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The Joys of Five-Year Old Grands

downloadI don’t like that two of my Grands are having birthdays. Elaine and Dean, born one month apart, and a thousand miles from each other, are turning six. An age when some imagination and excitement wanes.

Elaine creates a family out of everything, anything. She lined up crackers on her lunch plate. “Look, Gran. It’s a daddy and mommy and three kids.” They went on an adventure in the park. They played ball and ran through a creek. The littlest kid fell and hurt his knee. “It’s okay. His mommy put a Band Aid on it,” Elaine said.

She likes to take a bath at my house to play with the yellow rubber ducks. (Those same ducks I wrote about once before.) “Do you know how a daddy duck drinks water?” my Grand asked and then she held the biggest duck’s head under water. “He gulps really big!” The mommy duck gulped just a little. “The baby can’t gulp. The mommy has to help him.” Elaine held two ducks close together, bill to bill.

Dean plays balloons. “Gran, let’s play find the balloon! I’ll go first,” he said. I closed my eyes until he shouted, “Okay, look now!” I searched his family’s living room and named places as I searched for the red balloon he had hidden. Not under the couch. Not on the table. Not in his ear. Dean laughed. I sat on the floor and pretended not to notice his jacket over the balloon beside my foot. “Gran, look!” he shouted.

“Give me a clue,” I said. He opened his eyes wide and pointed toward my foot and giggled. I lifted my foot, shook my head. Dean fell on the floor and laughed.

“Gran!” He jerked his jacket off the balloon. “I win!” he said.

Then the balloon was a ball. “Let’s count how many times we hit it,” Dean said. How many times could he and I hit it and keep it up in the air? Each time the balloon touched the floor for the next twenty minutes, my Grand said, “Let’s try again.”

Elaine and Dean are easily entertained. Read a book. They shout out words they know. Build a skyscraper with blocks or Legos or rocks. They show off their ability to count to 100. Dig in the dirt. Look for worms and bugs. Draw silly pictures with funny faces. Line up matchbox cars to race. Sort cars by color and size. Learning is fun.

And no one giggles about underwear like a 5-year-old. “Gran, don’t look. I’m taking off my underwear,” Dean said and giggled. I stood in the bathroom to supervise his bath. Another time, Elaine handed her dirty clothes to me after her bath and said, “Did you know my underwear stinks? Smell!” She snickered and ran from me.

Last week I gave Elaine her birthday present, she hugged and thanked me and then said, “Gran, did you know I’m six today?” And Dean will be in June. Shucks.

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Mother’s Day Reflections

As I think about Mother’s Day, I think of things I did. Things I would have denied I’d do as a mom, as an adult. I’d never mow the yard to seek sanctuary. Never eat a sandwich made with molded bread. Never lock children out of the house. And I didn’t know mothering was for life.

My children were four and six years old when I discovered the solitary joy of mowing the yard. Daughter and Son played outside and knew to stay far from me as I walked behind our gas-powered lawn mower. And I didn’t walk fast. For at least an hour, my children dug in the sand pile, rode bikes, just played outside within my sight, and they knew not to come close to the lawn mower. I had my thoughts, my relative quiet time, all to myself.

I wasn’t finished mowing one day and it was near lunchtime so Daughter, then about age seven, waved her hands frantically to get my attention.   She offered to make lunch. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Daughter and Son carried a tray with sandwiches, apples, and pitcher of Kool-Aid lemonade to our outside picnic table. After I ate the last bite of my sandwich I said, “It was the perfect lunch. Thank you!”

“The bread looked kinda’ funny,” Daughter said. I asked what she meant. “It had some green spots. They didn’t look good so I just put ‘em on the inside.” The sandwich was delicious.

It makes sense to lock the doors when children are inside the house. But when they are outside? One cold winter day, when my two were young teenagers and arguing about something insignificant (I don’t even remember what) and I refused to get involved in their squabbles, I went outside to our deck and called them to come to me. I said, “I don’t want to hear your argument. Stay out here until you settle it and can be nice to each other.” And then I went back in our house and locked the door and said through a closed window, “You can knock when you are ready to come in.”

