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Happy Birthday Grandmother!

Happy birthday to the woman who raised Husband! As she celebrates her 90th birthday, I honor my mother-in-law.

Recently, four Grands and I visited Ann, whom we call Grandmother. We asked questions. Where were you born? How many siblings did you have? Did you have to do chores? What did you do for fun?

Born on October 1927, Anna Love and her twin sister, Billie Dove, were the 7th and 8th children of twelve born to Kate and Dock Powell. They were born at home, in Bon Air, White County, Tennessee. Two younger siblings died before their first birthday. Their father worked in the local coalmines and their mother took care of the house, raised the children, cooked, gardened, and sewed the family’s clothes. “When a baby was born, Aunt Annie, Mama’s sister, came to stay with us and helped,” Grandmother said.

“With all those kids maybe she should have stayed all the time,” one of my Grands said. Grandmother laughed and explained that everyone, even the youngest kids helped.

“Let me tell you one of mine and Bill’s jobs,” Ann said. “You know how a hen sets on eggs to hatch chickens? Well, when it rained really hard, the mother hen would get her chicks under her. She spread her wings wide and gathered them. But sometimes, the chicks would drown because they’d be in a low place in the yard and a puddle would form. So we had to get the little chicks out from under the hens and put them in a dry place.”

“We didn’t have bicycles and toys and everything like you do,” Grandmother said. “We played ball and hopscotch. I saved a piece of glass for hopscotch.”

“Glass? A sharp piece of glass?” a Grand asked.

“No, a big piece that had smooth edges. It was just right for hopscotch.” Grandmother told about playing in the creek in the springtime. She and her sisters took their shoes off even though their mother told them not get wet. To avoid spankings, the girls didn’t go home until they were dry.

When asked about Christmas presents, Grandmother remembered that her mother made a little couch and two chairs and hid them under quilts. She and Bill found the little furniture and played with it before Christmas. “Mama could make anything and made things for all of us. She sewed and canned and cooked. She baked Christmas cakes – coconut, chocolate, and fruitcake – and we always had plenty to eat. At Christmas, we had a feast and everybody came,” Grandmother said.

Grandmother’s eyes twinkled and she grinned as she reminisced. My Grands wiggled, giggled, and listened. They knew before they left her house Grandmother would offer a jumbo pack of gum and just a little treat. Usually a package of their favorite cookies or candy.

Ann has passed on her mother’s joy for sharing and giving to her four children, five grandchildren, twelve great-grands, and us in-laws. She’s a blessing and I wish her the best birthday ever!

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Band-Aids for Adults

“There should be adult Band-Aids with pictures of things we like,” I told Husband as I covered a bloody spot on the top of his head.

“Yeah,” Husband said, “I’d get some with a picture of B. B. King.”

“I’d choose butterflies or trees,” I said.

Husband’s baldhead attracts tree limbs, the tailgate of my van, and so many other things that scrap his head. My skin isn’t as tough as it was so I often reach for a bandage for my arms. We have an assortment of adhesive bandages: sheer, waterproof, cloth, plastic. And choices for the Grands: Sesame Street and Animal Kingdom. (Sometimes I wear a monkey or tiger and my young Grands think it’s cool.) But we don’t have any adult design bandages.

Think of the possibilities. Seasonal: Christmas, snowflakes, Valentine hearts, Easter eggs, 4th or July, Halloween, Thanksgiving. Hobbies: golf clubs, deck of cards, blooming flowers, knitting needles. Wear your profession: dollar bills for bankers, books for librarians, computers for programmers. Show support for a sports team: purple and gold for TTU, orange for UT.

How about Band-Aids with initials? I’d like a red capital S in Old English script. There are names available on everything from placemats to key rings, why not on bandages?

Thinking of these ideas made me wonder who invented adhesive bandages and when were the ones with designs for kids made. Mom put plain flesh colored strips on me; I put Big Bird on my children.

Earle Dickson, who was a cotton buyer for Johnson & Johnson, invented the Band-Aid in 1921 for his wife because she often cut her fingers while preparing food. The small piece of gauze she held in place with adhesive tape to cover a cut fell off easily. So Dickson attached gauze to the center of a piece of tape and covered it with crinoline to keep it sterile. When his boss saw the invention, the company began producing Band-Aids for the public and Dickson was promoted to vice-president.

Sales were slow until the 1950s. Then Johnson & Johnson donated Band-Aids to Boy Scout troops and overseas military personnel as publicity stunts and in 1951 the first decorative bandages with Mickey Mouse were manufactured to appeal to children.

