Jay gave me crap about the plan the whole way over. He parked, sat back smugly and asked if I needed help crossing the street. I shot him the finger, told him to leave it running.
Nearing St. Peters Church on Seventh and Reading, I tossed my smoke and fixed my hair. I entered through the basement, expecting stale coffee and old donuts so the thick sugary smells of fresh cookies and homemade pies was a nice surprise.
I was only a few steps in when a tiny, hunched lady greeted me with a sad smile. “I’m sorry dear, but Narcotics Anonymous meets on Thursday nights,” she whispered, wringing her hands. “This is the Grandparent Support group.”
“Yep. That’s me.” I said, making a line for those cookies.
Her sweater clips jingled as she tried to keep up. “Oh Dear,” she said. “I’m Holly. Let me introduce you to the others.”
A quick scan of the others only confirmed that I was a genius. The only threat looked to be Gene, an old gruff with ears the size of side-view mirrors and one of those US Marines hats with the golden wings on the brim. This would be cake.
I found a seat beside Carol, a woman fending off her mid-sixties who quickly closed in on me. They all did, and I had no problems unloading my life to a semi-circle of repressed bridge players wearing ornamental cardigans.
“So tell us, about yourself, uh…” Carol gave me a pat on my knee.
“Chevy,” I said with a shrug. “Chevy Chase.”
“And you’re a grandfather, Chevy?”
“Well, I just found out last week,” I said, tossing my hands around my lap. “See, my daughter and I haven’t spoken much in the past few years. My ex told her all sorts of lies about me and so, yeah, it hasn’t been great…”
The pity gazes arrived on schedule. The cookies were magical. I plodded on through a mouthful of sugar. “So here I am, thirty-seven and a grandparent. It’s quite the transition…Hey uh, Gene, my man. Are there any more of these sugar cookies left?” I held up my plate. “Do you mind?”
Gene huffed off, his mall-walker sneakers squeaking across the worn tile. The ladies eyed me as though I were a gift from above. Just like I was eyeing the prize—those purses and coats strewn across the tables and chairs over by the piano.
Carol handed me a tissue. I was so much like her son. Shit, I was everybody’s son, only I was thoughtful enough to visit while the real sons hadn’t called or written in years.
The apple pie was still warm in the middle, I tried to stay on task. “I mean, to think, my ex-wife cheats on me, takes our only kid and turns her against me. And now, with a new baby, so much innocence—Oh man. Is this crust from scratch?”
Holly beamed. “Of course, Chevy. You eat that up, okay sweetheart? This is exactly why we have the group. Many of us hardly see our grandchildren at all…let me get my purse, I’ll show you a picture.”
“You do that, Holls. Anyway, all I want to do is be a part of this child’s life. Play house, or ball, build a snowman, go fishing and all the things I never got to do with my sweet Emma…”
Two cookies fell into my lap. Old Gene thrust a cup of steaming coffee at my face and grunted. “Get a grip, snowflake.”
Carol set her arm around me and shot him daggers. “Oh Gene, stop it. You’re just sore because your son took his boy to the World Series and you weren’t invited.”
“Ouch.” I said, breaking character.
Gene shook his head. “Sixty years I’ve been watching the Cubbies lose. And they can’t take the old guy? Ahh…” He waved us off and slunk off to the bathroom.
Holly stood. “Okay, peeps. It’s time for Teen Slang Bingo!”
With all the rustling I saw the purses spilling with flip phones and pill holders but also the goods: credit cards and checkbooks and yet better still, cash.
Before you could say Guidepost, I had four wallets in my jacket. I grabbed another cookie for the road and made for the exit. Only there was Big Gene, glaring at me, his fists balled into blocks. He was locked and loaded and ready to give me a piece of the greatest generation. I started to explain but he shook his head.
“You know, those ladies in there…they still believe there’s some good in this world…”
Again, I opened my mouth but he took a step towards me so that I could hear the raspy battle in his chest. “I’ll make you a deal, Mr. Chase,” he said, nodding at my coat. “Hand those back to me, get going, and don’t ever show your face again. In return, I’ll leave your nose on straight.”
The car was still sitting off the curb. I fell into the seat and motioned for Jay to get moving. He put the car in gear, looking me over.
“So? What’d you score?”
“Some good advice.”