BC, (Before Children), I thought parents raised children to 18 or 21 and then sent them on their way. I learned differently while mine were still young. Grandma Gladys, my maternal grandmother, spent the last years of her life in a heath care facility. Rarely going outside, even to sit in a wheelchair, she watched the seasons change through a big window across the room from her bed. I walked into Grandma’s room one January day, just as my mother was kissing her cheek and telling her bye. “Put your coat on. It’s looks cold outside,” Grandma said to her 65-year-old daughter. Grandma’s nurturing instinct was strong even when her mind and body weren’t.

Mom looked up and saw me. “She’ll always be my mother. That’s just how it is,” Mom said. Mothers always mother. Always.

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Who Needs an Umbrella?

I made it through April without an umbrella. That’s not to say I wasn’t outside in the rain.   I was, but never holding an umbrella. In fact, I gloated that I didn’t spend $20 or more to buy one.

When my small, folding, red umbrella that I kept tucked under the front seat of my mini-van bit the dust, I started looking for a new one. Every time I was in a store that stocked umbrellas, I checked out the selection. Designer styles with sparkles on the handles didn’t tempt me. Black and navy blue are drab and who wants drab on a rainy day? White ones would get dirty. Tan ones are boring.

Long umbrellas won’t fit under the van seat or in my purse. But I was tempted by one that was yellow on the top and decorated with the Vincent van Gogh painting “Irises” on the inside. Wouldn’t looking up at purple flowers while rain fell all around make for a happy day? Then practicality kicked in. If I were holding an umbrella, shouldn’t I be looking where I was walking, and not up? And if I spent $50 for a Van Gogh print, I’d like hanging it on my wall, and $50 is too much for an umbrella.

I’ve been entertained while looking at umbrellas. Some were labeled “waterproof.” What? Aren’t umbrellas supposed to be waterproof? I wasn’t looking for a white, frilly parasol to provide protection from the sun. Umbrellas protect from rain. And the term “windproof” is interesting. One was guaranteed to withstand 55 mph wind and supposed to be the only one that can stand up to heavy winds. If the wind is blowing 55 mph, I’m staying inside.

Then there are enormous umbrellas. Why would I want anything so big that I could fly like Mary Poppins? That’s how I’d feel holding a 68” umbrella. These are marketed to golfers, but since golfers rarely pull or carry golf clubs and usually ride in covered carts, I don’t understand the need for a gigantic cover.

And not all umbrella handles are alike. My trashed red one had a fat handle that fit my hand. Some handles are skinny, like a pencil. Some have curved, hook-like handles. And some have C-shape handles, much like cuffed bracelets and advertised to “leave your hands free for holding a baby or using a mobile or carrying things.” Seems like a good idea, but these handles are only on long umbrellas.

One March day, I talked myself out of buying a $20 orange umbrella, which I liked just okay, because I realized that for several months I hadn’t reached for an umbrella even once. Maybe I didn’t really need one.

I set April, Tennessee’s rainiest month, as a test. I wore my two jackets with hoods and I got sprinkled a few times, but I never wished for an umbrella. I may never own another one. It’s one less thing to keep up with.

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Sharing Granny stories

Elizabeth Rose, a storyteller at Storyfest last Saturday, reminded me that people never really die when we tell stories about them. Although Granny, my paternal grandmother, left this earth in 1982, she lives on when I share her with my Grands.

            Granny dipped snuff, quilted, and raised a garden. She watched Saturday night wrestling, and sometimes when it was too rough she’d cover her eyes with her hands and peek through her fingers. She knew all the characters, their flaws, strengths, and transgressions, on The Edge of Night, a weekday soap opera that aired from 1952-1986.

And Granny raised chickens. Every spring she bought baby chicks from the Farmer’s Co-op and they lived in cardboard boxes on the closed-in back porch until they were strong enough to thrive in the henhouse.

Some chicks grew to be laying hens and some went in the freezer on chicken killing day. I have no idea how Granny determined which three month old chickens lived or died, but she chose the fryers. She’d grab a chicken, hold it tightly, and with a quick twist of her wrist, she’d wring its neck. Dad then tied a string around the chicken’s feet and hung it on our metal clothesline until Granny was ready to dip it into a black kettle of boiling water to loosen the feathers so they could be picked off.

The best Granny story was one my brother, Roger, told. Granny was a cook at a Byrdstown restaurant and walked home after work. She wore a white nylon uniform and a bib apron, tied around her neck and waist. She walked home after work and she’d stop at the hen house to gather eggs.

