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Some Things Don’t Wait

Monday, January 3, 2022.  Chores and tasks lay ahead.  Laundry.  Respond to emails.  Make plans for a club meeting.  Submit a column to the newspaper. 

            The column, a letter addressed to 2022, was written and ready for one more read-aloud. Then Husband’s edits:  insert words I omitted or maybe add an s to a word I meant to write plural.

            But Mother Nature gave us snow and Monday tasks and that column, fell to the wayside. I sat where I begin most days to drink coffee, list blessings, read a devotion, write notes, and watch a few birds.  But Monday, I munched on grapes and drank coffee and stared outside for a long time.

            Except for driveways and streets, everything was white – clean, brilliant, beautiful.  Every branch, every twig, were laden with snow and many more birds came to our birdfeeder that is about 18” from my window. 

            Brown house finches ate quickly and flew.  A downy woodpecker pecked into an open feeder hole as he would into a dead tree.  A red Northern cardinal perched, but didn’t eat until a female cardinal sat beside him.  Both held seeds in their beaks and turned their heads side to side before flying away. 

            A Carolina chickadee, smaller than the other birds, perched at the feeder’s top as if claiming ownership before he chose a perch and stayed a while.  A tufted titmouse joined the chickadee, not giving up his perch quickly.

            I didn’t immediately identify several birds about the size of house finches.  Their dark charcoal -colored backs and tailfeathers set off their white bellies and orange beaks.  Looking through my bird field guide, I found the junco, a sparrow that winters in the southeastern states.  And I found a date I’d written when I’d spotted juncos another time: February, 2021.

            Doves strutted slowly on the ground and picked up seeds that had been dropped by other birds.   I admired their patience.

            Then I learned my Grands across town were playing outside. “I’m coming over,” I texted Daughter.  She responded, “Come quickly. After two hours outside, it’s almost time for hot chocolate.”

            “Want to ride down the hill, Gran?” Lucy asked.  While I considered how steep the hill was and the many trees, my Grand jumped onto her sled and flew down the hill.  I didn’t sled or roll like a log down the hill or throw fistfuls of snow down anyone’s coat, but I did make the biggest snow angel and stomp a giant S while my Grand stomped all the letters to spell her name.

            I lost miserably playing a game of UNO that went on and on because nobody, my four Grands nor I, wanted it to end.  What’s better than sitting inside a warm house, wrapped in a blanket, and drinking hot chocolate after playing outside on winter’s first snow day?

            Chores and tasks wait.  Playing with Grands and watching birds do not.   

            And that previously written column?  Maybe it’ll keep until next week.



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.


Wanna’ Come Play?

screen-shot-2016-12-01-at-7-41-26-amRuth, age seven, and I sat in the middle of a bedroom floor to empty a box labeled ‘Susan’s dolls.’ “Gran, look! She doesn’t have a leg. I bet Pop can fix it,” said my Grand. She held a one-legged Barbie. We rummaged through the box and found Barbie’s leg. Pop, aka Husband, can fix most everything, but not a 1950’s Barbie that I’d played with all those years ago.

Other Barbies were perfect, except for their hair. “How about I just cut it?” Ruth asked as she tried to pull a comb through one doll’s hair. I suggested that she comb the ends of Barbie’s hair first to get the rat’s nest out.

My Grand tossed Barbie onto the floor. “Rat’s nest! A rat did this?” I chuckled and explained that it’s just a saying that means a tangled mess and my dad used to say my hair was a rat’s nest. With patience, Ruth combed Barbie’s hair until it hung straight.

I was a bit taken back when I discovered Barbie clothes. Clothes my mother had made. A pink nightgown and robe. Knit tops and skirts. A blue sundress trimmed with white lace. “These smell yucky,” Ruth said.

My Grand helped me find a shelf to display two antique dolls that had been handed down to me. And we cut one doll’s hair that was beyond repair and scrubbed two bald-headed baby dolls with Soft Scrub and Baby Wipes until they no longer felt gummy.

From a box with a cellophane front, we unpacked a two-foot doll, wearing white plastic sling-back high heels, a pink taffeta dress, and lace gloves. “She was the last doll I got for Christmas and she stood on top of my piano in my bedroom. I never played with her. She was just to look at,” I said. Ruth asked why I didn’t play with her. Why, indeed?

“Gran, I think these clothes will fit Samantha,” Ruth held a red corduroy jacket, a dress, pajamas, and more. “Can I take them home?” We made a plan that the next time she visited she’d bring Samantha, her American Girl doll, and try on the clothes.

