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You Let Them Do What?

Who serves ice cream for breakfast? Who lets children jump on furniture? Who watches the same movie fifteen times? Who pays children for jobs that don’t even need doing?

We grandparents plead guilty. Not all grandparents to all charges, but some.

I asked Facebook friends what do grandparents let grandchildren do that they as children weren’t allowed to do. And friends responded.

So many breakfast choices. Caroline’s grandfather served ice cream topped with Fruit Loops and told her mother that they ate cereal.   Nell’s grandchildren eat fudge for dessert after breakfast and her own children never heard of breakfast dessert. Karen’s mother made chocolate pie and chocolate pudding for her grandchildren’s breakfasts. Grandparents offer sugar-coated cereal to grandchildren and parents say it wasn’t even in the house when they were young.

Milkshakes with sprinkles are a meal and one grandmother even serves ice cream to her grandchildren for any meal – not as dessert, as the meal. Sara’s mother keeps mini ice cream sandwiches and brown cow ice cream bars, just for the grandchildren. And if grandchildren don’t like what is served for supper, they can refuse and choose something else.

Laura’s parents give her middle-school age children chocolate candy every afternoon when they pick them up after school. Laura said, “They create nothing jobs and overpay the kids for the made-up jobs.” Looking back, Laura should’ve known what to expect. When her firstborn was two, he colored on her parents’ white bookshelf and television screen, and her parents said, “It’s okay. If it doesn’t come off, we’ll buy new ones.”

Grandchildren jump on beds and if they jump onto a CD player, it’s okay.   One grandmother admits that she protected an antique coffee table and her daughters weren’t allowed to put their feet on it. But her grandchildren sit in small chairs and eat at that table, with placemats, of course.

Brenda admitted that her grandson eats what he wants, when he wants, goes to bed when he wants, chooses television programs and movies, and has her undivided attention. And grandparents are shoppers. When they shopped, Deloris’s grandmother always bought her a new outfit and any toy she wanted. Grandparents take gifts to grandchildren every time they visit.

To go one generation further, one great-grandmother didn’t allow her children in the fancy living room. And when grandchildren opened their Christmas gifts in that room, no food or drinks were allowed. But that room is the great-grandchildren’s gymnastics room where they turn somersaults and pretend to be airplanes. And it’s okay to eat cookies and drink juice in the living room.

So what do parents think of grandparents relaxing the rules? Here are my two favorite comments: I didn’t get to eat ice cream for breakfast, but I’m happy Mom lets my kids! Let it be said, I fully intend to do the same when my tribe grows up and brings me some grandbabies!

All parents may not agree, but I hope my Grands’ parents do.

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70 is just a number, right?

Screen Shot 2017-08-24 at 7.36.06 AMSeventy. A number on interstate highway signs: Speed Limit 70. The calories in 3 ½ ounces of Greek yogurt topped with a few blueberries, 70. About the cost of a LEGO Ninjago set that several of my Grands might write on their Christmas list, $70. The weight I set on the YMCA leg curl machine, 70 pounds.

Seventy is an easy number to write unless it’s on a form listing my name and age. 70. I don’t like writing 70 years old.

When I celebrated my birthday recently, friends said, “It’s just a number.” Yes, a big number. Someone said, “Seventy is the new 50.” No, I don’t agree. “Age is only in the mind.” And in my body. “You aren’t old. Old is ten years older than we are,” I was told.

Try to tell anyone under age forty that 70 isn’t old. And certainly don’t try to convince anyone twelve or under, the ages of all eight Grands, that 70 isn’t old. My six-year-old Grand asked, “So Gran, you’re really old now, right?”

I think of my grandmothers at 70. When Granny picked beans in her garden, her white hair hid under a broad brim straw hat. Her long sleeve, button-up-the-front shirtwaist dress fell almost to her ankles. She spent her days cutting out quilt pieces, stitching them together by hand, then quilting the quilt on a wooden frame that hung from her bedroom ceiling. Her social life was church, phone visits with friends, and Saturday afternoon talk around the town square.

Grandma Gladys wore black, laced shoes with chunky heels and thick stockings held up by garters. She fried bacon and eggs for Papa’s and her breakfasts and fried pork chops and potatoes for supper. Rheumatoid arthritis and depression prevented most activities outside of her home, but her three daughters visited often and every Sunday Papa took her for a drive. In the 1950s, I thought my 70-year-old grandmothers were old. Just as my Grands think I am now.

