He's a good kid, and this little trip wasn't undertaken for therapy or restoration of some lost innocence, although it was one grand attempt to wean him away from the glories of his iPod Touch, which he adores. But then, he's a kid and a boy and there are so many games. You know.
So we took off west, checking the sky to know whether to go in that direction or north--wherever the clouds looked less ominous. I chose west, gambling, and lost when we got there because the darkness was far too threatening in such open, hold-no-secrets land.
We went on to museum of music, the Museum of Music, just up the road. We'd never been there, and neither had our soon-to-be fifth grade grandson. He wasn't exactly taken with the idea--a museum about music? He sings a ton, but visiting a place with a bunch of clarinets hadn't been something he'd dreamed about. He wasn't surly. Like I said, he's a good kid.
No matter. We're in a war here--anything we can line up as interesting vs. the virtual world which he controls in his own fingertips. And hey, how about Bob Dylan's own acoustic guitar?
"Papa, who's Bob Dylan?"
"This singer," I tell him, "as old as your grandpa."
No matter, there's enough stuff around to keep him interested--every last room of the place outfitted with musical instruments--zithers, hollow log drums, and a thousand keyboards.
"Papa, what's the big deal about Elvis?"
I don't know myself, so I point at the picture of him holding the guitar that's right there in front of us, where the crooner is jutting his pelvis in that perilous way parents despised. "He's was the first one to dance like that," I told him, a lame answer.
"Hip-hop?" he asks.
I tell him not exactly but something like it, and we move along.
Then--God bless 'em--an elderly couple strung with earphones and holding tightly to what looks to be some kind of iPod stops us to explain that we really should be carrying this mobile docent that gives you a musical tour of a musical museum. I love the idea of a stronger tour; Pieter's eyes light up with the possibilities of yet another screen full of info he can carry in his hand.
It's a smashing success, a kind of argument all its own for common grace: my grandson has his hand-held, and I get him lost in a museum. I declare that a victory.
But there's so much to learn, so little time, isn't there? Still, the gizmo has him into the place, and my cup runneth over.
A couple of ancient pianos are breath-taking, their bodies canvases in their own right, outright museums all by themselves. Look at this:
Open the top and you've got your own Sistine Chapel. It's impossible not to see something like this and think about courtly extravagance, men and women in powdered wigs, men in square shoulders and swallow-tails, women in billowing dresses so wide they could have hidden a pre-school. They're holding fans or tatted hankies, dabbing at their nose but being careful not to smudge the grease paint or touch that garishly embellished mole. And all around them, you hear this gorgeous tinkling sound, something by--who knows?--Mozart himself maybe?--Chopin, maybe Johann Sebastian.
Or this one, standing right beside the Sistine Chapel, another masterpiece so redolent with artistry that its mere presence strikes awe.
We're there, I swear, in a drawing room somewhere on a chateau or seated gracefully in a castle's Great Room; and all around us are royalty, nothing but lords and laddies and maybe a smattering of children, seen but not heard. We're privileged and posh, we're upper class and uppity, and all around us is music, music, music--music of the spheres.
And then I see the legs of this masterpiece, the whole thing held up securely by brilliantly fashioned servants. The moral lesson is profound--what enabled such incredible art, such baroque-ish success, was an economic system created by caste and race and ethnicity, by the sweat and tears of unchosen races whose brawn and sheer will to survive made possible all this excess, the paradox of the fancy piano.
I wanted to tell him that, to show him the moral lesson--isn't that what grandfathers are for? I wanted him to read the story set forth so vividly on this gorgeous grand piano, to understand that a not-to-be-forgotten part of this whole history is holding up the masterpiece. Without the servants, the instrument would come crashing down.
But Pieter is watching something else and listening to his digital guide, and besides maybe he's too young. When he sees this piano, he doesn't see Jacobean history or powdered wigs, and it's going to take time for him to grow into the moral world's own many paradox.
We leave, and there's exactly one minute left on our parking meter, and that fact makes him howl. We almost expired.
The sky has cleared enough for us to take the hike now, so we do, up an aberration created somehow by an ancient glacier, a bump on the prairie, a place where Lewis and Clark stopped when they were here in the neighborhood. It's hot and sticky from all the rain, but he loves Spirit Mound, as do his grandparents, and he's all go when we get out of the car.
"Look at that, Papa," he says when we start the ascent. "It looks almost alive."
He's pointing at the peak, that bump far away on the horizon because the long grass this spring--lots and lots of rain--is moving back and forth as if being strummed by the staggered breath of endless prairie winds. Things are moving up top.
"That's why people used to call where we live an 'ocean of grass,'" I told him. "Looks almost like water."
"It looks like there's all kinds of snakes there," he said.
He'd seen something himself that maybe he'd never forget, having experienced it one hot day in late June on a hike. I figured we could have done worse.
There'll be more time for history lessons and moral persuasion, I figure, more time for the paradox of the fancy piano.
For the time being at least, this morning, this retired grandpa is thankful for yesterday's wind on tall-grass prairie around a place called Spirit Mound.