Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Pooh's Haunted Castle

Take a clean white sheet of paper and a pencil. Add creative children mixed with a little holiday vacation time on their hands, and what Googie gets are imaginative, delightful keepsakes from last month's Christmas. They are more than enough to lend some much-needed warmth and cheer to the sub-zero temperatures that have socked in with a vengeance here at the northernmost tip of the Missouri Ozarks.

One of the neatest things about the Christmas just past is the fact that, for the first time, the three oldest grandkids gave me and Pa-pa gifts they had made themselves. Sooby, 10, made a bright multi-colored tissue paper flower, complete with the scent of her mama's perfume, that I stuck in the dirt alongside my Christmas cactus.

Pooh capitalized on his love of Hardy Boys mysteries to write five "chapters" of his own story, Fred and John in the Haunted Castle. Either because he got tired or because he ran out of time, Chapter 5 ends with a cliffhanger that, in an introductory note, Pooh instructs me to resolve and finish.

I may not be entirely objective, granted, but the story so far seems pretty advanced for an author who is in only the third grade. Consider the following synopsis.

Fred and John (last name--Scott) are contacted by police chief Francis Key. (Am I the only one humming "The Star Spangled Banner" here?) The chief has received a call from millionaire theatre owner Jim Divenport, who reports his concern that a medieval castle on his New York (a state older than we previously thought) property may be haunted by his ancestor, King Robert. And just like that, the Scott brothers have a new case to investigate.

The brothers then accomplish the one-day drive from their Colorado home to New York (hope they had a radar detector), where Jim greets them with an English accent and has his butler (uh-oh--a suspect already?) drive the three of them to the castle (by a lake, of course) in his luxury limousine.

"It was a large stone castle," Pooh writes. "High turrets stood at each of the four corners. Mr. Divenport inserted the key into the rusty old lock and opened the huge wooden doors." Then, a few lines later, "Suddenly metal walls slammed down in front of all the exits." At the edge of your seat? Read on.

Warned by a mysterious, threatening voice that there is no chance of escape, the boys note with dismay that Jim has disappeared and a rusty piece of metal, which turns out to be an ax, protrudes from the dirt floor near them. After a struggle to retrieve the ax (reminiscent of a scene from The Sword in the Stone), they find a secret tunnel, accessed by a now-collapsed trap door, where someone truly sinister has stashed Jim.

It is then that Jim lets the boys in on a family legend. He speculates that robbers have used the ax to break the trap door and search for the fortune in gold thought to belong to the royal Divinport family of medieval times.

At this latest plot wrinkle, Fred declares that a stakeout is in order for the evening. But just as the boys are lifting Divinport from the hole, "BANG!!!!!!! A shot rang through the air." Clearly, the Divinport heir and his two youthful sleuth buddies are under attack--but a quick survey of the immediate area turns up no one.

And this is where the story, in its present state, ends and Pooh's note comes in. "Dear Googie," he says. "I wrote this book myself . . . . I made it in a special way where you can finish it. Love, [Pooh]."

In my opinion, Pooh's idea of joint authorship sounds like tremendous fun, so I will pick up the story where he left off, all right. I am thinking perhaps a flashback of some sort might add some depth and background and, maybe, lead him to consider a new fiction technique.

Then, when Pa-pa and I go to his house to celebrate his ninth birthday with him in a couple weeks, I will throw the ball back in his court and tell him to write the next part. There are quite a few pages left in the little 6 x 8-inch notebook. Who knows what drama and skullduggery might ensue?

Charming as it is, Pooh's creation is not my only Christmas keepsake. His younger sister Bootsie drew Pa-pa a Christmas card that depicts a delightful manger scene--and I'll bet my boots and yours there has never been another quite like it.

But I'll save that story for next time. Right now, I have some other important writing to get started on.

Co-author of Fred and John in the Haunted Castle

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Unwrapping Christmas

I think it must have been the tree--the seven-foot-plus Kennedy fir pre-strung with 600 multi-colored mini lights to illuminate our new home with holiday spirit. Or maybe the inspiration came from the move itself, with its promise of a chance to regroup, re-settle, re-think priorities, and, in essence, reshape our lives and lifestyle in these retirement years.

Whatever the reason, I decided right after Thanksgiving that THIS Christmas would be different. This year, I vowed to do away with my usual "Ebenezer Scrooge" Christmas mindset and give the season its rightful due. I would embrace every preparation it demanded, right down to the sprinkles pelting my last sheet of sugar cookies.

