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Dear Camper

Dear Ruth,

            How I wish I could hide in your suitcase and go to camp with you!  A week in the woods.  I’m happy for you and I know you’ll have a good time.

            Last week you were exited and said, “This will be the first time I’ve ever stayed overnight without some of my family!”  You are brave.  You know only two people at camp – a boy your age and a girl who is a family friend and a counselor in training.  So you get to make new friends.

            When I was your age, 10 years old, I went to 4-H Camp in Crossville.  Recently, I received a Facebook friend request from a woman I met at camp all those years ago.  Many people who I first knew as fellow campers were fellow students at Tennessee Tech years later.  One of the girls in your cabin might become a long time friend.

            What fun I had at camp!  My favorite activity was swimming and it wasn’t just because I got to play in a huge pool.  There was a snack bar at the pool and I discovered something I really liked. Fritos! We sometimes ate potato chips with a sandwich at home, but I hadn’t eaten corn chips.  I could hardly wait to get to the pool and while other campers ran to jump into the water, I headed to the snack bar and bought a small bag of Fritos. I ate those chips one at a time.  First, licking off the salt, then putting a whole chip in my mouth and letting it crumble as it dissolved.  Even now, when I eat Fritos, I think of the 4-H camp swimming pool.

             I really liked the end of a camp day, near sunset.  Everyone stood in lines outside the mess hall (aka dining hall) while the American flag was taken down and folded.  We were quiet and reverent and it was a peaceful time. I hope you sing the same song I sang: Day is done, gone the sun from the lakes, from the hills, from the sky. All is well, safely rest; God is nigh.

             I didn’t like walking at night from my cabin to the bathhouse where the potties were, but I carried a flashlight and a light stayed on in the bathhouse all night. I especially didn’t like a stomachache that made me cry.  That happened because I was homesick.  Years later when your mom was homesick, I knew how she felt.

            I liked target shooting and crafts and square dancing and short hikes in the woods and throwing horseshoes and skit night and cabin pillow fights and most camp food.  (I was glad peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were available for every meal.)  I liked wearing my favorite clothes and my mom wondered why most of the clothes that she packed in my suitcase hadn’t been worn when I got home.

            Have fun at camp!  When you come home, let’s go to lunch so you can tell me all about your week.

            Love forever,             Gran

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Colorado’s Natural Playground

For a week, Husband and I explored parts of Colorado with Daughter and Son and their families. “First stop tomorrow is the Poudre River,” Son announced and the Grands giggled. 

     “Did Uncle Eric say pooter?” eight year-old Elaine asked, then she put her hand over her mouth and giggled.

            “Actually, it’s the Cache La Poudre (pronounced pooh-der) River and you’ll like it.  It’s a good place to throw rocks.” After breakfast the next day, six adults and eight children, ages 4-14, loaded into three vehicles.  One carried bicycles on top so Son 2 (aka son-in-law) and the four older kids could ride the Poudre trails and the rest of us prepared for a fifteen-minute walk along a dirt path toward the river.

            Carrying water, snacks, sunscreen, and insect repellant, we adults walked in front and back, and the two youngest cousins, Ann and Jesse, held hands as they walked.  Ann, who has visited the Poudre River many times, said, “We get to walk on the wiggly bridge!”

            Six and eight year-old cousins Neil and Elaine paired up and rocked the wooden suspension bridge from side to side.  “This is more fun than walking!” said Elaine.  She and Neil hopped across the bridge.

            The Poudre ran full and swiftly. Its shoreline was covered with rocks, from small gravels to rocks big enough to sit on.  A large willow tree with exposed roots and low branches grew beside the riverbank.  The Grands immediately threw rocks in the water and challenged each other.  Who could throw the farthest?  Whose rock made the biggest splash? Who could throw five rocks at one time?  And Elaine and Neil often said, “Watch me throw this rock in the Pooter,” and then laughed.

            After a bit, the four kids wandered from each other.  Jesse, age five, found a walking stick and walked the tree roots, nature-made balance beams.  Four-year-old Ann collected the shiniest, tiniest rocks.  Neil and Elaine threw leaves and sticks in the river and then tried to hit them with rocks. 

            Husband and Son skipped rocks and all four Grands counted loudly the number of skips across the water’s surface.  The kids were determined to find perfectly flat rocks and master skipping.  Over and over they slung rocks into the water and when one skipped, even once, all celebrated with applause and cheers.