But I wear shorts, almost touching my knees, but nevertheless shorts, and tee shirts. I slip my feet into Birkenstocks and my hairdresser makes people assume my only gray hair is the streak front and center. Meet friends for lunch. Exercise at the Y (occasionally). Write and share columns and memories. Travel and vacation with family and friends. Chauffeur Grands. Stitch a little. Search the web. With Grands, play piano and write. Play board and card and word games with anyone who’s willing. Read books. And wish for more time and more energy.

I treasure a quote by Satchel Paige, ‘How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?’ Maybe 40? 55? Even 67? Since my days are hardly different than when I retired from teaching eight years ago, I choose 62.

I don’t like how 7 and 0 look together, but I’m working on it and probably when the calendar declares I’m 71 years old, 7 and 0 will look better.

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Can You Go Home Again?

It’s said you can’t go home again, but I did. I sat on a pew on the right side of the church sanctuary beside the middle window. Where as a child I sat between Mom and Dad every Sunday morning for church services.

Byrdstown First Christian Church in Pickett County celebrated its centennial anniversary and invited former members to Sunday service. When I stepped inside church, my shoulders relaxed and I exhaled. The same wooden pews. Light oak pulpit, front and center. Song books in pew racks. People welcomed me and greeted me by name.

The same tall bulletin board displayed the number of church attendees the previous Sunday: 79. But on anniversary day, every pew, even the ones added with a recent addition, was filled. The following week the number posted will be over 200.

The opening hymn, “The Church in the Wildwood,” reminded me ‘No lovelier place in the dell. No spot is so dear to my childhood as the little brown church in the dale.’ Mine is a red brick building with white porch columns, where I memorized the 23rd Psalm and Mrs. Crouch required teenagers to recite a Bible verse at the beginning of Sunday school class.

Bob Emmert, the minister in the 1970s, preached. “I’m just a small thread God has woven into the tapestry of this church,” he said. Aren’t we all? A recent pictorial directory includes pictures and lists of past ministers, deacons, elders, song leaders, trustees, pianists, organists, trustees.

Dad, Taskel T. Rich, was an elder. Many Sundays he made announcements and he taught the adult Sunday school class. Early Sunday mornings at home he sat at the kitchen table holding coffee in one hand, his Sunday school teacher’s book in the other, and his Bible lay open.

As stories were told, my cousin Tootie remembered sitting on the front pew with my older brother Roger during a Christmas Eve service. After the children’s play portraying the birth of Jesus, Santa Claus walked down the aisle offering peppermint candy canes to all. While Santa stood beside Tootie, Roger pointed toward the floor and said, “He’s wearing Daddy’s shoes.” I was probably a toddler, never knew Dad as Santa, and can only imagine my skinny 6’ 2” dad saying “Ho, Ho, Ho.”

Martha remembered Mom as her Sunday school teacher. Mom told the young children to close their eyes and hold out their hands because she had treat. Martha felt something touch her hands and when she opened her eyes, she was so happy to have vanilla wafers. “Ruth always brought something for us,” Martha said. Mom gave. Sometimes a simple cookie, and most often a bouquet of flowers for the sanctuary.

For a few hours, I was home where I was baptized and married. Where I grieved for my grandparents, my parents. Where, as the current preacher said in his welcome, “Over the years, the names have changed, the hearts haven’t.” But some church members are third generation and they welcomed me home.

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Straight Line Winds Hit

Screen Shot 2017-06-01 at 7.18.16 AMLast Saturday night, most of us were carrying on normally, not expecting damaging weather. Husband and I hosted our supper group, friends who have gathered around each other’s dining room tables for decades. Lightning flashed. We heard, and ignored, the rain and the wind.

The lights flickered and then darkness. Of course, someone kidded that we should’ve paid our electric bill. We waited for the lights to come on. “Well, this is a first. We’ve never eaten in the dark,” someone said. I made a mental note to always use candles as part of the table decorations.

Eventually, someone turned on the flashlight on an iPhone. Using it, I found the box of candles stored under a bathroom sink. Christmas red glitter candles, white candles, fall candles. Some tall, some short. Each set on a glass plate and lit. Two under glass globes brighten the dining table.

“Luckily, I turned on the coffeemaker before dinner and we can have coffee with dessert,” I said. We cut pies, scooped ice cream, and poured coffee in the glow of candlelight. All seemed well as we talked and told stories of past times the power went off.

And then a text was received from a someone’s adult child. “Are you okay? Trees and power lines down everywhere.” The message was read aloud three times before we all listened. Another adult child sent a similar message. “Stay put. It’s bad out here.” We were being told by our children to not go out of the house. That was a turnaround from years past.

Twenty minutes later, through phone texts, we all confirmed that our children and grandchildren were safe. By candlelight, we cleared the table, scraped dishes, divvied leftovers, and took our children’s advice.

