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Who Likes to be Scared?

downloadIt’s the season for haunted houses and horror movies and ghosts. Slaughterhouse. Dead Land Haunted House. Spooks Galore. The Haunting. Night of Demons. Halloween. Cemetery of Terror. A frightening list could fill this column and none would appeal to me. I don’t like being scared and don’t understand why anyone does. One ghost encounter was enough for me.

When I was a high school student, several girlfriends and I spent the night with our friend Nelda. An after school, Friday night slumber party on a late summer day.   We piled our books and overnight bags in Nelda’s room and went outside.

Nelda’s family’s farm was on a gravel road and not another house was in sight. We sometimes walked through the barnyard and across a field to a small cemetery. But that day, we walked the long way around on the country road because the field was planted with corn. Corn stalks, much taller than us, grew and the paths between the rows of corn were too narrow to walk through without being scraped by razor-sharp leaves.

In the cemetery, we laughed and talked. We made up stories about the people whose names were on the tombstones and those whose graves were marked with slabs of unmarked stones. We sat under the low branches of oak and hickory trees as the sun settled low in the sky. Then we got quiet. Quiet enough to hear silence –an eerie sound.

Someone whispered, “Ghosts.” Silence and twilight and tombstones were frightening. Ghosts? Where? Did you see one? My friends and I stood and huddled together. Nelda told us that someone had recently been buried in the back of the cemetery close to the woods. When we looked that direction, the sun probably cast a shadow or maybe a tree branch fell or perhaps a squirrel jumped from a limb to the ground or maybe nothing happened. Someone screamed, “Ghosts!”

We ran. Through the cemetery. Across a graveled road. Climbed a wire fence at a wooden fence post and ran into the cornfield. Corn leaves slapped our faces and scraped our arms and legs. Scared. Hearts beating fast. Away from the cemetery ghosts. A friend’s shoe fell off and still we ran through the biggest cornfield in Tennessee. Screaming for each other to keep up. Hurry.

When we finally made our way to a clearing, Nelda’s dad stepped out of the barn and more than one of us cried. Nelda told him we’d been in the old cemetery and heard scary noises. Maybe ghosts. Her dad was a man of very few words. He walked with us to the house and turned on the outside water spigot. Nelda’s mother handed us a bar of soap and towels. We scrubbed and rinsed and dried.

None of us were really sure what we saw or what we didn’t see. There were later times we same girls sat among the same tombstones, giggled and told stories, as teen-age girls do, but we never saw ghosts again.

Once was enough.

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Life in 2017

Husband needed the schedule, I thought. I hit the word FORWARD at the top of an email, entered Husband’s email address, and clicked SEND. Then I walked downstairs from an upstairs room in our house where I work on my computer to where Husband sat in front of his laptop. “I forwarded an email to you,” I said.

“What’s it about?” Husband asked.

“Where and when talks will be given at the Chattanooga aquarium when we go this week. I made notes to take with us.” Holding a post-it-note in my hand, I laughed at myself. How silly to forward an email when Husband was only thirty steps away and I could have told him the information I wanted to share or just shown him the note I held.

Sending this email reminded me of a list I read that began with these words: you know you are living in 2017 when. It included you send an e-mail to the person whose desk is right next to you. I read that, shook my head, and thought surely not. But surely, I did the same.

As I reread the list recently, I wondered if someone had been watching me.

You have a list of 15 phone numbers to reach a family of three. I have at least two phone numbers, home and mobile, for everyone and work numbers for some. Remember when the only number was a home phone?

You drive into your driveway and use your cell phone to see if anyone is home to help carry in the groceries. Even worse, I called as I left the grocery store in hopes that Husband would be standing on the front steps waiting for me.

Leaving the house without your cell phone, which you didn’t even own for the first 20 or 30 years of your life, is cause for panic and you go home to get it. Guilty. I drove a mile away from home, thought of something I meant to tell Husband, reached in my purse to send a text, and when my cell phone wasn’t there, I drove home. I got my phone, forget to tell Husband whatever was important, and drove back across town.

You enter your checking account PIN number on the microwave. That Personal Identification Number that I worked hard to memorize. I didn’t enter it on the microwave, but I did once use it as the last four digits of my Social Security number.

I could add a few things to the list.

You hit fast-forward on the television remote control to avoid watching commercials while watching a live program.

You push OPEN on your car fob to unlock the door at your house.

You hand a credit card to the librarian to check out a book at the public library, and your library card is not even the same color as your credit card.

Living in 2017. Technology. Emails. Cell phones. Remote controls. Credit cards. PIN.

Makes me wonder what life twenty years later will be like.

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Happy Birthday Grandmother!

Happy birthday to the woman who raised Husband! As she celebrates her 90th birthday, I honor my mother-in-law.

Recently, four Grands and I visited Ann, whom we call Grandmother. We asked questions. Where were you born? How many siblings did you have? Did you have to do chores? What did you do for fun?