            Another thirty minutes passed before Daughter and Daughter 2 declared it was time for snacks and water and a second sunscreen rub down.  Afterwards, Jesse used his stick as a shovel to dig softball size rocks from the ground.  The same size rocks lay on top of the ground, but with Ann’s encouragement, Jesse dug several and then together he and Ann made the biggest water splashes or so they claimed.

            A different trail from the river led us through marshland and the Grands stopped and squatted to watch ants scurry around a huge anthill.  Back at the parking lot, we met the bike riders and our eight Grands talked at the same time.  All were sure they’d had the most fun.  They were wrong.  I did, but I didn’t tell them.

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Strawberry Picking Day

            “Gran, is this one okay?”  Jesse gently held a bright red strawberry that was attached to a plant.  A berry perfect for picking.  I nodded and he put it in his white gallon bucket.  “How about this one?”  My Grand, almost five years old, pointed to a berry that was pink with a white tip. 

            “Not that one. Pick the bright red ones,” I said as I handed him a big, juicy, red berry.  “Taste this one.  It’s ripe and ready to eat.” 

            Jesse bit and red juice dribbled from both sides of his mouth, his eyes widened, and he chewed.  After he swallowed, he said, “That’s yummy!”  And he ate the whole berry except the small green cap.  “Can I eat more?” He could and I suggested he pick enough berries to cover the bottom of his bucket before eating another.  “Is this one okay?” He pointed to a half ripe berry.

            It was Jesse’s first time to pick strawberries and I relished the time that just he and I could be together.  And I was thankful that Amazing Acres welcomed pickers, even young pickers.  My plan was to pick 3 or 4 gallons to make freezer jam and berries to eat fresh for a few days.  If I approved each and every berry Jesse picked, we might be in the strawberry patch all day.  Again, we compared ripe and unripe berries and I began picking quickly.

            Jesse examined a tall weed with barbs that grew in the path between the rows of strawberries.  “What’s this?” he asked.  A thistle. “Does it have sticker things so nothing will eat it?” Yes.  “Does it protect the strawberries?  Can I touch it?”  After a thorough examination of the weed, my Grand noticed my full bucket of berries.  “Gran, how about I pick berries out of your bucket?”  I shook my head and reminded him that he could pick berries from the plants.

            When Jesse accidentally kicked his bucket, strawberries spilled onto the ground.  He heaved with frustration. “They’ll be easier to pick from the ground,” I said.  He carefully placed every berry back in his bucket.  “Gran, can I spill yours?  I’ll pick them up.”

            We counted the cows in the field beside the strawberry patch and looked for the barbed wire fence surrounding the pasture.  We identified a cloud dinosaur and a cloud train engine puffing smoke.  When Jesse asked for a drink of water, I suggested he chew a strawberry for a long time and it might taste like strawberry juice.  It did and he had several drinks.

            As we carried filled buckets out of the field, Jesse warned me to not touch the tall sticker plants and not step in the mud.  “Be careful, Gran.  Follow me,” he said. We sat on the grass to rest a few minutes.  Looking at four gallons of berries, Jesse said, “Now that’s SOME STRAWBERRIES!”

            At home, Jesse told his siblings that he worked really hard to pick the best strawberries.  “I got the most humongous bright red ones,” he said.  I agreed.

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Most Delightful Meal

“Gran, let’s play tea,” Ann said. My 4-year-old Grand invited me for tea at her play kitchen table. Carefully, I balanced on the toddler-size chair. “What color would you like?” Ann asked pointing to plastic plates. “Pink? Yellow? Blue? And that’s supposed to be green, but it’s not.” I chose yellow – not the aqua-green plate that Ann put back in the play kitchen cabinet. “Now, what will we eat? We’re drinking tea.”

Ann rummaged through a basket of plastic food and laid a banana and a donut on my plate. She chose a cookie and an orange for herself. She poured invisible tea into our cups and after one sip declared that it wasn’t hot enough so she put both cups in her play microwave, counted to twenty (skipping 14) and announced, “That should be just right.”

We sipped tea and talked about the buzzing bees outside the window. Ann’s older brother Neil left his Hot Wheels cars scattered on the floor and joined us. “Can I play restaurant, too?” With great drama, Ann explained that we weren’t in a restaurant; we were home having tea. “But if you want to play restaurant, bring Mickey and Minnie and I’ll wash the dishes.”