Roger often ran out the back door of our house to greet Granny. One day, when he was about 9 years old, he noticed prickly dried sweet gum balls on the ground, and Roger thought it’d be funny to surprise Granny and stick her with a sweet gum ball. He hid behind the hen house when she went inside.

Granny held up the bottom of her apron to form a pouch, reached under the sitting chickens to get the eggs, and placed them in her apron. She usually gathered 6 or more eggs. As she walked out of the hen house, Roger crept behind her.  He stuck a gumball right through her thin uniform on her behind.

Granny screamed. She threw her hands high above her head. She jumped and stumbled, but she didn’t fall. Eggs flew into the air, then hit the ground. When Roger told the story, he’d imitate Granny’s screaming and jumping and tears of laughter ran down his cheeks.

Granny and Daddy didn’t think much of my brother’s antics. Roger said Dad made sure he never did surprised Granny again.

Telling stories also leads to questions. How did she get the chicken feathers off? Did you ever gather eggs? What’s a gum ball?

Everyone can tell family stories. Try it and keep those you’ve loved and lost alive.

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Put Litter in Its Place

 

            If there is a six letter bad word, it’s litter. Litter. Trash in a public place. Paper, cans, and bottles that belong in a landfill or recycling bin. I hate litter anywhere and everywhere and especially along the right of way. Always have.

When I was a kid, before protecting our natural environment were social and political issues, Mom and Dad made it a family issue. Part of our weekly yard care, in addition to pushing a lawn mower and clipping grass around shrubs with hand clippers, was picking up trash along the road near our house. And Mom and Dad taught me that nothing could be thrown out car windows. We had a car trash bag.

I carried on the trash bag practice with my children and their friends knew when I was the carpool driver all trash went in the bag. Except once when a carload of kids was riding in my Ford station wagon with flip-up back seats and in the rearview mirror, I saw a child toss a candy wrapper out the back window. We were on a neighborhood street, not a major highway.

I stopped the car on the wide shoulder and everyone, the litter culprit and those innocent, got out of the car and we picked up every scrap of trash we could find. My two school-age children were embarrassed and I should’ve handled the situation without using my teacher voice, but I was angry.

Now I walk from my house to the YMCA on Raider Drive a couple of times a week and I’m shocked at the amount of litter along a heavily traveled street that leads to a public school and a place to exercise.

Recently, while my three oldest Grands, ages 11, 10, and 8, visited, I told them we were going to do a service project. We’d pick up litter along the road close to the Y. Their responses were typical. How much will we get paid? (No money. Just the satisfaction of doing something good for our environment.) Do we have to? (Yes.) I’m not touching somebody else’s trash. (We’ll wear plastic gloves.) How long do we have to do it? (Until the job is done.) Can we have a treat afterwards? (Maybe.)

Reluctantly, my Grands pulled on gloves, took the trash bags, and decided we should work in pairs. One person, to hold the bag open and the other, pick up. A chore that would’ve taken me all morning was completed in twenty-two minutes. One Grand set her stopwatch.

After we finished, I liked what I heard. That wasn’t near as bad as I thought it’d be. It was almost fun. We found at least 25 apple drink aluminum cans. Why would somebody throw out aluminum cans they can recycle? Don’t they know plastic bottles can be recycled, too? They must not have a car trash bag.

And the last question: Gran, we don’t have to do this next week, do we? I certainly hope not.

 

 

Easter Menu and Bunny Cake

 “What do you want for Easter dinner? Anyone like to suggest a new menu?” Husband’s sister sent this message. She organizes family gatherings and makes sure we don’t all take potato salad.

Easter dinner is actually lunch, served sometime around noon. True southerners know this. I’m surprised Sister thinks anyone would like a new menu. What’s Easter dinner without ham and rolls and potato salad and broccoli salad and deviled eggs and an Easter bunny cake? Husband’s siblings, with children and grandchildren, gather for a family egg hunt and dinner. And maybe the menu can change, but no matter what, I’m baking a cake.

Two weeks ago, my 8-year-old Grand asked, “Gran, when are we going to make the Easter bunny cake?” Not, will we? Not, can we? When? I’ll bake a two-layer cake in round pans. And then the Grands, who want to, will help ice and decorate it. Ten years ago, when our oldest Grand was almost two, I invited him to help spread icing and make the bunny’s face. I never imagined that something so simple would become a tradition.

