There was a certain accord between them, right from the beginning. The boy thought the old man looked pretty good for ninety, and the old man thought the boy, whose name was Dale, looked pretty good for thirteen.
The kid started by calling him Great-Grandpa, but Barrett was having none of that. “It makes me feel even older than I am. Call me Rhett. That’s what my father called me. I was a Rhett before there was a Rhett Butler—imagine that.”
Dale asked him who Rhett Butler was.
“Never mind. It was a bad book and only a so-so movie. Tell me again about this project of yours.”
“We’re supposed to talk to our oldest relative, and ask what life was like when he was my age. Then I’m supposed to write a two-page report on how much things have changed. But Mr. Kendall hates generalities, so I’m supposed to concentrate on one or two specifics. That means—”
“I know what specifics are,” Rhett said. “Which specifics have you got in mind?”
Dale considered the question. While he did so, Rhett considered the boy: healthy mop of hair, straight back, clear skin and eyes. There were seventy-seven years between them, and Dale Alderson probably considered that an ocean, but to Rhett it was only a lake. Maybe no more than a pond.
You’ll get across it in no time, kiddo, he thought. The brevity of the swim between your bank and mine will surprise you. It certainly surprised me. He wasn’t sure his great-grandson—the youngest of the lot—even thought of him as an actual human being. More like a talking fossil.
“Speak up, Dale. I’ve got all day, but you probably don’t.”
“Well… you remember before there was TV, right?”
Rhett smiled, even though he felt this was a question to which his great-grandson should already have known the answer. He restrained an urge to say, Don’t they teach you kids anything, because it would have been curmudgeonly and impolite. Not to mention ungrateful. This boy had come to the Good Life Retirement Home for the sole purpose of hearing Barrett Alderson talk about the past, a subject that usually had kids running the other way as fast as they could go. It was only for a school assignment, true, but still. He had come all the way across town on the bus, which made Rhett think of trips he and his brother Jack had made on the interurban line to see their mother.