So, in record time--pay attention, Guinness people--I finished the shopping and sent out cards to inform everyone of our new address. I bought the new tree, put it up, and dressed it in all the old family ornaments that surfaced when we moved. I cooked an early Christmas dinner for Pa-pa's brothers, then wrote and directed a play for the church kids.

By this time, I was unstoppable. I saw a professional production of A Christmas Carol (Scrooge reformed in that one, too), drove through the light displays down on the harbor, and went to a couple Christmas parties. Finally, and still a good week before the big day itself, all I had left was wrapping the presents.

Now normally, in my former life as Scrooge, this would involve throwing the presents for each grandkid in a big holiday bag and calling it good. This year, however, I swear that my gorgeous tree, from its perfect place there in the great room corner, whispered to me, "Wrap! Wrap! I am too beautiful for cheapskate shortcuts. You must wrap!"

A trip to yet-unpacked boxes in the garage led me to three unopened rolls of blue and white snowman wrapping paper from various years of my former life. Three hours of deliriously happy snipping, folding, taping, and ribbon-curling later, my new tree looked like this.

For several nights afterward, with Pa-pa already down the hallway dreaming of sugarplums, I sat up in the tree-lit living room by myself, admiring my work. There were 36 presents in all, including four--wrapped separately but bundled together with ribbon--for each of the six grandkids.

Fast-forward to Christmas Day, with the traditional holiday meal devoured, the dishes in the dishwasher, and the kids piled in the floor with their stacks of presents. "Let's open them one at a time," someone said, creating a delightful alternative to the massive, chaotic upending of six huge bags.

It was great fun to watch the suspense build and the surprise register as each gift was meticulously unwrapped. At ages four through ten this year, the kids were old enough to be patient and wait to unwrap their own next presents in turn.

For me, it was a fitting culmination of a season in which I, too, had been patient enough to give each preparation its own time while contemplating its own special meaning in the sequence of all things Christmas. This year, unlike many before, I unwrapped the Christmas season myself in a way that helped me see it better, appreciate it more, and actually enjoy it.

Yesterday I packed up the ornaments and took down my beautiful tree. I hit the after-Christmas sales for deep discounts on cards, wrapping paper, and a few new ornaments. Instead of feeling only exhausted relief that the season is over, I surprised myself by beginning these modest preparations for next year.

I have found--or perhaps re-learned--that the weeks leading up to Christmas do not have to bog down in a tiresome flurry of obligatory activity. Begun early and savored one at a time, each preparation for the season can be a mini-celebration of its own.

This new year, I resolve from here on out to allow the Christmas season the joy it deserves. In that regard it would seem that I, like Mr. Scrooge himself, have some lost time to make up for.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Where Heritage Lives

Three months ago Pa-pa and I left our home of 21 years to set up housekeeping a half hour south of there in a lake subdivision near the small town where he grew up. For him, and for me as well in the nearly 42 years since I have known him, this place offers a dynamic rich in family, old friends, old stomping grounds, and treasured memories. 

This little town is where our children came to visit their grandparents and where numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins still reside. It is where, as a teenager, Pa-pa worked summer jobs on the river, played basketball in the community building, and graduated from high school. For our family, it is a place rich in heritage.

As a bonus, it also offers something of heritage to our grandchildren, as Sooby, Pooh, Bootsie, and Zoomie learned on Oct. 21. When they came to spend that weekend with us, their visit coincided with a gorgeous Indian-summer Saturday that fell during the Warsaw, Mo., community's 35th annual celebration of Pioneer Heritage Days.

Although Heritage Days certainly has its commercial aspect, it also offers a nostalgic look at arts, crafts, relics, and survival processes of the rural Ozarks of the 1800s. Although the modern crafters selling their creations along Drake Harbor downtown are interesting and abundant, it is the wooded area behind the Harry S. Truman Dam Overlook on Kaysinger Bluff that captivates us, sparks our imaginations, and shows us the lifestyles of those who made a living from these hills, woods, and waters generations before us.

Watching the kids immerse themselves in the sights, sounds, smells--in the "feel"--of the past was one of the most exciting, rewarding things we have experienced since the move down. But here--I'll let them show you some of the highlights.

Here, the kids model a horse-drawn carriage--minus the horse. 

