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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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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.

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Not a Typical Quiet Morning

My early morning routine was disrupted last week. Most mornings I awake early, drink a cup of coffee alone, and gather thoughts of inspiration. An hour that’s all mine. And I need it.

But Tuesday morning at 6:05 a.m. as I shuffled from my bedroom to the kitchen past the upstairs stairwell, I hear a soft voice say, “Hi, Gran.” Two Grands, who live an airplane ride away, held hands and stood halfway down the steps. Neil, age 5, wore his Super Hero pajamas and grinned from ear to ear. Three-year-old Ann sucked hard on her pacey (big girl pacifier) and rubbed her eyes. Their big brother and parents were still asleep.

“Good morning, Neil. Good morning, Ann. Come on down,” I whispered.

Neil let go of his sister’s hand and said, “Ann, be careful. Hold the rail.”

My Grands walked slowly. I held my arms wide and they nuzzled their heads on my shoulders. Those few moments froze in my mind, my heart. I hugged until my Grands wiggled from my arms. “Go potty and then we’ll sit on the front porch and drink juice,” I said. Both raced toward the bathroom and it amused me that being first is important.
“I’ll go first Ann. I’m bigger,” Neil said just before he closed bathroom door.

These two Grands didn’t know about my pass-through kitchen window that I wrote a column about a few weeks ago. “Come to the kitchen. I have something to show you,” I said. Two small plastic glasses, 1970s vintage Snoopy and Strawberry Shortcake, and my coffee cup were on a tray.

“Can we take juice outside?” Neil asked looking out the window at the table on the front porch.

I raised the window that didn’t have a screen. “How about we set the tray on the porch stool and not carry anything outside?” My Grands clapped their hands.

Ann started toward the front door. Neil grabbed her arm. “Wait. How about we climb out the window?” he asked and looked up at me with his eyes open wide. I nodded and Neil ducked his head under the window. “Watch me, Ann. You’re next.”

Sitting together on the front porch, Ann, Neil, and I talked about sounds. Trucks on a big highway. Birds chirping. We saw dog shapes and circles in white fluffy clouds. Neil told about the big ugly monster that was in his bad dream. Ann said she just slept.

Son joined us at the table. “Daddy, guess what? Me and Ann didn’t walk out here,” Neil said.

“We climbed!” Ann said. And, my Grands raced into the house, their daddy followed to raise the window, and Ann and Neil climbed out again.

So upon rising that day, I immediately kicked into second gear to pour juice and enjoy two young Grands. Later, I hit high gear and stirred pancake batter. I’d trade my normal quiet morning of solitude for a morning with Grands anytime. Any day.

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Too Old for a Swim Day?

Screen Shot 2018-08-02 at 2.12.39 PMTowels. Sunscreen. Water bottles. Lunch. Dry clothes. Daughter’s van was loaded for a day at the pool. We had packed as if she and I were taking her five children across country, not an hour’s drive to a pool with slides, fountains, diving boards, and picnic tables.

Riding shotgun while Daughter drove, I thought of my grandmothers. Would they have worn bathing suits and set out on a day’s swimming adventure at my age?

“What’s so funny?” Daughter asked. I didn’t realize I’d chuckled.

“I’m imagining my grandmothers wearing bathing suits. I don’t think I ever saw their legs and they would never have spent a day at a public pool.”

“What about Grannie? Would she?” Daughter referred to my mother.

“Maybe. But she was younger than me when you were the age of your children.” Am I too old for our planned swim day, I wondered?

At the pool, we claimed two lounge chairs to park our belongings. Sunscreen was lathered on bodies, Daughter gave instructions, and my five Grands took off in different directions.

Lou and David, ages 11 and 13, headed to the deeper water beyond the rope that marked “where you can touch bottom and where you can’t.” Elaine and Ruth, ages 7 and 9, climbed steps to a tunnel slide. Four-year-old Jesse ran into shallow water and jumped, splashing water over his head.

Could Daughter and I keep up with them? She heard my unspoken thought. “Mom, they’re good swimmers and Jesse is wearing a life jacket. Lifeguards are all around. One of us will stay close to Jesse. I will now,” she said.

I walked into the water standing where I could see the other four Grands. They separated. Lou swam laps. David on the diving board. Elaine in line to go down the open curved slide. Ruth under a fountain. I glanced at the pool clock. Only 10:30. Then none of my Grands were where I’d last seen them.

Many kids and adults played close to me, closer than I wished. Suddenly, water splashed on my back and head. I turned and saw David. “Gotcha, Gran!” he said and swam away quickly when I splashed him.

Ruth swam to me. “Gran, did you see me go down the slide? Watch. I’m going again!”   Elaine swam close and turned flips for thirty minutes. I counted how many flips she did without stopping and watched as she flipped forward, backwards, sideways. Then my Grand asked, “Will you take me to the deep water?”

Lou swam underwater and brushed my legs, came up smiling, and said, “You never knew I was there.” I scanned the crowd to spot my Grands and was glad they occasionally came near. I marched in place and did straight arm circles, remembering moves from water aerobics classes.

Jesse waved and shouted, “Gran, come play with me.”

At the end of the day, my nerves were frazzled. My body tired. My thoughts happy. Thankful that grandmothers of my generation wear bathing suits and play.

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