March 10, 2024

By Arthur H. Gunther III

(From an earlier essay, when a grandson was much younger.)

Had a conversation with a young fellow at a train station in chilly, windy weather when the topic turned to hiccups since that was what the 3.5-year-old was using for punctuation in what otherwise was rapid-fire language. We were waiting for his mom and dad, my son and his wife, to return from an anniversary trip to New York City, and I figured he would like to see the Metro-North local arrive. It isn’t every day that a kid looks at a train these days – it’s still a thrilling sight, as it has been since the first Erie ran in my parts from the late 1840s into the 1950s.

But keeping a youngster occupied at a busy station, even for the 10 minutes I figured were left before the train pulled in, is challenging. I don’t know his world, and he doesn’t know mine. What are Sam’s day dreams? His fears? His concept of time, space? How does he look at people? What does he think of his old codger grandfather, an odd-enough fellow?

Discussing hiccups seemed an excellent way to keep him occupied. We had a conversation, parts of which, maybe even the whole, might seem silly, but then again, pondering the universe in any which way led us to the electric light and other good things, too. In the least, it can be entertaining.

I asked Sam where he got his hiccups. Did his mom put them in his breakfast cereal? Did his teacher give a treat? Since, I, too, wanted hiccups so as to not be left out, I asked Sam where I could buy them.

He answered with a bunch of “no’s” and “I don’t know.” He did so quite seriously, as if we were professors pondering quantum physics. Sam thought it quite natural that his grandfather and he would be having such a conversation, and he pondered every answer. At no point did he think the questions silly. Perhaps in a few years he will see nonsense, but not now.

Now is still time for Sam to have an awfully broad imagination, an unlimited field of dreams where he can race this way and that, chasing this thought or another. Why not? He has not yet been told to limit his thinking, to set boundaries. Sam — any youngster his age — can be what Tom Edison always was, a thinker without qualification whose imagination is without limits.

Soon, thanks to a conversation about hiccups, including asking Sam what color his were, whether he saved a few in his pocket for an after-lunch treat, and whether he could see them on his computer, the train with mom and dad pulled in.

The very sight of his parents made Sam lose his hiccups and eagerly embrace his favorite people. Wonderful. Gramps moseyed on.

Hope Sam had some hiccups later, though.

The writer is a retired newspaperman.