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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.

####

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.

####

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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FUN In the SAND

Version 2I expected comfortable weather at a Florida gulf beach last week, but 95° degrees and 80% humidity are miserably hot. I sat under a beach umbrella and thought I’d be complaining if I’d been sentenced to endure such heat.

I wiped sweat from my face and reminded myself that I was on vacation to have fun with Daughter’s family. I watched my Grands who played separately. Elaine, age 7, used her hand as a shovel. “What’s so fun about digging a deep hole in the sand?” I asked.

“The sand is cool, Gran. Dig deep,” she said. My Grand stuck her arm, past her elbow, in a hole. “Ah, that feels good.” I dug with my heels, making deep ruts. An inch below the surface, the sand was cooler. I rubbed my feet back and forth through the sand giving them a mini-pedicure while Elaine covered her body with sand. I declined her offer to be buried in cool sand and, instead, moved close to Jesse.

My four-year-old Grand lay face down near the water’s edge. Using one finger he drew a plate-size circle, poked two holes inside it, and drew a semi-circle under the holes. “Look, Gran, a man! Watch this!” He stood and tidewater swamped his drawing and smoothed the sand. “It’s erased!” Jesse said. He lay on his belly and wiggled his chest, his knees, his shoulders, his elbows into the sand, then stood and laughed when water washed away his body’s impression. “Look, Gran. I’m gone!”

Jesse scraped dry sand into a pile and then carried handfuls more, dumped it, and patted the pile into a teepee. Then he ran a few feet away, turned, ran toward the teepee, and kicked. Sand sprayed and my Grand laughed. I dodged flying sand. “Did you see that, Gran?” he asked. For young boys, the reason to build anything is to knock it down.

Ruth, age 9, sat in the middle of pit, a foot deep and three feet wide. Holding her hands close together she dug sand and threw it outside the hole. A small metal shovel and toy plastic ones lay out of my Grand’s reach. “Ruth, I’ll get you a shovel. It’ll be easier to dig,” I said.

“No, Gran. I don’t want one. I can feel what I’m doing and get a lot more sand with my hands,” she said. She had dug a small deep hole about a foot away and now she was digging a tunnel between it and the one she sat in. After connecting two other smaller holes by tunnels, she declared that was enough. “Now I’m going to make a crocodile,” she said and mounded sand. When the croc’s nose was too short and too round, he became the head of a hippopotamus complete with tiny ears.

As the sun began to set, I make a sand pile with wet dripping sand near the shoreline. My Grands dug deep enough in dry sand to discover wells of water. I was still hot, but very happy.

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Cousins Play Bingo

Screen Shot 2018-08-30 at 8.43.50 AM “Gran, can we play Bingo?” Dean, age 7, asked.

“Yes, that’s a great idea,” I said.

Dean and Elaine cheered. “And get prizes?” Elaine, also 7, asked. I nodded. My Grands high-fived and threw their fists in the air and shouted, “Yes!”

Dean and Elaine were born a month apart, but rarely play together since they live a three-hour airplane ride from each other. When Dean visited Husband and me for a few days (aka Pop and Gran Camp), I wanted these two first cousins to play, without parents and siblings.

“Gran, you get Bingo. Dean, let’s get the prizes.” Elaine took charge since she knows where the game and prize basket are kept. She and I play Bingo occasionally, but the only other time these cousins have played together was a family gathering when they were kindergarten students. Their parents, siblings, and grandparents played too. An adult called out the numbers and put marbles showing the called numbers in a rack. Elaine and Dean needed help then, but not now.

They carried the basket filled with fancy pencils and cheap trinkets and cheaper candy. “Look at this!” Elaine said as she held a piece of candy wrapped in Halloween paper. (Time to replenish the basket, I thought.)

Elaine chose a Bingo card. Dean shuffled through 100 cards and finally said, “The one on the bottom is always lucky.” Elaine reminded Dean to cover the FREE space with a small colored disk and that he had to cover five spaces in a row to Bingo.

“Get a card, Gran. You have to play, too,” said Elaine.

Dean turned the handle on the metal wire basket and counted four balls that fell into a trough. “I’ll call the numbers,” he said. Elaine frowned, then suggested, and Dean and I agreed, that we take turns calling four numbers.

Dean sat up straight, held a small yellow marble and announced, “B 5!” He placed the marble under B in the number 5 slot. “I don’t have 5,” said Dean and his shoulders slumped.

“I do! Look!” said Elaine as she covered the number.

“O 63!” Dean said.

“Oh, I have 62 and 64,” said Elaine.

“I have 62 and 65,” Dean groaned. “Gran, do you have it?” I shook my head. “Nobody has it! Why’d I even call it?”

The game continued. Every number was discussed. Who had it? Who didn’t? What numbers were on our cards close to it? Who had 54 when 45 was the called number? What numbers were needed to make Bingo?

Forty minutes later, Dean shouted, “Bingo!” and Elaine checked the called numbers on the tray. Dean had his eyes on his card and his hand clutching a package of Sour Tarts as said his numbers. “That’s a Bingo!” Elaine announced.

The hour-long game ended when each Grand had five Bingos and five prizes. Then Elaine and Dean ran upstairs to bowl on the Wii. They giggled and squealed and laughed.

I hope it’s true that cousins are childhood playmates that grow up to be forever friends.

*****