It took me almost 67 years to become a grandfather. So long, I wondered if it ever would happen. But now that My Darlin' Clementine has come into my life, it was well worth the wait.
Clementine Elizabeth was born in late August to my daughter Maggie and her husband, James, who live in this super-hot-and-dry, cactus-filled town west of Tucson in southern Arizona.
OK, I can guess what you're thinking -- please, not another old man's sentimental ramblings about his granddaughter. I suppose that's a danger, the way my head's been spinning since the wife and I got the great news a week before I turned 67. But after 40 years in the news biz, trying to report objectively, I think I can do this.
Still, it's tough to do when I look at that angelic face, that tiny body and that head of dark hair.
It's weird how the meaning of a word can change so much in a relatively short time. Since I've hit my 60s and my body parts have begun aching, quaking and breaking down, younger folks sometimes call me "Grandpa," and not as a compliment.
Technology is a challenge for us older folks. I am writing this on a laptop computer and, yes, I'm proud of myself for learning to use it, even though I just read an article saying laptops could soon become dinosaurs.
I do admit to being one of the nine people left in America who don't have a Smartphone or iPhone or iPad or one of their high-tech cousins, new versions of which seem to be coming out almost every day.
I have gotten used to paying for purchases with a debit card -- through way too much practice, unfortunately. The first few times I used it, I had to ask the checkout clerk the correct way to slide it through the machine, and sometimes I'd forget to type in my PIN number.
"C'mon Grandpa, there's other people who want to pay and get outta here,'' an irritated young person would snap.
Now, however, Grandpa is the best thing you can call me.
Back to Clementine. You might be thinking -- where did that name come from? It's not a family name, but my daughter and son-in-law liked it. If the baby had been a boy, he would have been Clement, after the word "clemency," meaning mercy.
So, when the baby decided to be a girl, they tweaked it. It's not related to the old song "My Darlin' Clementine," but I have decided to sing it to her anyway, as I hold her, hug her, kiss her and sometimes bottle-feed her. But not while I'm changing her diapers -- because Grandpa isn't that brave.
My wife Elizabeth claims I was chicken 30 years ago, too, when our son and daughter were babies and I avoided changing their diapers. For some reason, I'm a little hazy on that point.
I know all grandparents think their little ones are beautiful and I'm no exception. Clemmie (as I think we're going to call her) was 6 pounds, 3 ounces at birth and 19 inches long. And healthy, the pediatrician said. It just doesn't get much better than that.
Her birth has also made me think back through the generations. My grandmother knitted a small sweater and booties for a baby way back in the early 1960s, and they've been passed from family to family for decades. Now they belong to Clemmie -- five generations later. That blows my mind -- my grandmother making something that my granddaughter is now wearing. Wow.
Go West, old man?
A year ago, I would have bet the ranch that Beth and I would spend our remaining years at our present home near Harrisburg, which we bought when I was covering the state Capitol full-time for the Post-Gazette. But now I'm not so sure, with this little bundle of dynamite out here in the Wild West.
My daughter is already urging us to move out here to the Valley of the Sun, with its huge, wide-open blue sky full of massive white clouds.
The Tucson area (based on my month of study) is dominated by political conservatives; Mexican immigrants (legal and illegal); "lawns" made of pebbles; heat often at 100 degrees or more (yeah, I know, it's a "dry" heat); rugged, treeless mountains; legal medical marijuana; wide six- and eight-lane highways with 75 mph speed limits (and cops all over the place); deserts full of tall green, prickly cacti; and lots of small lizards darting across the ground.
I grew up in Mt. Lebanon and have spent most of my life in Pennsylvania, a state I love. But now that our son lives and works and just got married in San Francisco, and our daughter and family live here in Arizona, my ties to the Keystone State are fraying.
Selling a house and furniture and moving 2,000 miles across the country are the last things I wanted to do at my advanced age, but darlin' Clementine just might make me do it. Without uttering a word.
Tom Barnes is a semi-retired staff writer in the Post-Gazette's Harrisburg bureau (email@example.com, 717-623-1238). First Published October 11, 2013 8:00 PM