Weary grandpa eager for next round


SENOR SPENCES was on the move. He made a beeline from the pay phones and hooked a sharp left, heading up the spacious corridor that led from the D terminal at Baltimore-Washington International Airport toward the doors to the parking garage.

His legs moving swiftly in his tiny blue jeans, Senor Spences darted left toward a small restaurant, then veered sharply right toward a bookstore. Further up the corridor, he spotted a little girl who had sat down on the floor. He plopped down to join her.

Now he sits, I thought as I watched this bundle of energy, this whirling dervish of all 20-month-olds, calmly sitting in the middle of the terminal. I had been trying -- with little success -- to get him to sit for more than 24 hours. It had seemed, until now, the most comfortable sitting spot he could find was on my chest.

Soon his mother -- my daughter Jennifer -- retrieved him from his makeshift seat and guided my youngest grandson, Spencer Cherry, back toward gate D-17, where U.S. Air Metrojet Flight 2977 would soon take them -- along with Senor Spences' older brother Kaine Cherry -- to Atlanta.

I had dubbed Spencer Cherry -- born Feb. 3, 1998 -- Senor Spences soon after his birth. My baffled wife and daughter wanted to know why.

"We've had Senor Wences, why can't we have Senor Spences?" I answered. It made sense to me at the time.

My watch showed 3: 35 p.m. In less than a half-hour, Senor Spences and Kaine -- my boys, my beloved grandsons -- would be gone. Just a few weeks ago, their father had gotten a better job in Atlanta. He had headed to Georgia on Sunday. I would have preferred to spend those final minutes with the boys sitting on my lap, with me spouting grandfatherly wisdom. But Senor Spences was having none of it.

He had worn out my wife -- who watched both boys as their parents packed -- on Oct. 2 and Sunday. The breaking point probably came when she served them breakfast on Sunday morning. She told the oldest one, Kaine, to watch Senor Spences while she went upstairs a second. She returned to find that the dervish had overturned his bowl of cereal and sent milk flowing across the table.

"I watched him," Kaine said triumphantly. "He did it."

On Monday, it was my turn. The wife needed a break. The daughter was still packing. Senor Spences was still being a dervish. But I had a strategy. I would let the little guy do whatever he liked. As it turned out, this included hoisting himself up on a dining-room chair, climbing on the table and taking a seat, repeatedly climbing the stairs, ensconcing himself on his grandmother's office desk and hopping on the queen-sized bed in the sleeping quarters.

My strategy was simple. Let Senor Spences, with me acting as a careful spotter, engage in all those activities that were sure to wear him out and force him to retire early.

That, of course, was the theory, which was only valid if Senor Spences ran out of gas before I did. It didn't happen. That Energizer Bunny-boy didn't conk out until 11 that night. He was up before 9 the next morning, rarin' to go. He wore me to a frazzle before I left to give a speech around 11.

Containing Senor Spences left me little time to talk to his brother: my oldest grandson, 7-year-old Kaine. He had been for years "my bestest pal ever," I repeatedly told him. I showed him the Star Wars Trilogy when he was 3 1/2. He's been hooked ever since. For the past four years, the two of us have engaged in light-saber battles, with Kaine always making sure he was Luke Skywalker and I was Darth Vader.

We were side by side the night "The Phantom Menace" opened nationwide, huddled together as we watched Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn try to dispatch the evil Sith lord Darth Maul in a light-saber fight. In subsequent weeks, Kaine and I ignored the controversy about whether the character Jar Jar Binks was a racial stereotype or simply annoying. We debated the real essence of the story.

"Darth Sidious," I told him, referring to the equally evil Sith lord companion of Darth Maul, "and Senator Palpatine are the same person." At the film's end, Senator Palpatine had been named the Galactic Republic's chancellor.

Kaine would have none of it. The two looked nothing alike. They couldn't be the same person.

"They're the same guy, Kaine-boy," I insisted. "Same guy."

While I was giving chase to his brother around the terminal, Kaine was engrossed in his new Star Wars Game Boy toy. Jennifer and I had no sooner made it back to the gate with Senor Spences than the call to board went out. My wife and I sat in the terminal until the Metrojet lifted off.

I watched as exhaust fumes billowed from the jet's engines. I was suddenly overcome with the urge to have a light-saber fight.

It looks like I'll be driving to Atlanta quite a bit.

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