I’ve had my turn, eight of them in fact, but still I envy my friends whose grandchildren are young enough for toys and stories and make-believe. On the other hand, I know I’m luckier than many of them because my grandkids grew up in town, and I was very much a part of their lives as they played, fought, and made memories together.
Among those memories are some one-liners and scenarios that family members often recall when we get together and that I remember particularly at Christmastime and as another year ends. (To spare mortification, names have been omitted.)
“I love your shoes. Are they Mary Janes?” I ask. “No,” she says, sounding appalled at my stupidity, “they’re mine.”
On a one-time family trip to Mexico, we were dining at a restaurant where some of the older cousins were practicing their Spanish. “Por favor,” they kept saying to the waiter, and so the youngest piped up in a loud voice, “Por favor.” Do you even know what that means, one of them asked her. “Sure,” she said, with a sweep of her arm. “Bring me something.” (That was the same restaurant where one of the girls stepped off into the infinity pool.)
“Grandma, what are they doing?” he asked, observing the mating of two insects. Flummoxed, and a factual answer not being my job this time, I replied, “They’re doing what Mother Nature tells them to.” In a wise, patient voice he said, “Grandma, Mother Nature doesn’t talk.”
While most of them ran away when a video camera came out, there was one who loved being in the limelight. She would instruct the cameraman to “Tuhn it. Tuhn it” as she posed in different directions. Most of the family has mastered the strange dialect well enough to tease her with it.
The sole male and therefore inescapably “brother” in games of “house” while the girls got to play revolving roles, he would sometimes flop down on the floor next to my black Lab and say, “Cole, you know how it is to be the only boy.”
One of them was very young when her great-grandmother died. Her father, holding her over his shoulder for the church service, was mortified to hear her say aloud, “Who is this Jesus they keep talking about? I thought this was for Big Non.”
Only one had wonderful curly hair that hung down in corkscrews. I tried hard but sometimes couldn’t resist pulling one to watch it twirl back up. She never said anything, but that fierce little look made the point. She talked early and it was fun giving her big words to repeat. “Can you say onomatopoeia?” we asked her once. “No,” she said matter-of-factly.
For a while, the favorite make-believe was school, and I would hear them in the “schoolroom” above where I was sitting. The oldest was always Miss Teddy, the teacher, who had her hands full with her next oldest sibling. “I don’t want to do math,” she would protest, and the argument would escalate until Miss Teddy threatened to send the unruly student to the principal (me). On the other hand, one of the cousins was particularly eager to please and would call out, “Miss Teddy, Miss Teddy, Miss Teddy, come see; is this right?” (I never knew where she got the name until recently when her mother bought me a jar of Teddy peanut butter.)
Next came gymnastics meets, with the oldest of course being the captain of Team Harvard. The competition would always be the team from Maine, whose failure to show up was never an issue. The gymnasts, some clad in tutus, some in capes, would leap and cartwheel and somersault—all in different directions and with different levels of success. The onlookers were the judges, and of course Team Harvard scored all 10s.
The plays were the most fun to watch. We didn’t even try to follow the plot, which always involved a lot of running around and screaming, but the costumes were worth the price of admission: various mismatched tops and bottoms, long skirts that threatened to fall down any minute, capes with flight potential, and the coveted pair of clunking high heels. One year, in an effort to channel the Thespian talent, I wrote a script based on the delightful children’s book “Mr. Willoughby’s Christmas.” I have to say, in all immodesty, that it was the best production the kids ever did. They all memorized their parts, made paper ears or a nose for whatever animal they were playing, and performed with endearing seriousness.
There were some memorable occasions when things didn’t turn out so well. Once when I had overnight charge of the two oldest, they got into a screaming match, and the younger one announced she was running away. She stormed out the door. The older one went after her and somehow got the runaway’s shoe off and threw it over the stone wall. We watched in horror as, one shoe on and one off, her sister went over the wall after the missing shoe—a drop of 5 feet or so. We raced down the stairs, my heart pounding, and saw her holding her ankle and howling. I piled them into the car and drove to the emergency room at Nashoba Community Hospital. After about three hours the doctor got around to us. The drama was over when he announced it was just a sprain and she should take it easy for a while, but no, he answered, to her disappointment, she wouldn’t get crutches. The bright side was that she couldn’t run away from home again—at least not right away.
Now I enjoy seeing all the grandkids doing wonderful young-adult things, but sometimes I like to remember them as the strong-willed, creative, funny little kids they once were.