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Two Day Gift

Screen Shot 2017-12-07 at 8.03.09 AMNot all gifts are wrapped in shiny red paper. Not stuffed inside a gift bag. In September, I called Son and offered that he and Daughter 2 (some say daughter-in-law) take a mini-vacation while Husband and I stayed at his house. An offer of two nights away from home, from their three children, ages six, four, and two, and their dog, Baxter. A time to celebrate their wedding anniversary.

So in November on a Saturday afternoon, Son and Daughter 2 kissed and hugged Dean, Neil, and Ann and said, “Bye and be good. Do what Pop and Gran tell you and we’ll see you Monday.”

As Son and Daughter 2 drove out of their driveway, two-year-old Ann wailed for thirty seconds and said repeatedly, “Bye, bye, Mommy.” Husband, Dean, and Neil were having a snowball fight, throwing baseball size white balls of yarn at each other. I hugged Ann. She wiped her arm across her wet nose, and then said, “Let’s play, Gran!”

These three Grands were all ours. Time to play and read and take walks and build wooden cars. To giggle and sing silly songs and tell Purple Cow bedtime stories. To wrap small clean, wet bodies in towels and help wiggle into pajamas. To rub backs at bedtime and cuddle in bed early mornings. To bend the house rules a bit and bribe with Skittles.

Dean, a first grader, repeated my plan to his younger siblings. “Gran said she’d put Skittles in a jar when we did what we’re ‘posed to and we can eat ‘em after supper. I’ll count ‘em and give ‘em out.”

Co-commander Dean asked, “So how many Skittles is that?” after all 60 of the yarn snowballs had been picked up. And he followed me to the kitchen to be sure I put five in the jar.

The Skittle jar sat beside the list of suggestions and advice Son and Daughter 2 had written. Schedules. Neighbors’ phone numbers. Bedtimes. Meal menus. Favorite play activities. TV cable channels. Baxter’s feeding directions. How to cook a hot dog so Dean would eat it. Snacks Ann likes, but Neil hates. What to pack in Dean’s school lunch bag.

Every moment with our Grands wasn’t perfect. When Ann and Neil had breakdowns, Husband and I fumbled for reassuring words, but we knew hugs smooth toddlers. And we struggled through Monday morning to get Neil to preschool and Dean to the school bus stop.

After her brothers had left for school, Ann held a play phone to her ear and said, “Hi Mommy. Uh, huh. Yes. Yes. No. Pop and Gran. Yes. Bye, Mommy.” She ran to me, threw her arms around my neck, and said, “Love you Gran.”

I cherish the time that Husband and I had with Dean, Neil, and Ann. That’s the gift. Our Grands’ parents gave us their children for two days and nights. They trusted us. And they left another gift: detailed lists so we didn’t have to call them, not even once.

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Give a Gift and Get it BAck

 

screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-9-01-59-am            It’s a plain white ten-inch tall teapot with a hexagon shape base. I gave it as a Christmas gift and got it back. When Aunt Doris’s kitchen cabinets were cleaned out after her death, my cousin said, “Here, Susan, this is yours. It has your name on the bottom.” I gladly brought the teapot home.

Every Tuesday night in 1970, I scrubbed and glazed ceramic pieces and made many Christmas gifts and then years later, some were returned. The teapot is my style, but that’s not true of the tall vase with pink and blue flowers that I made for Husband’s grandmother. It looked at home on Granny Ray’s living room French provincial desk and now sits in the top of my closet waiting for the right place. However, I love that the white and gold Christmas candy dish was returned. It brings back memories of Husband and me taking Daughter to his grandparents’ house for her first Christmas. Granny Ray held Daughter, her first great-grandchild. The candy dish, centered on her coffee table, was filled with Granny’s homemade chocolate covered cherry candy.

I made other gifts. A green felt Christmas card holder, decorated with sequins and silver rickrack, hung in Mom’s kitchen. When the glue on the pockets gave way, Mom stitched it, as I should have done. It hung in my kitchen for a few years and now it hangs at Daughter’s house. On my sewing room shelf is a needlepoint purse made from plastic squares. Simple nature designs decorate each square. I did the needlepoint and stitched it into its box shape, and Mom lined it and attached handles. Maybe it’s time I carry it; the Grands would like the butterflies and frogs and birds.

One of my favorite returned Christmas gift is inscribed ‘Presented to Dad by Susan, Allen, Alicia, and Eric. Christmas 1983.’ I’m thankful for the large print in this King James Bible and treasure the few notes Dad wrote in it.

When I was thirty, I thought a gift given, stayed given. Now I know better. And if children are smart, they’ll give gifts they want. Things they’d like to own, but wouldn’t buy for themselves. So I’m making my Christmas wish list with that in mind. What would my children like?