Pooh, Boots, and Zoomie check out a new way to roast pork. I love the looks on
their faces in this one! 

The kids learn that draft oxen weigh as much as 3,000 pounds. 

A "mountain man" builds a small animal trap using sticks and stones. 

Pooh hams it up before "Fire in the Hole!" warns that the old cannon is about to fire. 

There was so much more to see and do than what these few photos show--the live bluegrass music, the one-room school, the soap making, the wood carving, the super-soft rabbit pelt that Sooby bought (unknown to us) with her own money, even "Abe Lincoln" delivering the Gettysburg Address.

But maybe we should leave something for you to discover yourself in the event that you attend next year's celebration on Oct. 20-21, 2018. At the price of $7 for adults, $4 for kids 6-12, and younger kids free, we highly recommend this opportunity to take a step into the past for a taste of the heritage that belongs to us all.


Friday, November 17, 2017

A Gift from Marian

A couple hours ago, I had never heard of Marian McQuade. Now, I find that I owe her a debt of gratitude.

The Legacy Project website informs me that in 1970, the year I graduated from high school and began college, Marian was leading the charge to establish a special day honoring grandparents. In 1979 her efforts led then-President Jimmy Carter to officially proclaim the first Sunday after Labor Day to be National Grandparents Day.

The proclamation summarizes, in a nutshell, what it is we do as grandparents. We plug the generational gap (well, sometimes). We act as "a link to our national heritage and traditions." We offer "the wisdom of distilled pain and joy."

As society groups began looking for ways to honor the contributions seniors make to family and community, schools quickly followed suit. By the 1980s, when my own kids hit the elementary scene, there were already designated days for my parents and Pa-pa's parents to visit their classrooms, attend a little program, enjoy a free lunch. Though most schools are barely getting things underway as early as Labor Day, they do often host their Grandparents Day celebration sometime during autumn.

Two weeks ago today, Pa-pa and I got our own first-hand taste of Grandparents Day when we paid a one-hour visit to Beenie in kindergarten. The first half-hour took us to the gym, where, just past the cookies, the annual Book Fair was in full swing (sneaky, but effective, planning on the school's part).

With Pa-pa $12 poorer, we then followed Beenie to his classroom where we sat on either side of him as he showed us a number game, sang a group song, and presented us with a piece of art work (which is still stuck to my fridge with a magnet clip).

And so, forty-some years after Marian McQuade (who, by the way, was herself a grandma of forty-three--no kidding, the article said that) pitched her notion that grandparents should be honored in this way, here are results that I, personally and directly, attribute to her efforts.

Without you, Marian, Beenie would not be the proud owner of a book titled, "Learn To Draw Angry Birds." If this turns out to be the impetus that sparks a lucrative career as an artist, we know who deserves the credit.

And without you, Marian, I would not have this gem on my fridge. With a cover of orange construction paper, it boasts two little black-paint hand prints crossed into the shape of a heart. Alongside is a rainbow, drawn with crayons, with the colors in the right order (a little OCD? maybe--but still pretty impressive for a five-year-old).

On the inside of the masterpiece, Beenie traced the words "When I am a grandparent I will--" and then there is a blank for him to complete the sentence in his own way. If art school doesn't work out for him, perhaps the Olympics are a possibility. He wrote, "When I am a grandparent I will run."

Beenie likely knows that, once in a while, grandkids might behave in a way that makes grandparents want to do that. But not usually. Not on a day like this, my first Grandparents Day.

So there you have it, Marian--my undying gratitude. Thanks for all your hard work.

 I really mean that.



Sunday, November 5, 2017

Let's Hear It for the Cheese!

I shudder to think how close it came to happening. How, by the skin of my teeth, I avoided what would certainly have been a tragedy.

Thanks to Heero, the youngest of the six grandkids, my life is complete. Yes, because, he had his fourth birthday yesterday, I am able to say that, after a lifetime of deprivation I wasn't even aware of, Pa-pa and I have now experienced Chuck E. Cheese's.

Think of a quiet, romantic candlelight dinner for two. Then imagine its diametrical opposite, and you have Chuck E. Cheese, a combination pizza eatery and amusement arcade. Book a date there, as Heero's parents did, and you have two hours to immerse yourself and your guests in a glitzy, rollicking birthday party that includes pizza, ice cream and cake, balloons, arcade "play passes" for the kids, and--most importantly--a guest appearance by the Head Cheese himself.

