Will new city be as lovable as our old one?

Tuesday, August 18, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

For years, I've been watching grandparents make fools of themselves, and now I am worse than anybody I've ever seen.

Maybe it's because we don't have to deal with any of the chores -- 2 a.m. feedings, teething, potty training. We just get all the fun, the stuff we sometimes were too busy to savor. A second chance? Maybe.

Whatever it is, we are crazy about these kids of our kids.

Frankly borrowed

It reminds me of a joke, told to me by my friend, Frank Shue. He says he can't remember where he heard it, but he's sure he didn't make it up. He might have read it in the Reader's Digest. He is confident that he did not steal it from George Carlin.

But he really can't recall, so he says I should get off his back and just tell the joke already.

Here it is:

A young mother took her little boy to Sunday school for the first time. When she picked him up afterward, she asked him how he liked the class. "It was awful," he complained without hesitation. "Why?" his mother asked anxiously, fearing for his immortal soul. "What didn't you like?"

"The teacher," he replied. "She must have been Jesus' grandmother or something. He was all she talked about."

And I suppose that I have friends who would say that for the last three years, my granddaughter, Rosie, is all I talk about. Which is patently untrue.

I am sure that I discuss politics and current events: "I'm glad I don't have to explain the blue dress to Rosie."

Popular culture and education: "I've taught Rosie all the words to Long Neck Bottle by Garth Brooks. I hope the teacher at her preschool will not hold it against her."

Foreign affairs: "I wonder how old Rosie should be before her mother will trust me to take her to London? Or to Kings Island?"

Simple pleasures

Recently our travels have taken us to beautiful, downtown Cincinnati. Rosie found friendly people and amazing sights. And because I was with her, I saw them too. My friend, Jan, who is a teacher, says her students often help her notice all the things that are right with the world.

"We think it has to be bigger to be better," she says. "Magic can be little." And it can be new.

I have to admit that I've been doing a lot of complaining lately about the state of our city's downtown -- empty windows, empty promises. Rosie thinks downtown is a wonderland, with policemen on horses and women on dangerous shoes. She stopped at the Tyler Davidson Fountain because the water was coming right out of the turtle's mouth. (!!!)

It has been years since I really looked at the old girl, but the Genius of Water is lovely. Interesting and intricate. She's a little battered by time, needs new plumbing and a face-lift. It will cost a lot of money -- some estimates put it at $2.5 million.

Most people who have spent some time here in Cincinnati are a little dotty about her. I mean Cincinnati, not the Genius of Water. Our city will change more in the next two years than it has in the 20 preceding them. Fort Washington Way. Two new stadiums. Northern Kentucky's continual nudge. This is not repair. This is renewal. Change.

Mabley & Carew will never be back. The Albee Theater is gone. So is Jerry, the news vendor, replaced by those cold metal boxes. White gloves and Ruth Lyons won't be back. Free parking. Hahahahaha. But the new Cincinnati -- the one Rosie's generation will see centered around the riverfront -- is a second chance.

Perhaps we have the wisdom to make real improvements, to make fewer mistakes and have more fun. And if we do things right -- remembering to treasure and keep the good stuff -- maybe our grandchildren will love their Cincinnati as much as we have loved ours.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com