Local artists offer some fine gifts. A wood sculpture or vessel from Brad Sells’ Bark Studio or Andy Lane’s Against the Grain Wood Sculpting workshop. Pottery from Addled Hill Pottery where Susan Stone takes her inspiration from nature. Or how about a piece of jewelry crafted by Lenny and Eva? And then there are artists, like Marilyn and Adrienne, whose paintings could decorate my walls.

How about a jigsaw puzzle or a book? Diamonds? Rubies? Silver? Gold? Or make something homemade? Whatever gift my children choose, I hope it’s something they like because someday it’ll be theirs. That’s just how it works. Give a gift and get it back.

 

 

 

5 Best Toys of All Time

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 9.29.59 AMIt’s birthday season around our house. Since all eight Grands were springtime babies, I’m shopping – almost like Christmas. Legos, paint sets, American Girl clothes, riding toys, super hero figures, play dough. Gifts for Grands from ages 1to 11. And I know what would really ignite their creativity and they love to play with, but can you imagine a child’s response after tearing open a birthday present and finding sticks?

This column is inspired by an article on wired.com and written by a self-professed geek dad, Jonathan H. Liu. He wrote that he worked hard to narrow down a long list to five items that no kid should be without. A list that fits everyone’s budget and appropriate for all ages. Time-tested and kid-approved. I’d add parent and grandparent-approved. Liu’s choices of 5 Best Toys of All Time are a stick, a box, string, a cardboard tube, and dirt.

I amend his list to include a stick, a box, dirt, water, and a balloon.

  1. Stick. All sizes. I rode one as a horse that went as fast as I could run and I never fell off.  A stick is a giant pencil to write in mud and sand. It lifts leaves from a running creek. And, even though parents prohibit violence, a stick is a sword and a club and a rifle. There’s something about hitting a large tree trunk or big rock with a stick that makes you feel good.
  2. Box. Who hasn’t created a clubhouse from an appliance box? Shoeboxes with doors cut in the ends are train tunnels and garages. Decorated boxes create a neighborhood – stores, homes, and businesses.
  3. Dirt. I’ve written about my Grands’ dirt pile. The one that’s a climb-to-the-top-of-the-mountain and a track for toy racecars and bicycles. A place to dig. When one Grand was five years old, she screamed, “Mama, Lucy’s in my dirt!” Her dirt, where she was digging a hole to pour water, another best gift. Hide a few treasures, shiny trinkets or seashells or colorful rocks, and watch a kid dig. And then there’s pretend food. During my childhood, I patted enough mud pies to feed the multitudes.
  4. Water. A creek. A swimming pool. A bucket of water. Kids like water. How many have been entertained all afternoon with a pail full of water and an old paintbrush? Paint a concrete driveway and watch it dry, and then paint it again. A bucket or sink full of water, a funnel, pouring pitchers, and empty bowls – all a toddler needs to be happy.
  5. Balloon. “Blow it up, Gran! Let’s play balloons!” my four-year-old Grand said to me. Hide the balloon. Take turns hitting it to keep it up in the air. Try to toss it like a ball. Sit on it, but don’t burst it. Make it stick to the wall. Punch it, but not Gran who is holding it. Blow up another and let it swish thru the air. Blow it up, tie a knot, prick it with a pin.

So eight birthdays and eight boxes filled with sticks, balloons, and two zip lock bags: one filled with dirt, the other with water. My shopping is finished.

But I won’t because my Grands have sticks, boxes, dirt, water, and balloons and they play with them daily. That’s how I know these are the 5 Best Toys of All Time – at least for my Grands.

A Surprise Gift

Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 5.22.57 PMA Griddler. A surprise gift that I’d admired at a friend’s house. A countertop appliance that’s a grill and a griddle and opens with two sides or closes and cooks top and bottom at the same time. “We can cook everything on this!” I said. “Pancakes, hamburgers, quesadillas, grilled cheese sandwiches, steak, fish, grilled veggies. Even bacon and eggs – bacon on the grill side and eggs on the griddle.”

Husband smiled and nodded. “You’re right,” he said. We checked out how the Griddler worked, switched the plates from grill to griddle, and then there was the question. Where will we store it? I don’t like countertops completely covered. Coffee pot, small toaster oven, cookbook stand, knife block, and a bowl for fresh fruit – enough clutter for me. Husband said, “How about in the cabinet over the microwave? Take out that griddle that Grannie Ray gave us?” A wedding gift – a griddle that is also a waffle maker and even though it’s 45 years old it makes perfect waffles. It stays.

I knew what Husband was thinking. The pantry, aka the mudroom*. A walk-through room from the front porch to the kitchen and with shelves on both sides. Filled shelves. Recycling, reusable grocery bags, canned and boxed food, paper products, serving platters and bowls, pots and bowls too big for the kitchen cabinets, baskets to serve chips, and more. Stuff crammed. Stuff falling.