The afternoon slipped away while Ruth and I played. Two days later when her family came for supper, she brought Samantha and ran straight upstairs. All the doll clothes had been washed and lay in the room where Ruth and her younger sister would sleep that night.

A bit later, Ruth ran to me and whispered in my ear, “Almost all those clothes fit Samantha just right.” My Grand’s eyes sparkled. I hugged her. She whispered, “That fancy doll’s clothes and Barbie’s smell better. Wanna’ come play?”

I did, but I said, “Another time, okay? It’s time to eat supper.”

My Grand’s face fell and then she asked, “Just me and you? One whole afternoon? Okay?” I agreed.

When I packed my dolls away so long ago, I didn’t know it’d be even more fun this time around.


Red Dirt and White Shorts

imagesLast week when I wrote suggestions for how parents can partner with their children’s teachers, I alluded to letting children suffer natural consequences. Ramifications of behavior and choices.

Mom and Dad parented by allowing my poor choices, my mistakes, to be followed by natural consequences. Like the Saturday I spent all my money on comic books and then wanted to see a movie, probably a Gene Autry western. Because I didn’t have money, I didn’t see the movie.

One time, when I was about 6 years old and Mom and I visited her parents, I wore a new pair of white shorts and a red and white stripe top that Mom had made. After greeting Papa and Grandma and playing a few notes on their pump organ, I went outside to play. The dirt bank between my grandparent’s house and the road was red clay. On that hot summer day, the dirt was dry and hard. Papa and Grandma’s yard was several feet higher, maybe about eight feet, than the road and although I knew to stay away from the road, I drew pictures with sticks on the hard-packed dirt.

Rain had washed gullies in the red clay because there wasn’t any vegetation –none, no grass, no weeds. I walked barefoot on the soft dirt down the gullies; the slope was steep and I crawled up to the yard.

Then I discovered I could sit on the dirt bank, push myself, and slide. I’m sure the more I scooted down the slope, the slicker it became. By the time Mom discovered how much fun I was having, my white shorts matched the red in my top. I had wiped my dirty hands on my clothes, my hair, my whole body.

I wonder what I would have done if I’d been the mother. I can see myself, a little kid, covered with red dirt, wearing a new outfit, and as the mother I would have been angry – really mad! And probably Mom was, but I don’t remember that. I do remember sitting in our white enamel bathtub for a long time and Mom scrubbed my skin so hard it hurt – especially my feet and knees. She scrubbed with a washcloth and a small brush, probably the one she used to scrub the bathtub. And she must have dug into my head with her fingernails. It wasn’t a gentle hair washing like most times.

Mom’s scrubbing on my body was something I never wanted to endure again. And it was a natural consequence that the new shorts I had really liked, I could only wear at home. The red dirt became pink stains that never came out, and I didn’t get a new pair of white shorts. I don’t remember, but I bet Mom made me scrub those dirty shorts, with an old toothbrush.

I wasn’t forbidden from Grandma and Papa’s bank. In fact, after that day I slid down the slope many times, but I’d wear my oldest clothes, sometimes sitting on a piece of cardboard, and I didn’t rub dirt in my hair or on my body. Then I’d wash myself using Papa and Grandma’s outside water faucet.

At my elementary school, Byrdstown Elementary, there was also a red bank – much longer and steeper than Papa and Grandma’s, and many kids played on it, but I didn’t, not while wearing my good school clothes. Being scrubbed hard and not having a favorite pair of shorts to wear taught me a lesson.


Oh, Yes We Did!

IMG_0311“Gran, can we play in the creek tomorrow?” four-year-old Elaine asked as I tucked her into bed. Yes, after the water is warm. By 8:00 a.m., the water was as warm as my Grand’s patience allowed. When your day begins at 6:00, two hours later is the middle of the day.

Elaine carried a bucket and plastic shovels. I hauled towels, my cell phone, a mug of lukewarm coffee, a bottle of water, and a folding chair down our backyard hill to the creek. A small creek – only a few inches deep, three feet wide with clear, and gentle flowing water.

Elaine stomped and stomped. “Look, Gran, the water’s brown! Where’s my feet?” She stood perfectly still and I challenged her to stay still until the water cleared and she could see her feet. As she stared down, water striders glided on the water’s surface around her ankles. Elaine squatted. Her nose almost touching the water. The striders dispersed. “Where’d they go? I wanna catch one,” my Grand said.

Elaine raised her open hand and when a strider came close, she slapped the water and closed her fingers, but she didn’t catch anything. She tried again and again and again until finally, she showed me a crushed insect.