Born on October 1927, Anna Love and her twin sister, Billie Dove, were the 7th and 8th children of twelve born to Kate and Dock Powell. They were born at home, in Bon Air, White County, Tennessee. Two younger siblings died before their first birthday. Their father worked in the local coalmines and their mother took care of the house, raised the children, cooked, gardened, and sewed the family’s clothes. “When a baby was born, Aunt Annie, Mama’s sister, came to stay with us and helped,” Grandmother said.

“With all those kids maybe she should have stayed all the time,” one of my Grands said. Grandmother laughed and explained that everyone, even the youngest kids helped.

“Let me tell you one of mine and Bill’s jobs,” Ann said. “You know how a hen sets on eggs to hatch chickens? Well, when it rained really hard, the mother hen would get her chicks under her. She spread her wings wide and gathered them. But sometimes, the chicks would drown because they’d be in a low place in the yard and a puddle would form. So we had to get the little chicks out from under the hens and put them in a dry place.”

“We didn’t have bicycles and toys and everything like you do,” Grandmother said. “We played ball and hopscotch. I saved a piece of glass for hopscotch.”

“Glass? A sharp piece of glass?” a Grand asked.

“No, a big piece that had smooth edges. It was just right for hopscotch.” Grandmother told about playing in the creek in the springtime. She and her sisters took their shoes off even though their mother told them not get wet. To avoid spankings, the girls didn’t go home until they were dry.

When asked about Christmas presents, Grandmother remembered that her mother made a little couch and two chairs and hid them under quilts. She and Bill found the little furniture and played with it before Christmas. “Mama could make anything and made things for all of us. She sewed and canned and cooked. She baked Christmas cakes – coconut, chocolate, and fruitcake – and we always had plenty to eat. At Christmas, we had a feast and everybody came,” Grandmother said.

Grandmother’s eyes twinkled and she grinned as she reminisced. My Grands wiggled, giggled, and listened. They knew before they left her house Grandmother would offer a jumbo pack of gum and just a little treat. Usually a package of their favorite cookies or candy.

Ann has passed on her mother’s joy for sharing and giving to her four children, five grandchildren, twelve great-grands, and us in-laws. She’s a blessing and I wish her the best birthday ever!

Band-Aids for Adults

“There should be adult Band-Aids with pictures of things we like,” I told Husband as I covered a bloody spot on the top of his head.

“Yeah,” Husband said, “I’d get some with a picture of B. B. King.”

“I’d choose butterflies or trees,” I said.

Husband’s baldhead attracts tree limbs, the tailgate of my van, and so many other things that scrap his head. My skin isn’t as tough as it was so I often reach for a bandage for my arms. We have an assortment of adhesive bandages: sheer, waterproof, cloth, plastic. And choices for the Grands: Sesame Street and Animal Kingdom. (Sometimes I wear a monkey or tiger and my young Grands think it’s cool.) But we don’t have any adult design bandages.

Think of the possibilities. Seasonal: Christmas, snowflakes, Valentine hearts, Easter eggs, 4th or July, Halloween, Thanksgiving. Hobbies: golf clubs, deck of cards, blooming flowers, knitting needles. Wear your profession: dollar bills for bankers, books for librarians, computers for programmers. Show support for a sports team: purple and gold for TTU, orange for UT.

How about Band-Aids with initials? I’d like a red capital S in Old English script. There are names available on everything from placemats to key rings, why not on bandages?

Thinking of these ideas made me wonder who invented adhesive bandages and when were the ones with designs for kids made. Mom put plain flesh colored strips on me; I put Big Bird on my children.

Earle Dickson, who was a cotton buyer for Johnson & Johnson, invented the Band-Aid in 1921 for his wife because she often cut her fingers while preparing food. The small piece of gauze she held in place with adhesive tape to cover a cut fell off easily. So Dickson attached gauze to the center of a piece of tape and covered it with crinoline to keep it sterile. When his boss saw the invention, the company began producing Band-Aids for the public and Dickson was promoted to vice-president.

Sales were slow until the 1950s. Then Johnson & Johnson donated Band-Aids to Boy Scout troops and overseas military personnel as publicity stunts and in 1951 the first decorative bandages with Mickey Mouse were manufactured to appeal to children.

The structural design has changed little in almost 100 years and adhesive bandages are now available in sizes from thumbnail to big patches. A child can choose a character from kids’ movies and television shows. But what about designs for adults?

I haven’t found any at the corner market, but there are some interesting bandages online. Husband might like bright red lips or a green pickle-shaped bandage on the top of his head. I’d choose safari designs as bracelets. And for a night walk, we can both wear neon orange.

These choices are a long way from Husband’s request. However, custom designs are available, a minimum of 5000 for $1300. Maybe I’ll glue a picture of B. B. on a Band-Aid and Husband will have an original personalize bandage.