You know the bunny cake that has a big round face, long ears, and a bowtie. Every year I pull out the 3 x 5 index card that has a small picture of the finished cake and a diagram of how to cut one layer into almost thirds. For the bunny’s ears, I cut two elliptical shapes from each side, leaving a bowtie shape in the middle.

The picture shows a round bunny face, covered with white icing and coconut. Short red, narrow licorice candy stings form the mouth and whiskers. A green jellybean for the nose. Two pink ones for the eyes. Pink tinted coconut colors the ears. And about a dozen jellybeans decorate the bowtie. Our bunnies are sloppy, glitzy cousins to this one.

My Grands don’t like coconut. And I provide many jelly beans. After all, when three or four Grands want to help, the bunny is divided into parts so that everyone has the freedom to decorate one part. My Grands have created a rotation and they know whose turn it is to decorate the favorite part, the face. Others choose an ear or the bowtie. Our bunny’s ears and bowties are laden with color. Sometimes in a pattern. Sometimes random designs. Sometimes a single color. Always completely covered with candy and the ears never match.

Sometimes our bunny smiles. Sometimes frowns. Sometimes has an open mouth. He’s even had tears. What else would you call yellow jellybeans below red eyes? He’s had eyebrows and purple jellybeans whiskers and bugs in ears. Black jellybeans do look like bugs.

“Gran, don’t forget. The bunny is chocolate. Not that yellow cake,” I was told. One year, I absentmindedly baked a yellow cake. You just don’t mess the flavor of the bunny cake. But maybe we could change the other Easter dinner dishes. Anyone like to suggest a menu?

Happy Birthday!

It’s birthday season in our family. All eight Grands were born between March 17 and June 8. All spring babies. And that means birthday cakes, candles, and singing “Happy Birthday.” The perfect picture is the birthday boy or girl blowing out the candles while everyone else sings. So how did this tradition begin? Why do we have birthday cakes? Why candles? Who wrote “Happy Birthday?”

Birthday cakes were traditional for Ancient Romans. They celebrated someone’s birth with pastry and one theory about birthday candles goes back to that time. People brought cakes adorned with lit candles to the temple of Artemis, goddess of the hunt. The candles’ glow was like the glow of the moon, a symbol associated with Artemis, and it was believed that the smoke carried prayers to the heavens. Today’s tradition of making wishes before blowing out birthday candles may have come from that belief.

Or maybe the tradition of birthday candles can be credited to the Germans. In the 1700s, the Germans traditionally placed one lit candle on a cake to celebrate children’s birthdays. The candle symbolized the light of life. In 1746, a Count celebrated his birthday with an extravagant festival. According to an article in Mental Floss, published January 2014, “there was a Cake as large as any Oven could be found to bake it, and Holes made in the Cake according to the Years of the Person’s Age, every one having a Candle stuck into it, and one in the Middle.”

It’s no surprise to me that “Happy Birthday” was written by a schoolteacher. Teachers have always come up with little ditties to lighten the work of a school day. In 1893, a Kentucky kindergarten teacher, Patty Hill, and her older sister wrote the original lyrics: “”Good morning to you / Good morning to you / Good morning, dear children / Good morning to all.”

Later, in the early 1900s the lyrics were changed to become our beloved birthday song. A song sung around kitchen tables, in banquet halls, at the grandest of parties. In movies and radio. And then, in 1934, the Hill sisters secured a copyright over the song if it was sung for profit.

In 1988, after a series of acquisitions, Warner Music became the owners of “Happy Birthday” and reported earning $2 million yearly. Half of those royalties went into The Hill Foundation, set up in the sisters’ honor. But there were rumblings and arguments that the song belonged to public.

In 2013, a filmmaker filed a lawsuit against Warner Music over the copyright. Two years later “Happy Birthday” was declared public domain and royalties for its use would no longer be paid to Warner Music. “Happy Birthday” should belong to the public. I never imagined it otherwise. It’s the most sung song.

I’m thankful to Ancient Romans, Germans, and a kindergarten teacher who all contributed to making our family birthday celebrations fun. What would a birthday be without cake, candles, and singing?