“The best place would be in the mudroom,” I said. Husband raised his eyebrows. “And I know it needs cleaning out.” Husband nodded slowly. It’s my space. An annex to the kitchen.

Standing on a ladder, I started at the top, the shelf I stand on tiptoe to reach, but have avoided since two baskets attacked me when I grabbed for a package of Fourth of July napkins. How many baskets does anyone need? Certainly not one with broken reeds, or one with dried cheese stuck on the bottom, or four the same size.

I culled treasures. A grater, with a turning handle and small metal drums. A stovetop coffee pot. A set of flatware that I took out of my kitchen drawer years ago. A George Forman griddle. The perfect chip and dip dish, so I thought twenty years ago. It’s been used twice. Three bread-baking tubes. What a clever idea! Bake a 2” round loaf of bread. Slice it thin, toast the slices, and top each with cream cheese and green pepper jelly. I never got past the bake it; the dough in the middle didn’t bake.

Gone are plastic cottage cheese lids and more than a few take-out boxes. A can of sauerkraut dated April 2012. Packages of stuff to mix with sour cream for dips. A can of 2010 tomato juice.

I rearranged. I cleaned. I organized. And that brand new Griddler now has a home. On a mudroom shelf, right at waist level. All I have to do is buy a couple of steaks and Husband and I will have supper. Right?

*It’ll always be the mudroom to me. When my children were young, it’s where they sat on a bench and took off their snow boots or muddy shoes. They hung their coats on hooks and put gloves in baskets. Or they left everything on the mudroom floor.

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A Surprise Christmas Gift

outline_of_a_television_set_0515-0911-0317-3308_SMUWhile shopping at the Goodwill Store, I hear the crackle of an intercom and then a lady’s voice.  “Is this on?” she said.  I looked toward the checkout counter.

“Will the young man who looked at a TV and wanted it please come to the front?” the lady said.  I looked around.  No one walked toward the front.  Without using the microphone, the lady turned to three other store employees who stood crowded around the counter close to her and said, “What if he doesn’t know who he is?  Anything else I can say?”  They talked among themselves, but I could only hear the lady who made the announcement.

“Will the tall young man who told someone that you wished you could buy a TV please come to the check-out counter?”  she announced.  “Think he’ll come now?”  she said without the microphone.  “Shouldn’t we go look for him?”

He was tall.  Taller than six feet and slim.  He walked in a slow, easy-going way with his chin tucked low as he approached the checkout counter.  The Goodwill employees parted to make space for him.  A TV sat on the counter.  “This is for you,” the lady to the man.  I couldn’t see his face or hear him.  “No, really, it’s yours.  A gift.” she said.

The employees clapped and laughed.  One patted him on the back and all except the lady who’d made the announcement walked away.  “Another customer brought it up here and said to give it to the young man who wished he could buy it.  He paid for it,” she said.

The young man obviously said something and I wanted to walk closer and hear the conversation, but an audience would have been an intrusion.  “All I know is he wanted you to have this TV and he paid for it and it’s yours.  So Merry Christmas!”  she said.  He didn’t pick up the TV.  “Yes, you can take it right now unless you have some other shopping.  I’ll keep it right here till you’re ready to go.”

He wrapped his arms around the portable TV and picked it up.  He walked a few steps away from the counter.  “Oh, wait,” the lady called to him.  “I forgot something.  There’s money left over.  The man said to give it to you.”  He shook his head and walked back to the counter where he set the TV.  “Yes, I’m sure,” said the lady.  She laid some bills in his hand.  With the back of his other hand, he wiped his eyes.

I hope the anonymous donor saw that tall young man as he walked toward the store’s door. He took long intentional steps and held his head high.  And he was smiling.  As he walked out the door, he dropped his head and shook it from side to side.

A surprise Christmas gift for one young man.  A gift that was generous and kind.  A gift that reminded me the reason we celebrate Christmas.

Merry Christmas from the Ray household to yours!  May all your Christmas wishes come true.  Look for the next Where We Are column on Tuesday, December 31st.

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From Quilt to Hearts

Photo 48I sat with scissors and a heart-shaped paper pattern in hand.  One of my granny’s quilts lay spread flat on the floor.  Tears flooded my eyes.  Did I dare cut up Granny’s quilt?  Yes, I’d made that decision the night before.  I wiped my eyes with my hands.  Was Granny’s quilt large enough to make sixteen small twelve-inch pillows?  Yes, I’d measured.  I re-measured.  Would those girls appreciate a heart pillow made from Granny’s quilt?  I hoped so.