Ann stacked the plates and cups into her play sink. She wiggled all ten fingers over the dishes, hummed, and then sang, “Voila! Done!” Meanwhile, my 5 ½ year old Grand sat stuffed Mickey on a chair beside me and put Minnie in a toy shopping cart and pushed it to the table. “We don’t have a high chair so this works for Baby,” Neil said.

Ann set the table with all four plates and cups and silverware. She held her left palm up and pointed her right index finger toward it and asked, “What’ll you have?”

“Minnie would like strawberry baby food. Mickey and me want rice,” Neil said.

“Oh, good,” said Ann, “I got strawberry baby food yesterday.” She put a strawberry on Minnie’s pink plate. “Baby needs a cup with a lid and I’m pouring her milk because she needs it.”

Neil nodded and we both watched as Ann served a strawberry and poured pretend milk from a carton. Neil surveyed the choices in the food box. “I’ll also have an orange and French fries and everyone want donuts and chocolate for dessert.”

Ann served and added a hamburger to Neil’s order. “Be careful. It’s hot. Do you want ketchup? Would Baby like some chips?”

“Okay. Crunch them so she won’t choke,” Neil said. “Where’s my rice?”

“We don’t have any. The big kids ate all of it,” Ann explained. She put food on Mickey’s plate and mine. “I’m going to make a phone call to Mom real quick,” and my Grand turned her back to us and held a toy phone.

Neil pretended to bite the food and then slid it under his shirt. He whispered, “Gran, don’t tell Ann. I’ll put everything back in the food box, and she’ll think we ate it.”

When all the plates were emptied, Ann pointed to the kitchen sink and said, “This is where the dirty dishes go. Now, where’s my money?” I placed make-believe money in her hand, and Ann announced, “We’re done!”

This was my most delightful meal of the day.

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When Will Be the Last Time?

How I wish I’d known it was the last time Jesse would call “Gran, Gran. Will you come up here?” when he awoke after spending the night with Husband and me. My 4 year-old Grand called early, at daybreak, and I threw on my housecoat and went upstairs to his bed. We snuggled close. Jesse held his stuffed bear in his arms as we sat side-by-side leaning against the bed’s headboard. I read Lightning McQueen’s Tales from the Track.

Recently when Jesse spent the night, I awoke before he did and sat drinking my first cup of coffee when I heard footsteps on the stairs. Jesse jumped onto the floor from the last step, saw me at the kitchen table, and ran to me. “Hi, Gran,” he said. I wanted to say, “Jesse, go back upstairs and get in bed and call me,” but I didn’t. “I got up all by myself,” he said. He sat in my lap and we talked in soft voices and read a book, but it wasn’t the same as snuggling with my sleepy-eyed Grand on his bed. If I’d known it was the last time that Jesse would stay in bed and call me, I would have stayed beside him a little longer.

As I buckled Jesse’s car seat in my van one day he said, “I’m big now. I don’t need a car seat. Mom has a booster.” I took a little longer than usual to adjust the tightness of the straps that securely held him and had held his older siblings and cousins. I’m not sentimental about a car seat. Now I help him with the seat belt when he sits in a booster and we hug, but he’ll soon learn how to do it and not want my help. And I’ll miss our quick hug and his smile after we agree the straps are just right, not too tight, not too loose.

I treasure Jesse’s greetings. With arms open wide and a big smile and shouting, “Gran!” he runs to me and wraps both arms around my knees. He no longer says, “Pick-up hug” as he did as a toddler, but looks up and raises his arms. When I lift him, he wraps his legs and arms around me and lays his head on my shoulder. When will be the last time?

When will be the last time Jesse will sit in my lap while I tie his shoes? When he leans with his back against my legs while I zip his jacket? Get excited when I point out a crane or a bulldozer? When we pretend that we’re in a cave while under a quilt that’s over two chairs? When he says, “Look, Gran. I’m really smart,” after he stacks blocks sorted by color and size?

I’m thankful Jesse is becoming independent and I’m cherishing his ‘littleness.’ One day his greeting will be a wave and he’ll tie his own shoes.

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Microcars and a Yellow Volkswagen

Beth opened the car door and said to my Grand, “Would you like to sit in this car?” Elaine’s eyes opened wide and my Grand shook her head rejecting Beth’s offer. “Well, it’s just your size,” Beth encouraged Elaine.