We settled on the sofa and comfortable chairs and someone told a joke. And that reminded someone of another joke and another. And soon, jokes were just a few words: “Remember that one about the train.” We laughed hard. We reminisced funny past group experiences. Hee-hawing and cackling.

During a moment of quiet, someone said, “So if we’re asked what we did Saturday night when the lights went out, we’ll say ‘Just sat around and told jokes with old friends.’ ” The evening ended. All got home safely, detouring to avoid blocked roads.

Through the night, the city employees and volunteers worked to restore electrical power and clear roads. And Sunday morning, like so many people, Daughter and Son-in-Law and their children discovered their yard covered with large limbs, branches, and twigs. They called a friend and asked to borrow his truck. He brought his truck, his chain saw, and his children. Two other families pitched in. The dads sawed, big kids carried big limbs, little kids toted branches. Hours later, the yard was cleared.

I hope such fierce winds never hit again. It’s a time Husband and I will never forget and Daughter’s family won’t either. We’ll remember the winds, the darkness, the damage, and most of all, the friends.

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The Joys of Five-Year Old Grands

downloadI don’t like that two of my Grands are having birthdays. Elaine and Dean, born one month apart, and a thousand miles from each other, are turning six. An age when some imagination and excitement wanes.

Elaine creates a family out of everything, anything. She lined up crackers on her lunch plate. “Look, Gran. It’s a daddy and mommy and three kids.” They went on an adventure in the park. They played ball and ran through a creek. The littlest kid fell and hurt his knee. “It’s okay. His mommy put a Band Aid on it,” Elaine said.

She likes to take a bath at my house to play with the yellow rubber ducks. (Those same ducks I wrote about once before.) “Do you know how a daddy duck drinks water?” my Grand asked and then she held the biggest duck’s head under water. “He gulps really big!” The mommy duck gulped just a little. “The baby can’t gulp. The mommy has to help him.” Elaine held two ducks close together, bill to bill.

Dean plays balloons. “Gran, let’s play find the balloon! I’ll go first,” he said. I closed my eyes until he shouted, “Okay, look now!” I searched his family’s living room and named places as I searched for the red balloon he had hidden. Not under the couch. Not on the table. Not in his ear. Dean laughed. I sat on the floor and pretended not to notice his jacket over the balloon beside my foot. “Gran, look!” he shouted.

“Give me a clue,” I said. He opened his eyes wide and pointed toward my foot and giggled. I lifted my foot, shook my head. Dean fell on the floor and laughed.

“Gran!” He jerked his jacket off the balloon. “I win!” he said.

Then the balloon was a ball. “Let’s count how many times we hit it,” Dean said. How many times could he and I hit it and keep it up in the air? Each time the balloon touched the floor for the next twenty minutes, my Grand said, “Let’s try again.”

Elaine and Dean are easily entertained. Read a book. They shout out words they know. Build a skyscraper with blocks or Legos or rocks. They show off their ability to count to 100. Dig in the dirt. Look for worms and bugs. Draw silly pictures with funny faces. Line up matchbox cars to race. Sort cars by color and size. Learning is fun.

And no one giggles about underwear like a 5-year-old. “Gran, don’t look. I’m taking off my underwear,” Dean said and giggled. I stood in the bathroom to supervise his bath. Another time, Elaine handed her dirty clothes to me after her bath and said, “Did you know my underwear stinks? Smell!” She snickered and ran from me.

Last week I gave Elaine her birthday present, she hugged and thanked me and then said, “Gran, did you know I’m six today?” And Dean will be in June. Shucks.

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Gran’s New Game

search-2“Mom, Gran has a new game and it’s really fun! Bingo! Have you ever played?” My 11 year-old Grand stood beside Daughter, his mother. She raised her eyebrows and looked at me. I smiled and nodded. Daughter’s five children, ages 2 – 11, had spent a half day before Christmas with Husband and me and then I took them home. We stood around Daughter’s kitchen island.

“Well, yes. A long time ago, I played,” Daughter said.

“Did you have a metal ball and twirl a handle and little white balls came out?” Lou, age 9, asked.

“Did you get peppermint candy when you won?” Five-year-old Elaine liked the candy better than the game.

“Did you put little colored circles on the numbers on your card?” Ruth, age 7, had lined up different colored markers for each column of numbers.

“I said Bingo the loudest!” Elaine said. “And Jess (her 2 year-old-brother) screamed Bingo and got candy, but he just played with the little circles.”

“Sounds like you had lots of fun with Gran’s new game. Maybe she’ll let me play,” Daughter said.