“Way to go, Elaine!” I said and then convinced her that the strider would be happier with its friends in the creek than alone in a plastic bucket. When she opened her fist underwater to release the strider, green algae floated onto her hand and she grabbed it. “Look, Gran! This is slimy!” She plunged her hand to the creek bottom and brought up a handful of algae.

“Is this supposed to be here?” Elaine asked. I explained that algae grows in water like weeds in dirt and it should be in the water. “Wow! That’s comazing!” (comazing – not amazing) my Grand said as she squeezed algae in both hands and then gathered enough to cover the bottom of a bucket. She held the bucket under my nose, “ Look. It’s like wet moss.”

Elaine and I took giant steps in the creek. We swirled water with a stick. We threw rocks and splashed and threw a leaf and watched it float. “Gran, will you help me build……what’s it called? One of those things that Samuel and Elsie (her older siblings) make?” She described it as rocks stacked on each other. “Do you mean a dam, Elaine?” I asked. “Dam!” she shouted. “Dam! Dam! Dam. Is dam a bad word?” Elaine’s interest in building a dam was shorter than the time it took to shout the word three times.

“I need to make some mud balls,” Elaine announced. She dug black clay from the creek’s bank and squashed it between her hands so that it stuck together. Carefully, she arranged the balls, the size of hickory nuts, on a big rock to dry. Every ball had to be the same size and placed in two straight lines.

A few more splashes and swirls and stomps and creek play time ended. As Elaine and I walked toward our house, I ad-libbed a silly one-line song. “Oh, we had fun in the creek,” and Elaine immediately sang, “Oh, yes, we did!” Our song continued.

We splashed and walked

            Elaine: And picked up rocks

            We saw a dragonfly

            Elaine: And wet mo – mo- moss

            We threw some rocks

            Elaine: And picked up water striders.

            Oh, we had fun in the creek.

            Elaine: OH, YES! WE DID, DID, DID, DID, DID!

Grab Your Checkbook

thumbs_panaramic-hope-park-2“$450,000. That’s what we need. What we’ll raise! ” Ashley announced. I took a deep breath and struggled not to raise my eyebrows. I was surrounded by twenty young mothers and a few dads. Mothers with babies in arms. This was a meeting of people interested in building a new all inclusive Cookeville playground. Ashley had invited me to attend, and I was the only person there who had gray hair, except for the City of Cookeville staff member.

It was September 2014 and work had already been done. Ashley Swann and Kelly Swallows convinced the City of Cookeville to donate land and maintain the playground. And they had talked with Jeff Davidson, director of Rising Above Ministries, who had researched all-inclusive playgrounds for all age groups.

During the meeting, Kelly presented an update on playground designs from Leathers and Associates, a company that has built more than 3000 playgrounds in all fifty states. She shared pictures of playgrounds that are safe and provide physical and imaginative play. Then Kelly pointed to corners of the city council room for each committee to gather and make plans. Volunteers. Special events. Publicity. Fundraising. I dragged my chair toward the fundraising group, where Ashley thought I could provide suggestions.

“Ok, anyone got ideas how to get money?” Elizabeth Binkley, the committee chair, asked. The moms threw out ideas. Sell t-shirts. Collection canisters at schools. Golf tournaments. A gala. Again, I breathed deeply. My limited fund-raising knowledge told me that to raise $450,000 there’d be a plan to secure a donation of $100,000, two $50,000, and look for donors for $20,000 and $10,000.

“So how much money do you have now? What’s promised?” I asked.

“About $33,000. Money raised for a playground years ago,” Elizabeth said. Money raised by a Kids Kingdom committee and given to the City of Cookeville to be used solely for a downtown community playground. “We’ll raise the rest. We want everyone in Cookeville to participate and feel like this is their playground.”

Now it’s eight months later and these get-it-done mommas and their families have worked hard. They’ve called on stores, restaurants, factories, banks –most Cookeville businesses. Through an All in for Ten campaign, they collected $24,000, with some children giving ten pennies and most people giving $10. They held a Gangster Gala and raised $55,000. Fam Fest brought in $6,300. Churches have made donations: $90,000 and $25,000. The largest business or individual donation has been $24,000; the least, 10 cents. Another event, Touch the Truck, is planned for June 13.

Here’s the bottom line: $350,000 has been raised. Another $100,000 is needed by mid-July! The Heart of the City Playground will be built by volunteers, led by personnel from Leathers and Associates, at Dogwood Park September 29- October 4. It will be a 12,000 square foot fully accessible, all-inclusive enclosed playground where you will take your children and grandchildren. If another $100,000 is not raised, some play equipment will not be included.