Those girls were my daughter and her high school friends.  Girls – sometimes just two and sometimes a houseful – who often spent the night at our house.  After a Friday night ball game, they’d come laughing and giggling through the front door and immediately open the door of the quilt closet.  “I want the one with blue and white.”  “It’s my turn to get the green and red one.”  “Where’s the one with all the orange?”  They rummaged through the many quilts; most that Granny had made, and each girl chose one that was hers for the night.

With quilts tucked under their arms, they ran downstairs to a room that had very little furniture, a big TV, and a pool table.  Each spread her quilt on the floor, claiming a space.  And then it was popcorn and movie time.  Usually, I was asleep before the talking and laughing and potty flushing stopped.  But sometimes I’d awake during the night, tiptoed downstairs, and watch.  Just watch those almost grown-up girls sleep.  Each wrapped snugly in a quilt, her hair splayed over a pillow.

Much too quickly it was spring, 1992, and the girls planned to go their separate ways, after high school graduation.  Colleges, universities, and work called them to different places.  One night, I smiled as they chose their slumber party quilts.  Each seemed intent to choose her very favorite.  And one was the favorite of at least a half dozen girls – a variation of the Four Patch quilt pattern.  Made from flour sacks and shirt scraps, probably in the 1950s.  Using her hands, Granny had cut and pieced and quilted and sewn the binding.

So that was the quilt I wanted those sixteen girls to take with them.  Something to remind them that they were bound by high school secrets and slumber parties, at our house and other parents’ homes.

I carefully cut out the first heart, wiped tears, and cut a second.  Granny’s quilt had kept one girl warm, one night at a time.  I hoped it would warm all those girls’ hearts.  I cut and stitched and stuffed sixteen heart shaped pillows.  I wrapped each one in white tissue paper and put it in a gift bag.  Then I gave Granny’s quilt to my daughter and her friends.  And they cried.  Big crocodile tears.  And they hugged.  Big bear hugs.

I’ve been told that those small pillows travelled to dorm rooms in Texas and Georgia and Kentucky and Knoxville and Cookeville.  And I’ve been told that some of those pillows are now on young girls’ beds.  Young girls – the daughters of girls who used to wrap up in Granny’s quilts.

            Visit the 25th Upper Cumberland Quilt Festival in Algood, September 19-21 to see over 500 quilts and one quilted heart pillow.

Under the Christmas Tree

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Under the Christmas Tree

            There’s an electric train under our Christmas tree.  Nothing unusual for most people.  But we never even owned an electric train until December 20th last year when Husband came home with a big box.  “I got something for a little surprise.”  And then he set up the railroad tracks in the bedroom where the Grands sleep when they spend the night.  The train was a hit, but it rarely ran.  Out of sight and away from the action.

This year is different.  “David,” I said to our oldest Grand, “let’s set up Pop’s electric train under the Christmas tree.”  David, age 7, was slow to respond.  He eyed the space between the low tree branches and the floor.  “But then there won’t be room for all the presents,” he said.  His silence questioned if I was suggesting that the train would replace presents.  I assured him that gifts could be stacked near, not under, the tree.

David and I connected the train tracks and hooked the train cars together.  Black engine leading and red caboose at the end.  And the Grands loved it.  When they visited the next time, each took a turn at the controls.  The train zoomed, forward and backward.  And the horn blasted.  Ah, just as I’d envisioned.

And a few days later, Husband went shopping again.  For candy.  Now an open hopper car is full of chocolate candy kisses – wrapped in read and silver and green.  Another hopper hauls peppermint patties.  Chocolate Santas are stacked on the flatcar and held securely with red rubber bands.  And inside the boxcar?  It’s loaded with Pez.  Every flavor made.  “Look at all the special treats!”  said Lou, our five-year-old Grand.  And each Grand ate a special treat, chocolate Santas, after lunch.

“You know, this train is missing something,” David said.  Maybe another car loaded with candy?  “It needs a tunnel.”  Husband and David went on a hunt for a box.  None, in recycling or those saved for wrapping gifts, were the right size.  “I know.  I’ll be right back.”  He rolled our play grocery cart filled with large cardboard building blocks into the living room.  He and Lou built a tunnel that encloses one end of the tracks.  Lou took the controls and both agreed the train wouldn’t knock down the tunnel.  But they’d have to tell Elain, their baby sister, to not take the tunnel apart.

“Now,” said Lou, “where’s the engineer?”  Out came the Legos.  David constructed.  Lou advised.  The engineer sits atop a platform so he can see the train really well.  The platform is attached to an overhead water sprinkler – “just in case there’s a fire on the train,” David told me.  Lou built a small Lego house so the engineer will have a place to sleep when he isn’t working.

Now our electric train is complete, I think.  And I love it.  But there’s still time for Husband to go shopping and hide a little special surprise in the boxcar.