The 1957 BMW Isetta at the Cookeville History Museum is the perfect size for my seven-year-old Grand, but Elaine declined the invitation from Beth Thompson, the museum’s manager, to sit in a tiny car. Maybe because I’d just read aloud the sign that stated ‘Please do not touch the cars,’ and maybe because Elaine was startled that a front hood was also the door. Neither she nor I expected a car hood door or to be invited to touch a car.

The six displayed microcars, a part of the Lane Motor Museum collection in Nashville, don’t look large enough for adults. They seem like cars for my young Grands to ride in for fun, but they are real cars for adults and five on display can be driven. We rarely see small cars; they were built for European streets that are much more narrow than our Cookeville streets.

Seeing these small cars makes me think of a yellow Volkswagen, owned by my high school friend in the mid-1960s. Marietta was always willing to take us girls to ballgames, the skating rink, and the movie. But one spring day, when we were seniors, my friends and I planned an outing for the middle of a school day.

We left from the school parking lot after our second class and planned to return to school at lunchtime. Four girls squeezed in the back seat and I sat beside Marietta who immediately announced that the gas tank indicator showed empty. The service station attendant didn’t look surprised when we handed him two quarters and asked for fifty cents worth of gas.

And we shouldn’t have been surprised that he called Pickett County High School and reported that girls, who should have been in school, had just been at his service station. He probably named us. We traveled about five miles to the blue bridge near Sunset Dock, got out of the car, took pictures of ourselves that showed the car and the bridge, and went back to school.

The principal met us in the parking lot and watched as we climbed out of Marietta’s VW. His smile didn’t match his angry words. We were in trouble and each had to report to the teachers whose classes we’d missed and we had to write a letter to our parents explaining why we missed class. Those letters were to be signed by our parents and returned to school the next day.

When you see the microcars at the History Museum, located at 40 E. Broad Street, look for my favorite, William Cyclo. I’m partial to little yellow cars, and I’m thankful Marietta’s VW was bigger than this one. Also look for the car that that can be pedaled and has a gas engine and guess which car Elvis owned. These cars will be displayed until March 23.

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Micah Spends the Night

“Is it my turn to spend the night?” Micah, age four, asked as I arrived at his family’s house. He’s the youngest of five Grands who take turns weekly spending the night with Husband and me. Micah wrapped his arms around my knees and looked up, “Gran, can I go home with you and stay tonight?”

His turn would be the next week. We counted the days. Seven. The next day Micah asked, “Is it my turn tonight?” When you’re four years old, seven days is an eternity.

On the morning of Micah’s overnight visit, Daughter sent a text, “Thought you’d want to know that Micah packed his bag before breakfast to go to your house. It’s beside the back door.”

That afternoon when I picked up Micah, he jumped down his back porch steps and said, “Let’s go!” His bulging black backpack was strapped over his shoulders. He carried a Lightning McQueen stuffed red car and a stuffed monkey and declined my offer to carry anything for him.

“Micah,” his mom called from the back door, “did you pack pajamas?” He did. “Underwear?” Yes. “Clothes for tomorrow?” Yes. “How about a good-bye hug?” Micah, already buckled by a seat belt in my van, held out his arms toward her and she came to him.

At our house, Micah dumped his backpack and “stuffies” beside the twin bed that he’s claimed as his and headed to the playroom. His mother’s and uncle’s plastic Fisher Price playhouse and garage are favorites. My Grand lay on his stomach and parked small cars on the top level of the garage and turned a handle to rotate the cars.

These toys entertained for a while, then Micah asked, “Can I play on the iPad?” A racecar game is his favorite and he shouted as his red car passed others, “Vroom! Faster! I won!”

After supper, Micah asked, “Can I take a play bath?” I agreed and said he could wash too, but he explained, “It’s just a play bath. No washing.” By the time my Grand decided he was finished playing, the bath water was cold, and all his body had been under soapy water he’d created by scrubbing rubber ducks so his play bath turned into a soaking clean bath.

Micah threw many books onto his bed and climbed on it. “Sit here, Gran. Let’s read,” he said and he scooted to one side. We agreed on three books and I read them as we sat together.

My Grand clutched his sleeping friends, monkey and Lightening McQueen, and snuggled under the covers. We named good things that had happened that day and said goodnight prayers. “Will you scratch my back?” Micah asked.

Fifteen minutes later, I stopped moving my fingers across his back, and Micah half-opened one eye just to let me know he wasn’t asleep. Soon he was.

If I hadn’t spent nights alone with my grandmother, I might not understand Micah’s eagerness to stay with Husband and me when we don’t do anything special. But I did and I do.

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