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Steve Barnes | Happy Birthday Lauren

Dearest Lauren,

Something happened in the year since my last letter, something so predictable it was like the sun rising and yet so strange it was if it rose in the west: you grew. I’d guess about an inch, maybe more, straight up. And that is as it should be, though this constant upward mobility, we should call it, has your elders remembering the good old days.

Back then they were my “show-ders” and not my shoulders. It was the “Cabidul” I showed you around (and where I showed you off), the place where the “gubaner” worked. I watched you at the “goff” course and we got a samwich” afterward. Your diction is perfect now, you wrinkle your nose at even the thought of climbing aboard my shoulders, you prefer mac-and-cheese and hot dogs to sandwiches after golf and, as for the Capitol, you’ve been there, done that. Governors don’t impress you; good. For you, for the gubaners.

So much about you impresses me. That’s always been the case but every year some new things come along to swell a grandfather’s heart. The way you volunteer every week to help at church. That you have learned the importance of thank-you notes, each of them a certain discipline, demonstrating that you care. Your increasing devotion to your mom and dad, and your sister, the four of you closer than ever. That you jump on that homework first thing, knocking out math problems the likes of which I cannot comprehend, did not see until college and never solved. And only then to the fairways, stretching those other muscles, none of them as important as the one between your ears.

Entirely predictable as well: you added a few more trophies, plaques and ribbons to your room, that pink wonderland of girl stuff and young womanhood — books and golf clubs and, of course, golf clothes; a doll or two, or three, still; diaries and mementos and photos, and the money you’ve earned and saved; oh, and the charging cords for your smartphone and your tablet, the former the gift you seemed more delighted to receive last Christmas than that formidable titanium driver, the latter your own gift to yourself, your chosen reward, the cyber-payoff of your earning and saving, its own lesson in consumer economics. And I almost forgot your keyboard, the one you’re taking lessons on, communicating with your music teacher by Skype. On the tablet you saved for.

Tablets, smartphones, Skype: why, in my day — oh, never mind.

You are weeks into your summer and but a few days into your 13th year, and, already as bronzed as a new statue, you have weeks of sun and fun to come before the classroom calls. When it does I know you’ll be ready because you continue to read, keeping a list of the books you’ve gone through until that early autumn day of reckoning when together we count the titles, each representing an addition to your savings via subtraction from my wallet. It is money with which I delightedly part.

There were other predictables since your last birthday, and not all of them sweet. Your country remains a sharply, sometimes bitterly divided land. We may be adults but we don’t always behave like grownups; we seem to have lost some of the values you are learning and the virtues you display. We aren’t as kind to one another as you would have us be. Faith divides us, often murderously so, when it ought to unite us. Faith has not failed us, we have failed it. We suspect, we accuse, we fear.

Unlike you, we save too little if we save at all. And we spend but we do not invest, so there’s no tablet to take music lessons on. I’m talking about roads and highways and bridges, and airports and dams. And important research, some of which we would ignore anyway if its findings displeased us, inconvenienced us. We could do a much, much better job of giving every young lady and young man the sort of schooling you’re receiving so they could get good jobs when it’s their turn at the wheel. And, yes, we raised the cost of college once again, so I know your parents won’t mind a bit if those incredible putts of yours keep you on par for a scholarship.

I’m not a superstitious man. But I can’t escape the feeling that you are in for another good year. Call it Lucky 13. Happy Birthday!

Love, Granddad.

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