The structural design has changed little in almost 100 years and adhesive bandages are now available in sizes from thumbnail to big patches. A child can choose a character from kids’ movies and television shows. But what about designs for adults?

I haven’t found any at the corner market, but there are some interesting bandages online. Husband might like bright red lips or a green pickle-shaped bandage on the top of his head. I’d choose safari designs as bracelets. And for a night walk, we can both wear neon orange.

These choices are a long way from Husband’s request. However, custom designs are available, a minimum of 5000 for $1300. Maybe I’ll glue a picture of B. B. on a Band-Aid and Husband will have an original personalize bandage.

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Her Other Name is Gran

Elaine and I splashed in the sea, not the ocean, the sea, according to my six-year-old Grand. We held hands, jumped waves, watched tiny fish swim, buried our toes in the sandy sea floor and marveled that we could see our feet through the clear water of the gulf beach.

When a girl, about ten years old, joined us, Elaine welcomed her by talking about the fish. “What’s your name?” I asked. She said her name was Chelsea. I said, “I’m Susan.”

My Grand picked up the social cue. “I’m Elaine and her other name is Gran,” she said as she splashed water with both hands toward me. And in that moment, I realized I’m no longer Susan, Daughter, Mother. I’m Gran.

Yes, I’ve been a grandparent for more than twelve years, but somehow until Elaine’s announcement, I didn’t think of myself first as a grandparent. My immediate thought was I’m glad I chose Gran, a name I like.

As I reflect on a recent beach trip with Husband and Grands and their parents, I chuckle to myself that it was my coming-out-grandparent week. I embraced the grandmother role. While the Grands and their parents took a lunch break from the beach, Husband and I sat under an umbrella and relished the relative quiet and calm. We watched a family of four with a toddler and arm-holding baby at the water’s edge. The mother held baby and tried to dig into the sand with her toddler. Giving up, she laid baby on a beach chair under an umbrella, and my grandmother instincts kicked in.

“I’ll be glad to hold your baby if you want to play in the water. I’m sitting beside your umbrella,” I said.

The mother smiled and told me she thought her baby was sleepy. “Are you sure you don’t mind?” she asked. Mind?

“How about I hold him for a few minutes and see how it goes,” I said. So I settled in a beach chair and the mother explained that 7-month old Jonathan liked to watch people. His back against my chest so he could see his mother and my arms wrapped around him, Jonathan was asleep in five minutes. For an hour, I had the perfect excuse not to move.

Then there was the day that my Grands paddled an ocean kayak. “Gran, do you want to go for a ride?” my twelve-year-old Grand asked. David had proved himself capable, first with his dad, then with younger sisters. An ocean kayak ride would be a first for me. “All you have to do is sit in the front. I’ll paddle,” David said.

So I settled on the seat, propped my feet in the footholds, and we sailed away. “How far out do you want to go?” David asked. I shrugged. “Okay, just remember to sit still. Don’t lean to one side quickly.”

This is the last of four September columns to celebrate and honor grandparents. How appropriate that Elaine nailed my identity as Gran for the finale.

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You Let Them Do What?

Who serves ice cream for breakfast? Who lets children jump on furniture? Who watches the same movie fifteen times? Who pays children for jobs that don’t even need doing?

We grandparents plead guilty. Not all grandparents to all charges, but some.

I asked Facebook friends what do grandparents let grandchildren do that they as children weren’t allowed to do. And friends responded.

So many breakfast choices. Caroline’s grandfather served ice cream topped with Fruit Loops and told her mother that they ate cereal.   Nell’s grandchildren eat fudge for dessert after breakfast and her own children never heard of breakfast dessert. Karen’s mother made chocolate pie and chocolate pudding for her grandchildren’s breakfasts. Grandparents offer sugar-coated cereal to grandchildren and parents say it wasn’t even in the house when they were young.

Milkshakes with sprinkles are a meal and one grandmother even serves ice cream to her grandchildren for any meal – not as dessert, as the meal. Sara’s mother keeps mini ice cream sandwiches and brown cow ice cream bars, just for the grandchildren. And if grandchildren don’t like what is served for supper, they can refuse and choose something else.

Laura’s parents give her middle-school age children chocolate candy every afternoon when they pick them up after school. Laura said, “They create nothing jobs and overpay the kids for the made-up jobs.” Looking back, Laura should’ve known what to expect. When her firstborn was two, he colored on her parents’ white bookshelf and television screen, and her parents said, “It’s okay. If it doesn’t come off, we’ll buy new ones.”

