Never say never

Wilken's Watch

There are many things about growing old that the greeting card types studiously avoid. The physical falling off is the most obvious problem but for those of us who will never see 60 again there are other difficulties.
As a kid, I used to hate when older relatives would mock my sports heroes. Whenever I started talking about my hero, Willie Mays, my maternal Irish-German grandfather always brought up Ty Cobb, the wild, troubled but record-setting Detroit Tiger who played in 1910 or so. Since Willie, in addition to being the best player I ever saw, was African-American-a no no for a white child in the 1955 Midwest-I wrote off Gramps' mockery of the Say Hey Kid as close-minded racism. I realize now that race might have been a component of gramps' opinion but it wasn't the main thing. Gramps loved Ty Cobb because as a young man he saw The Georgia Peach at the ballpark, live.
I know this is true and not a gloss on my grandpa's lack of social conscience because I heard myself the other day telling a younger friend that Ken Griffey Jr., couldn't carry Mr. Mays' jockstrap. As I heard the words coming out of my mouth I was blasted by an internal picture of my gramps, dead for more than 50 years. "You know," I ended up saying, "the numbers show Griffey and Mays to be comparable. I guess, but I just love Mays as a ballplayer."
The young friend, cheated out of a spirited sports argument, looked instantly disappointed, but I couldn't continue. The shock of seeing myself in my grandpa shut me down quicker than one of the angry nuns who taught, and tried to silence me in grade school.
Music presented similar problems.
My father loved opera. He didn't speak Italian (he pronounced it Eyetalian) but that didn't matter. He loved "Aida," "Madame Butterfly" and other squallings of that ilk, and played them constantly on the little family Zenith phonograph in the living room. He had 33-1/3s, 45s and 78s.
At 14, using money I earned caddying and selling magazines door to door, I bought my own record player, a mini-suitcase looking folding job that only played 45s. The first record I bought was "Shop Around" by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. The second was "Good Golly Miss Molly," by Little Richard. The third was "One Night" by Elvis Presley.
Every night after dinner, I walked down the narrow hall in our railroad half of a duplex -- my paternal grandparents on the other side of the thick stucco wall which separated mom, dad me and sister, Karen, from Grandma and Grandpa Wilken-- and started playing the only eight minutes of music I owned. My record player couldn't generate much sound, but evidently it was enough to raise the paternal ire.
"How can you listen to than damn jungle music?" the opera lover asked.
By now Cincinnati's omnipresent UpSouth racism was a given of life and so I focused less on the racial component of the paternal criticism and more on the Old Man's musical fuddy-duddyness. I told him it wasn't jungle music, it was rock and roll.
"Keep your door closed when you play that crap," he answered.
Dad died younger than I am now in 1968. I didn't think too much about his misguided musical criticism until 1994 when my youngest daughter, Vanessa, turned 15 and demanded to move back to Seattle and her dad's (my) apartment. Vanessa had been seven when her mother and I parted company and she'd moved with her mother back to Indianapolis.
I foresaw certain problems Vanessa and I might develop sharing a small one-bedroom Queen Anne apartment. I was right.
We were pretty crowded and she and my then-girlfriend, only 11 years older than the teenaged child, did not get along. At all. Neither of these things were a big surprise and I adjusted.
The problem I hadn't foreseen, since unlike my father, I have always been hip, au courant, on top of the sitz, you name it, was how abysmal my teenage daughter's musical taste would be. Vanessa, an honor student and a cheerleader, had one big problem, she liked rap music (a total oxymoron in my book). Later she developed a more personal problem -- she dated an aspiring rapper.
About six weeks into what seemed like an eternal Tupac Fesitval I heard myself saying: "That stuff (a euphemism because, also unlike my father who was old school and so well spoken around children, I had a potty mouth) isn't musical. All they do is sample better musicians and then spew anti-women, anti-cops, even sometimes anti-white rhetoric; and the rhyme isn't even any good. What the hell is wrong with you?"
She smirked. She had a good memory and I'd forgotten I'd told her a mocking story once about my Dad's take on early rock and roll.
"Maybe Rap is the real jungle music," she said her smirk growing.
Since our apartment only had one door other than the front one, I was once again forced to close my bedroom door because of popular music. I felt every bit the disappointed musical martyr my father must have seen himself as back in 1959. It took me awhile, and I still don't like opera, but there are a few of the more cerebral rappers on my personal playlist these days. For example, the early Marshal Mathers is only a couple CDs away from Mozart and Miles.
These type of incidents continue to happen to me and I realize growing old they will happen more and more. Ten years ago I would have sworn on a stack of Bibles and Korans that I would never be one of those old people talking about how much better things used to be. But I can feel the urge and if I've learned one thing, it is, Never Say Never.[[In-content Ad]]