It’s time for all of us – parents and grandparents – to grab our checkbooks! Contributions are tax-deductible and can be made at www.HeartOfTheCityTN.com or mail a check, made out to Cookeville Community Playground, to Cookeville Playground, 370 S. Lowe Ave, A-391, Cookeville, TN 38501. On the website or on Facebook (Heart of the City Playground), pick out something, such as a Pirate Ship or fence pickets, that you can fully fund.

I can’t wait until October to take my Grands to the playground! A playground that will be built because a group of young mothers raised $450,000 – their way. I salute these women and I’m writing a check. Let’s all jump on this bandwagon!

A Refreshing Walk with My Grand

imgres “Wots dat?” Neil asked and pointed toward white, feathery puffs of cotton that floated above his head.

“It’s seeds from cottonwood trees,” I said. He reached his hands high to catch the seeds, but they floated around him and onto the ground. He picked up a delicate seed and closed it inside his fist. When he spread his fingers wide, the seed seemed to have disappeared. He wrinkled his forehead, cocked his head, and picked up another seed.

Neil, my almost two-year-old Grand, seemed perplexed. He gathered several cottonseeds -one at a time- closed his hand, and when he opened it, he didn’t see the same white cotton puff. “Gone!” he announced and then began walking.

Neil and I were taking a morning walk. In his neighborhood, on the sidewalk, to a nearby park. “Wots dat?” Neil pointed to a white spot on the sidewalk. “Bird poo. Don’t touch it,” I told him and held his hand tightly. “POO!” he shouted and wiggled his hand free from mine. We had reached the park and Neil ran to and climbed upon a green metal bench. “POO!” he said and patted white spots on the bench.

A robin hopped on the grass, pecked at the ground, and raised its head. I held Neil in my lap and told him that the robin was searching for worms to eat. The robin flew low to the ground and Neil’s feet hit the ground running. Arms stretched in front of him, legs churning, Neil ran toward the bird. Mr. Robin stopped, pecked the ground again, and when Neil was only a few feet away, the bird flew. All around the open grassy field, the two played chase.

But, of course, Neil never came close to Mr. Robin. Finally, the robin perched in a pine tree. Neil ran to the tree and looked up. I pointed to the bird and suggested that he was full and ready for a rest. “Gone!” Neil announced.

Holding hands Neil and I walked along the sidewalk to the duck pond. “Wot dey doing?” Neil asked when we saw several ducks with their heads tucked along their backs. I said, “Probably sleeping.” Neil asked, “Why?” I explained that ducks get tired just like we do and, knowing that why questions never end, I veered our walk toward Neil’s home.

My Grand gathered short sticks that he gave me to hold and we talked about things we saw. Airplane contrails that crisscrossed the sky. White puffy clouds. A man who was power washing his driveway. A brown rabbit that hopped from shrub to shrub. A red pickup truck. Yellow tulips that Neil couldn’t pick.

“Wots dat?” Neil suddenly stopped walking. “It sounds like a fire truck,” I said. A fire truck that didn’t come within our sight, but kept Neil still long enough that he spotted ants, tiny brown ones, on the concrete walk. He squatted so low that his knees touched his chin and he watched the ants scurry to their anthill in the grass and then back onto the sidewalk. One ant hurried away from the others and Neil, still in a tight squat, shuffled his feet and followed it until it crawled into the grass.

“We’re home,” I told Neil. He rushed into his house and gave his older brother a treasure – one of his sticks.

There’s nothing quite so refreshing as taking a walk with a toddler. Everything is fascinating. Even seeds and ants and sticks.



After a Rain

IMG_3042  On a warm sunny day after several rainy days, five-year-old Ruth squats low to the ground under a maple tree in her backyard. I walk near her and see that she’s stirring a small puddle of muddy water with a stick.

“What’re you doing, Ruth?” I ask. She looks up. There are mud streaks on her cheeks and she hands me a plastic glass filled with brown liquid with bubbles on top.

“I made chocolate milk with soap and mud. Do you want to taste it?” my Grand says.  I shake my head. “I did and it’s disgusting!” Ruth says. She turns her back to me, picks up a handful of mud, molds it into a ball, and flattens it. “Now I’m making a pancake.” She places the mud pancake on a flat rock, scoops muddy water out of the mud puddle, and splashes it on top of the pancake.

