Potential

I knew that my granddaughter had Potential when she was very young.

You may have heard it called the Golden Touch, the Changing Eye, the Cleansing Spirit, the Influence – even The Force. But my grandfather called it Potential. He had it, too.

Most people haven’t heard of it, but they see or experience it without knowing what it is. I’ve heard folks say, “He’s got the Spirit in him!” Mind you, sometimes he’s just a handsome kid with a bright smile, but once in a while, it’s Potential finding its way.

My Grandpa Joe sat me down when I was ten years old, with the pretense of sharing some ice cream, but with the intention of having a serious talk.

We sat out in the wicker chairs on the back porch, looking out over a Montana meadow, grassy and scattered with prickly pear and sage brush. I held my cone close to my mouth, turning it strategically so as to lick the melting ice cream before it dripped down into something my grandma would make me clean up.

“Joseph,” he said (I was named after him), “You’re ice cream’s melting.”

“I know Grandpa,” I said between licks. “It’s hot out.”

He nodded and looked at his own cone. “Mine’s not melting.”

I looked at his cone, and it was true, but I didn’t think too much about it until Grandpa Joe said, “Here, let me see yours a second.” He reached out and took my cone, which immediately stopped dripping. “Huh,” he said.  “Look at that.”

I looked at it, barely interested, wanting my ice cream back.

“Well, let me clean this up for you,” he said, and as I greedily eyed my ice cream cone, I saw the lines of once-melting ice cream recede back to the scoop of vanilla above the lip of the cone. Grandpa handed it back to me, then gave his own cone a few licks as he viewed me from the corner of his eyes.

I reached out and took it, wondering if I had seen what I saw, rotating the cone to view its clean, dry surface. As I looked and wondered, the frozen treat began a slow slide of melting on the down-tipped side. I looked at Grandpa, and he reached out a finger that touched just below the newly-forming drip.

“Let me get that for you,” he said, and as soon as finger touched cone, I watched the melting ice cream retrace its downward track, leaving the cone clean and dry once again.

That was the beginning of many conversations about the Potential that he had, and his grandfather before him. It ran in the family, he said, and it came out in a lot of different ways.

His Grandpa had told him about it when he was around ten years old, and back then, Josephus (the first)  thought that it just ran in his family. But Josephus the third knew that one of the slaves on his family’s plantation, an old man named Kitch, had it, too. In that family, it was called the Influence, but Josephus knew it was the same thing.

When my own grandchild showed signs of the Potential, it was my turn to figure out how to introduce these ideas to a 10-year-old. By that time, we lived in Seattle, and summers didn’t get nearly as hot as the ones in Montana, hardly the 90 degrees that melted my ice cream on a sunny back porch when I was ten.

So I decided to talk it over with her in the fall, when leaves were slowly turning colors – nothing as dramatic as east coast fall colors, but enough for my purposes.

I suggested we go to a park that didn’t get much patronage anymore since a mudslide made stairs to the beach inaccessible. Once in the park, I pointed to a leaf, just beginning to yellow, and I said, “Josephine,” (she was named after me), “Watch this.” I touched the tip of the leaf, and soon yellow was replaced with vibrant green, spreading as though it was sucking up green paint.

Josephine gave a little screech. “Grandpa! How’d you do that?” As I pulled my hand away, the yellow quickly seeped back in, the leaf drooping down.

“I thought about summer,” I said, “and how green the leaves get, how warm it is. Here,” I said moving her hand to the leaf. “You do it.”

Josephine touched the leaf and smiled. “Come on Grandpa. How’d you do that, really?” She was used to my magic tricks – a quarter pulled from her ear, a handkerchief changing color, a favorite stuffed animal appearing from within my jacket. I had explained some of these tricks to her, taught her how to do them. But this was not one of those tricks.

“Hold the leaf,” I said, gently enclosing my hand around hers. “Now, remember last summer when it got so hot I turned on the sprinkler and you jumped through it?”

“Yeah. I wore shorts.”

“Remember how you told me that the apple tree leaves were green on their tops but sort of soft and silvery underneath?”

“Like peach fuzz,” she said, looking down at the leaf she held. The yellow, almost crunchy leaf was slowly becoming soft and silvery green.

Josephine quickly let go of the leaf and looked up at me.

That was the beginning.