Whew. Bingo made this first cut. I had bought it to play when everyone got together at Husband’s and my house for Christmas. Eight children, age 11 and under, and their parents: Daughter, Son, and spouses. Outside is the perfect place to give everyone space. But we’d be spending some time inside. Trying out new toys. Opening gifts and eating and visiting and playing, and eventually, all would be tired and some would be cranky. I hoped Bingo would be the perfect inside game. Everyone could play and I had a big collection of prizes.

I had prepped Daughter and Son that we were ending our day with Bingo. So when the Grands began whining and fussing about whose toy was whose, I whispered, “Shhh. Anyone who’d like to win a prize come sit quietly at the dining room table to play a game.”

The five Grands who’d help me try out my new game were the first ones to the table. “Come on, you all. It’s a really fun game!” David encouraged those who were dilly-dallying. Parents teamed up to help pre-school age Grands. Toddler Grands were given only colored circles. Cards and markers were passed out.

“I’ll call a number and if it’s on your card, cover it with a colored circle. When you have a straight line of circles, say ‘Bingo.’ Then you get a prize,” I said.

The Grands’ parents deserve Academy Awards. They smiled and laughed and wished for B7 and O64. They applauded and cheered when anyone shouted, “Bingo.” They oohed and ahhed when Husband brought out the basket filled with prizes. Slinkies, stickers, decorated kitchen towels, notepads, mechanical pencils, key rings, Matchbox cars, and such.

For now, it’s Gran’s new game. Someday, I’ll tell everyone about my granny taking me to the American Legion Hall on Saturday nights to play Bingo and the prizes were money.

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Clowns – Not all Bad

screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-7-10-38-amI’m sad about what’s happened to the image of clowns. I like clowns – those happy, smiling, white faced, bright red-mouthed clowns. Clowns that make people laugh and clowns that touch the heart’s soft spot.

            I know that sinister, evil clowns have appeared throughout history. All the way back to ancient Egypt to the Joker, the archenemy of Batman, and characters in Stephen King’s bestsellers. I avoid scary, evil clowns. Don’t read the books or see the movies.

During the Middle Ages, clowns, known as court jesters, performed for royalty. In the 19th century, three ring circuses travelled around the country, and sad, hobo clowns became popular. In the 1950s and 1960s, Bozo and other silly clowns entertained children. And that’s when I grew up.

Maybe it was Red Skelton that first made me like clowns. My family didn’t miss his weekly television show that began in the early 1950s, and we especially liked when Skelton took on one of his comical characters. Clem Kadiddlehopper, a big-hearted, singing country cabdriver who was a bit slow witted. Sheriff Deadeye with his thick bushy mustache and eyebrows and wearing a fringed western vest.

Freddie the Freeloader, a tramp with a blackened chin, white mouth, crushed top hat and who chewed on a cigar was my Dad’s favorite. He laughed as soon as he saw Freddie and by the end of the skit, Dad had bent double, slapped his knees, and laughed until tears rolled down his cheeks. I laughed as Dad did this week when I googled Red Skelton and watched Freddie on YouTube. And Skelton ended each show saying, “Good night and may God bless.”

Before her birth, I decorated our firstborn’s nursery with clowns and bright primary colors. I sewed curtains from fabric printed with circus clowns riding bicycles, balancing balls on their noses, rolling huge hoops. Husband painted a wooden rocking chair bright blue and the crib yellow. There was even a clown lamp and a matching light switch cover.

When our children were young school age, Husband, Son, and Daughter marched as clowns in Cookeville’s Christmas parade. They smeared Zauder’s superior Clown White on their faces and necks and painted huge red mouths. Husband wore a multi-colored wig and blue jean overalls. The kids wore traditional one piece, long sleeve, and two-colored clown outfits.

That was about the time I started a clown collection. One of my favorites is a Norman Rockwell porcelain figurine entitled The Runaway. A clown wraps his arm around a young boy’s shoulder, holds him close with one hand, and wipes his eye with the other. A black dog sits at the clown’s knees. It’s a feel-good piece. A runaway child cared for by a stranger.

Because family and friends gave me almost every clown that sits among the books on our bookshelves, I like them all. The Emmett Kelly, the traditional sad faced hobo who became one of the world’s most famous clowns, is a reminder of the depression years. I treasure a two-inch unpainted clay clown that Daughter created and the tall blue and white one blowing a horn and the cow clown. After only a few years, I announced my collection was complete. Twenty-five was enough.

The current clown panic means there probably won’t be any kids wearing clown outfits thrown together at the last minute and shouting, “Treat or Treat!” this Halloween. I agree with Stephen King’s recent tweet as reported in The Week magazine, “Time to cool the clown hysteria – most of ‘em are good, cheer up the kiddies, make people laugh.”