grandchild also represents the miracle of infant development, a miracle at which everyone marvels but which no one can explain. Last week she could not stand alone or blow a kiss. This week these are her major accomplishments. Times flies. Four decades ago I was a young woman wondering what lay ahead; today I am a grandmother, with more years behind me than lie ahead.

Janet Heller writes from Baltimore.

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