Grandchildren jump on beds and if they jump onto a CD player, it’s okay.   One grandmother admits that she protected an antique coffee table and her daughters weren’t allowed to put their feet on it. But her grandchildren sit in small chairs and eat at that table, with placemats, of course.

Brenda admitted that her grandson eats what he wants, when he wants, goes to bed when he wants, chooses television programs and movies, and has her undivided attention. And grandparents are shoppers. When they shopped, Deloris’s grandmother always bought her a new outfit and any toy she wanted. Grandparents take gifts to grandchildren every time they visit.

To go one generation further, one great-grandmother didn’t allow her children in the fancy living room. And when grandchildren opened their Christmas gifts in that room, no food or drinks were allowed. But that room is the great-grandchildren’s gymnastics room where they turn somersaults and pretend to be airplanes. And it’s okay to eat cookies and drink juice in the living room.

So what do parents think of grandparents relaxing the rules? Here are my two favorite comments: I didn’t get to eat ice cream for breakfast, but I’m happy Mom lets my kids! Let it be said, I fully intend to do the same when my tribe grows up and brings me some grandbabies!

All parents may not agree, but I hope my Grands’ parents do.

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Memories Sealed in My Heart

Grandparents Day, celebrated September 10, should stretch to a week, maybe a month. We grandparents have so many stories and pictures. Recently, an acquaintance showed me a picture of her granddaughter and began telling about things they do together. She took a breath and I had to laugh at what my close friend said: “Hold up. You know Susan has eight Grands. We might be here a while.”

            Some of my best times with Grands are one-on-one and I don’t always take pictures. While visiting Son’s family that lives an airplane ride away, Daughter-in-law suggested that her two boys go with her to take their boxer to the vet. Neil said, “No. I’m staying home. Just me and Gran and we’ll play!” He grabbed my hand.

Neil is four years old. Middle child with an older brother, younger sister. Brother went with his mother. Sister took a nap.

“Neil, what’ll we play?” I asked.

“Cars and the guessing game,” my Grand said. “Cars, first!” Neil and Brother have a huge basket full of Matchbox cars and he dumped them at my feet.

“Choose five, Gran!” Neil said. He chose 25, or maybe 40. Together we propped a plastic, narrow car track on a big pillow to make a steep decline from the pillow to the floor. We noted which car went farthest. Which one fell off the track every time – although it took many tries to determine that it fell every time.

Neil and I grouped cars by color, by shape, by design.  We counted seconds to determine which car went down the track fastest. How long can anyone push little cars down a track and think it’s fun? After almost an hour, Neil said it was time play the guessing game, where players take turns acting like an animal and the other guesses what it is.

Neil slithered like a snake and he immediately guessed elephant when I held my arms in front of my face. Then Neil got on all fours and jumped high. “A rabbit,” I said. He nodded.

“Now watch this,” Neil said and he did the exact same thing. I guessed rabbit; he shook his head. Kangaroo? No. Frog? No. “It’s a bunny!” my Grand said. “Guess this!”

Again Neil jumped high from all fours. It wasn’t a rabbit or bunny or anything I guessed. I gave up. “A bunny rabbit!” Neil said. I never knew a rabbit, bunny, and bunny rabbit were different, until Neil explained, “They are in the guessing game.”

A few days later, while Neil’s family visited Husband and me, I sat alone in a rocking chair on our front porch after supper. Enjoying a few moments of quiet and calm. Neil came to the porch and said, “Gran, I just wanna’ sit with you.” And he climbed beside me and sat quietly. I wrapped my arms around my Grand.

I don’t have pictures of Neil as a bunny rabbit or snuggled beside me. Those memories are the kind we grandparents seal in our hearts.

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You Might Be a Grandparent if…..

Screen Shot 2017-09-07 at 8.21.03 AMSunday, September 10, is National Grandparent’s Day. A day that the United States Congress proclaimed in 1978 to honor all us grandparents. We are easy to identify, even if we don’t open our mouths and tell stories about the cutest kids in the world.

To borrow a Jeff Foxworthy’s phrase, you might be a grandparent if you are past child-bearing age and have child restraint seats in your car. Although you drive a mini-van that seats seven adults, you rarely offer a ride to more than one friend. Taking out two toddler seats secured in the second row isn’t an easy chore. Moving a booster seat from the passenger front seat is simple.