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Her Other Name is Gran

Elaine and I splashed in the sea, not the ocean, the sea, according to my six-year-old Grand. We held hands, jumped waves, watched tiny fish swim, buried our toes in the sandy sea floor and marveled that we could see our feet through the clear water of the gulf beach.

When a girl, about ten years old, joined us, Elaine welcomed her by talking about the fish. “What’s your name?” I asked. She said her name was Chelsea. I said, “I’m Susan.”

My Grand picked up the social cue. “I’m Elaine and her other name is Gran,” she said as she splashed water with both hands toward me. And in that moment, I realized I’m no longer Susan, Daughter, Mother. I’m Gran.

Yes, I’ve been a grandparent for more than twelve years, but somehow until Elaine’s announcement, I didn’t think of myself first as a grandparent. My immediate thought was I’m glad I chose Gran, a name I like.

As I reflect on a recent beach trip with Husband and Grands and their parents, I chuckle to myself that it was my coming-out-grandparent week. I embraced the grandmother role. While the Grands and their parents took a lunch break from the beach, Husband and I sat under an umbrella and relished the relative quiet and calm. We watched a family of four with a toddler and arm-holding baby at the water’s edge. The mother held baby and tried to dig into the sand with her toddler. Giving up, she laid baby on a beach chair under an umbrella, and my grandmother instincts kicked in.

“I’ll be glad to hold your baby if you want to play in the water. I’m sitting beside your umbrella,” I said.

The mother smiled and told me she thought her baby was sleepy. “Are you sure you don’t mind?” she asked. Mind?

“How about I hold him for a few minutes and see how it goes,” I said. So I settled in a beach chair and the mother explained that 7-month old Jonathan liked to watch people. His back against my chest so he could see his mother and my arms wrapped around him, Jonathan was asleep in five minutes. For an hour, I had the perfect excuse not to move.

Then there was the day that my Grands paddled an ocean kayak. “Gran, do you want to go for a ride?” my twelve-year-old Grand asked. David had proved himself capable, first with his dad, then with younger sisters. An ocean kayak ride would be a first for me. “All you have to do is sit in the front. I’ll paddle,” David said.

So I settled on the seat, propped my feet in the footholds, and we sailed away. “How far out do you want to go?” David asked. I shrugged. “Okay, just remember to sit still. Don’t lean to one side quickly.”

This is the last of four September columns to celebrate and honor grandparents. How appropriate that Elaine nailed my identity as Gran for the finale.

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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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Memories Sealed in My Heart

Grandparents Day, celebrated September 10, should stretch to a week, maybe a month. We grandparents have so many stories and pictures. Recently, an acquaintance showed me a picture of her granddaughter and began telling about things they do together. She took a breath and I had to laugh at what my close friend said: “Hold up. You know Susan has eight Grands. We might be here a while.”

            Some of my best times with Grands are one-on-one and I don’t always take pictures. While visiting Son’s family that lives an airplane ride away, Daughter-in-law suggested that her two boys go with her to take their boxer to the vet. Neil said, “No. I’m staying home. Just me and Gran and we’ll play!” He grabbed my hand.

Neil is four years old. Middle child with an older brother, younger sister. Brother went with his mother. Sister took a nap.

“Neil, what’ll we play?” I asked.

“Cars and the guessing game,” my Grand said. “Cars, first!” Neil and Brother have a huge basket full of Matchbox cars and he dumped them at my feet.

“Choose five, Gran!” Neil said. He chose 25, or maybe 40. Together we propped a plastic, narrow car track on a big pillow to make a steep decline from the pillow to the floor. We noted which car went farthest. Which one fell off the track every time – although it took many tries to determine that it fell every time.

Neil and I grouped cars by color, by shape, by design.  We counted seconds to determine which car went down the track fastest. How long can anyone push little cars down a track and think it’s fun? After almost an hour, Neil said it was time play the guessing game, where players take turns acting like an animal and the other guesses what it is.

Neil slithered like a snake and he immediately guessed elephant when I held my arms in front of my face. Then Neil got on all fours and jumped high. “A rabbit,” I said. He nodded.

“Now watch this,” Neil said and he did the exact same thing. I guessed rabbit; he shook his head. Kangaroo? No. Frog? No. “It’s a bunny!” my Grand said. “Guess this!”

Again Neil jumped high from all fours. It wasn’t a rabbit or bunny or anything I guessed. I gave up. “A bunny rabbit!” Neil said. I never knew a rabbit, bunny, and bunny rabbit were different, until Neil explained, “They are in the guessing game.”

A few days later, while Neil’s family visited Husband and me, I sat alone in a rocking chair on our front porch after supper. Enjoying a few moments of quiet and calm. Neil came to the porch and said, “Gran, I just wanna’ sit with you.” And he climbed beside me and sat quietly. I wrapped my arms around my Grand.

I don’t have pictures of Neil as a bunny rabbit or snuggled beside me. Those memories are the kind we grandparents seal in our hearts.

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