Heero learned about Chuck E. Cheese's from the daycare grapevine. After an enthusiastic review of the place by a playmate, he told his mama that's where he wanted to go, and the rest is history. For Pa-pa and me, it was worth the two-hour one-way drive to see all the kids and grandkids and watch them have so much fun.

Here, let me show you just a few scenes from the evening:

The birthday boy tries to feed some colored balls to his frog friend.

           Teebo (Dad) gives him some pointers on his basketball shot.

Pizza time brings all the kids back to the table.

Heero prepares to blow out his candles.

All the kids gather for a shot with Chuck E. Cheese:
Heero's baby cousin, Sooby, Heero, Bootsie, Pooh, Zoomie, and brother Beenie.

Happy 4th birthday, Heero!


Sunday, October 8, 2017

Googie's Night with Catwoman

You can't go wrong with a Catwoman costume and a vanilla-glazed angelfood cake. Light seven candles, and you have all the ingredients needed for the perfect Bootsie birthday.

Just a baby when I began documenting the kids' adventures in "Googie's Attic," Bootsie has turned into a beautiful blonde first-grader who likes to read, do artwork, and play the piano. She also swims like a champ and bakes cookies like a pro.

This past summer, Bootsie and I took in a professional lyceum theatre production of Beauty and the Beast, where we both marvelled at the stage magic that transformed a shaggy, unsightly animal into the most handsome of princes.

Then, along with her sister and brothers, she attacked our state fair with a vengeance. There, no carnival ride  remained unconquered, and no morsel of fried corn dog batter escaped. Bootsie is a kid who not only embraces life but squeezes it for all she can get.

For Pa-pa and me, Bootsie's birthday dinner last Wednesday night (I'm late posting this, I know--sorry!) proved to be a welcome stop along the stretch of bumpy road that has been this year. We loved sharing the food she picked out (pizza rolls and shrimp--I kid you not), and seeing her face bathed in candlelight as she waited for us to finish  "Happy Birthday":

With the cake pretty well demolished, presents monopolized the spotlight--and Bootsie morphed into Catwoman when the first gift she opened proved to be the costume she had hoped for. A Farmer Barbie (complete with a chicken tucked under her arm) and several new outfits for another of her dolls capped off the evening.

I hope your birthday was the best ever, Boots. I can hardly believe you are already seven years old. Your sweet spirit always gives me a reason to smile--and reminds me how incredibly lucky I am to be the one you call "Googie."

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Number 10

There is something about the number 10 that commands attention: "Ten Little Indians," Ten Commandments, ten bowling pins, "ten little monkeys jumping on the bed."

By the time an institution or a relationship gets to that magical number, it is usually time to celebrate. The tenth wedding anniversary. The tenth class reunion. A business surviving ten years often calls for a major customer appreciation event with free hot dogs and door prize drawings.

We rate things from 1 to 10, with 10 usually representing the most or the best. Remember Bo Derek from the 1979 movie 10? On a less pleasant note, if your pain nears 10, you probably need medical attention.  Across centuries and cultures too numerous to count, the number 10 has represented completion or perfection.

Today, I celebrate the number 10 because it is Sooby's tenth birthday.

All the grandkids' birthdays are important, but this one is a special milestone. It was on June 30, 2007, that I first became "Googie." A short six years later, Sooby had three siblings and two cousins, bringing the grandkid tally to six and insuring that the glass doors to my back deck would be covered with precious little hand-prints for perpetuity.

I got to wish Sooby happy birthday on the phone tonight as I sat in my living room here in the Midwest and she and her family crossed the state line from Pennsylvania to New York. Tomorrow she will have a belated birthday party in New Hampshire with another set of grandparents that don't get to see her as often as Pa-pa and I do.

Happy tenth birthday to you, Sooby-girl. Tonight you may be on the road literally, but figuratively you are on your way to so many new, different experiences that come with fifth grade and 'tweendom. As the oldest grandchild, you are our trendsetter, our explorer, our example for the other kids. You alone started this decade of utter delight and utmost blessing.

On this, the 3,655th day of your life, Pa-pa and I wish you the very best and look forward to the week you will spend with us soon after you get back home. I can hardly wait.

We will swim, eat lasagne, go to Kids' College, and make homemade ice cream. I'm thinking that, as weeks go, it should rate pretty high. Yeah, that song has a good beat, it's easy to dance to . . . I'm giving it a 10.