You might be a grandparent if you keep toy dump trucks and plastic buckets and shovels in your garage. If you have an endless supply of glue and scotch tape and drawing paper. If you own two dozen washable magic markers. If you kept two old plastic trays specifically for craft projects.

You might be a grandparent if there are popsicles in your freezer. And when banana is the only choice, you buy more.   If ten bottles of sprinkles are stored right beside flour in your kitchen cabinet. If you buy yogurt in plastic tubes and applesauce in pouches.

You might be a grandparent if a high chair sits at your kitchen table and a booster seat is close by to slide into another chair. If you have sippy cups and toddler-size forks and spoons. If your placemats are printed with maps and clocks and multiplication tables and pictures of United States presidents and Sesame Street characters.

You might be a grandparent if you have a step stool beside your bathroom sink. If there’s a small vinyl potty seat stored next to the commode. If you have tear-free shampoo, bathtub crayons, and infant washcloths. If a rubber duck and a wind-up water toy sits on the edge of your bathtub.

You might be a grandparent if games like Race Penguin and NinJump are on your iphone and iPad and your screensaver is a toddler with a chocolate-covered face. If the deck of playing cards you use to play Rummy and War is sticky and two cards are missing.

You might be a grandparent if your refrigerator is decorated with stick figure drawings and construction paper collages. If your windows boast little handprints. If your weekly schedule includes pick up at school on Wednesdays and Saturday morning soccer games.

You might be a grandparent if a bookshelf holds a nursery rhyme book, Curious George, and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See? If you have memorized Good Night Moon. If there are candy wrappers and a plastic bowl covered with mold under a bed. If Legos are scattered under your living room couch.

You might be a grandparent if you smile all over when a Grand asks, “Can I spend the night with you?” And if the sweetest words you’ve ever heard are “Gran, I love you.”

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Solar Eclipse Experience

Have you written notes about the solar eclipse? Where you were. What was most impressive? What happened you didn’t expect? What do you never want to forget? Other peoples’ experiences. Memories to share with children, grandchildren, and anyone who will listen.

If I were still teaching 6th grade Language Arts, we’d write on this topic for weeks. It’s never too late unless it’s so late that you forget. Because the deadline to submit this column is noon Monday, I’m following up on the eclipse now.

As August 21st loomed, I wanted to be in several places. Across town with my Grands in their front yard. At TTU, with thousands, to hear expert explanations. But months ago, I’d made plans to be on a pontoon boat in the middle of Center Hill Lake and that’s where I was, with Husband and friends. The experience was remarkable.

From the moment of first contact when the sun looked as it had been nibbled, I was awed. A feeling of respect and wonder. The Sun, almost 98 million miles away, and the moon, 238,000 miles from Earth, appearing to be in the same place. Nature’s beauty and miracles strike me spiritually. I wanted to hold my feeling of amazement.

When the moon blocked the sun, I expected gradual darkness. But brightness turned to a glow, almost yellowish-green. Was that because of the surroundings, water and trees? And when totality hit, it wasn’t completely dark. How powerful the sun is!

My favorite time of the day is sunset and the 360-degree sunset during the more than two-minute totality was spectacular. A multi-colored ribbon lay on the horizon. Tangerine orange, golden yellow, pale pink, lavender. Green hills cut the bands and the colors faded breaking the sunset’s path intermittently. Maybe a 360-degree camera could have captured it, but certainly not my camera. I didn’t even try to take a picture. I turned slowly in a circle, breathed deeply, and concentrated on the colors, the magnitude. Too quickly, the sunset was gone.

“It’s almost time to be over,” someone on the boat said. I put on my $1.99 eclipse glasses. The moon covered the sun and then a light so intense, like the strongest flashlight, glared on the sun’s circumference. The diamond ring sparkled brighter than I expected. I saw flashes of bright lights just before the ring appeared. Was that Bailey’s beads? I expected the beads to last longer.

My Grands were most impressed with the snakes, or shadow bands, which were everywhere and moved fast. And they saw crescent shapes, on a white sheet, through a colander and sieve, and they punched tiny holes in paper. The coolest view was through a vegetable grater.

As soon as the moon completely uncovered the sun, a friend who’d travelled from Ohio and took in the eclipse with me said, “This happens again April 8, 2024, and totality is only about thirty miles from where I live. Want to come?”

It’s on my calendar. Now, I understand eclipse chasers.