She holds the rock toward me. “Try it, Gran. It has chocolate sauce on top and it’s delicious!” I pretend to take a bite and agree that it is delicious.

“As delicious as the mud pies that I made when I was a child. I put gravel in them and sold them to my dad for a nickel,” I say. Ruth asks why I used gravel. “The gravels were chocolate chips.” Ruth nods and turns back to the dirt. I expect that she’ll ask for a nickel for the pancake, but she doesn’t.

Using a plastic shovel and her fingers, my Grand digs in loose dirt and uncovers earthworms. She holds one in her hands and it wiggles. She puts the worm in an orange plastic sand bucket that is half full of muddy water. Then she holds another worm until it too tries to wiggle away, and she puts it into the bucket. I tell Ruth that I played with worms when I was a little girl. She puts both hands in the bucket of water and wraps a worm around her fingers and says, “They really like me, but they can’t live with me so I put them in water and they’ll be happy.” If worms can feel happy, these two certainly should.

Ruth swishes her hands in the bucket of water and wipes them over the grass and then down the side of her shorts. She leaves her mud play and climbs up the ladder of the jungle gym and slides down the five-foot long slide. She jumps on the trampoline with her older brother and sister. I stand outside on the driveway and talk with Daughter as we watch her children play.

Ruth soon returns to the mud puddle and again smashes more mud between her hands. From several feet away, I hear her talking about mud pies and pancakes and chocolate chips and chocolate sauce. She stops her mud play and picks up another earthworm and puts it in the bucket.

It’s time for me to leave Ruth’s family’s home. I tell Daughter and my Grands goodbye, get hugs and kisses, and turn on my car’s ignition. “Wait!” Daughter says and holds up one hand, “Ruth wants to tell you something else.” I roll the car window down.

My Grand yells. “Look out, Gran! There’s a worm. Don’t run over it!”

I wouldn’t dare. That worm will be happy with its friends in Ruth’s bucket of water.





Wanna’ Play?

images “Gran, come on. Wanna’ play balloon?” my 3 ½ year old Grand said. Play balloon? “I don’t know how to play balloon,” I said. Dean grabbed his blown-up orange balloon and ran into his family’s living room, turned playroom.

“Come on. I’ll show you,” Dean said. He stood, with stiff legs spread far apart, in the middle of the room and held the balloon tightly between both hands. “You stand over there.” He nodded his head toward an empty floor space just a few feet away. “I start!” my Grand said as he tossed the balloon above his head and when it floated down to his arm reach, he smacked it toward me. “Hit it, Gran! Hit it!” he shouted. I did. He swatted it again and it landed on the floor behind a chair. Dean crawled under the chair, retrieved the balloon, and hit it into the air.

We swatted and smacked and hit and we laughed when the balloon landed out of our reach or onto the floor. Dean held the balloon out to me, “Gran, you want a start turn?” A treasured turn when you are three years old. I accepted Dean’s gift. “Next start is mine,” he said.

The following day Dean and I played with orange yarn, my Grand’s favorite color. We wrapped yarn around a napkin holder and around our fingers. Then Dean’s mother said that she’d bought the yarn to make pompoms to play with but hadn’t gotten around it. I cut a strip of cardboard, about 4” x 8”, from a gift box and began to wrap the yarn around the cardboard. “Dean, would you please pull the yarn out of the skein?” I asked. He did. Yards and yards. I couldn’t possibly wrap as fast as he pulled so I asked Dean to hold the yarn so it would be straight and easier for me to wrap. That lasted about 15 seconds. “Gran, your turn to hold!” my Grand said.

Wrapping yarn around cardboard wasn’t easy for Dean so he discovered that he could flip the cardboard over and over and over and over. Finally we had enough yarn to make a pompom and I tied the strands together with a tight knot and started to cut the yarn. “My turn to cut!” Dean said. A quick chore for me, but his is little short fingers didn’t fit the finger grips well. He twisted his body. Cocked his head. Moved the scissors from his left hand to his right hand. And after many tries, he snipped every strand and the pompom fell to the floor.

Dean grabbed the yarn pompom and ran toward the playroom. “Come on, Gran. Wanna’ play yarn?” he shouted. He tossed the yarn ball above his head and laughed when it smacked his face before falling onto the floor. “Stand over there, Gran.” I stood a few feet from him. “Are you ready? Hold your hands.” Then Dean tossed the pompom toward me and we played a game of catch. Then we took turns throwing the pompom toward a big empty cardboard box and high fived each other every time the ball landed inside the box.

Dean is all boy. Play balloon. Play yarn. My Grand’s versions of play ball.