Fitz column mug

David Fitzsimmons, Tucson’s most beloved ink-stained wretch.

The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.

I pinch my nose with the vise-like jaw of a Gila Monster every time we mosey up to Phoenix to see our beautiful grandkids, the spawn of a (Horrors!) mixed marriage. My son-in-law, the Sun Devil (a curse on their team!), and my daughter, the Wildcat-in-exile (bless her heart), live in Surprise, a suburb northwest of Phoenix.

We arrived Friday night and rang their doorbell. It chimed ASU’s fight song.

Waiting for their herd to stampede the door I smugly said to Ellen, “Joe will certainly enjoy our new doorbell when they come to see us.” (It triggers a hologram of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing “Bear Down” as a 10-second aerial fireworks display fills the sky over our abode with cardinal red and navy blue. It ends with a plea from The Foundation.)

After hugs, gossip and gifts, we did what grandparents do. We chased Emma, the 8-year old, and Cassius, the 2-year old, the entire Labor Day weekend. No closet, bedsheet or pillow fort offered safe harbor. No match for our patented “Tickle Monster Catch and Release” technique, their desperate shrieks echoed across the valley from Wickenburg to San Tan.

Sarah, in the throes of morning sickness, informed us, “Number three, here, better be the President of the United States for all the misery I’ve suffered.”

I thought, “Better yet, Student Body President of the University of Arizona.”

Sarah excused herself to rolf. When she returned to the sofa she had a faint I-can’t-believe-I’m-doing-this-again smile. I preached. “Kids. Your mom’s tough. Why? Because she’s a Wildcat. That’s why, by gum.”

We made water balloons. “Emma, the U of A taught me how to tie water-balloon knots.” Sploosh. Sploosh. Sploosh. They drenched me.

Claiming they were out of water balloons, Cass called for a truce. I unleashed the garden hose on the fools, shouting,“Wildcats never surrender!” They pelted me with the approximately one thousand water balloons they’d been hiding behind their scrawny little backs. Lousy. Cheating. Mini Sun Devils.

While Cass, and mom, green as a pickle, napped the lunch hour away, Ellen and I treated Emma to “Dora and the Lost City of Gold” at the Cineplex. “Emma, did you know Dora’s a Wildcat? Yup. Earned her degrees in Geography and Anthropology at the U of A. Minored in Jungle.”

“Grandpa? Can I have some Neon Caramel Corn, some Cherry Chomps, some Atomic Sour Bombs and a Very Berry Slushee?”

“Sure. It’s your parent’s dental bill. Hey! After this we can go back home and watch vintage tapes, online, of the great U of A football team winning.”

Greg Hansen insists they exist. Somewhere.

We loved Dora. I made Emma promise we’d see it again. Together. In 10 years. A hug sealed our pact. “Grandpa! I’ll be 18 and you’ll be 74.”

“And you’ll be going to college somewhere great. Hmm. I wonder where?” I hummed “Bear Down” and patted the Wildcat on my T-shirt.

“Grandpa, what are you doing?”

“Nothing. Hey! I hear you play basketball.”

“I love basketball!”

Trap primed! “Next time you come to Tucson we’ll see the U of A women’s basketball team play. They’re awesome.”

Emma lit up. Trap sprung. “The U of A is cool, Emma. We’ll go see the awesome museums there, too. When you go to college you should live away from home. Explore. Like Dora. How are your SAT scores? You should see our student housing.”

“I’m 8, Grandpa.”

I handed her the brochure anyway.

Back at their home we described what we ate at the movie, in detail, to her mom. Mom smiled, made a yurp sound and excused herself to rolf.

That afternoon we invited Emma to swim at our hotel. “We have a pool just like this one at our house. We’re not that far from the University. They have a Mermaid Program. We should look into it.”

Watching her swim I felt the pang of missing so much of her growing up.

Monday and the time to leave came too fast. We parted ways like birds chirping and pecking each other’s cheeks. “Love you, Sarah.” “Bye.” “Hugs!” “Love you, Joe.” “Bye.” “Knuckle blast, Cass!” “Bye, beast in the belly!” “High-five, Emma.” “Bear down, kids! Go, Cats!”

Sun Devil Joe froze. ”What?”

“I was just saying watch out for bears ... who are down ... lot of moody bears out there this summer. Cass, where’s the U of A brochure I gave you?”

Emma said, “He ate it.”

“I’ll bring more next time. And some scholarship applications, a pennant, some T-shirts and two Wilbur the Wildcat dolls. Make that three.”

We felt a terrible hole as they disappeared from view. Around Ahwatukee the emotional choke left our throats. A wistful Ellen said, “The kids all seem very normal.”

“Yeah. I love ’em to pieces. Do you think Cass would like a University of Arizona sippy cup or a Wilbur bib?”

David Fitzsimmons: tooner@tucson.com.

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