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.


Sunday, June 25, 2017

A Birthday Wish from Hoppy and Bob


I knew by Zoomie's tone that this was going to be a serious question--one of many he asked while he was staying with me last week.

"Why is your arm loose?"

With no small concern, I ran a quick check on my left arm from shoulder to wrist. When all appeared to be in order and no dismemberment seemed imminent, I breathed a sigh of relief. That's when an inquisitive little hand reached out to wiggle-pinch that flap of skin on the underside of my upper arm. Yes, Zoomie had discovered that bane of existence plaguing every woman with an AARP card.

"It's not exactly loose," I reassured him. "It's just--kind of--soft, I guess."

Instantly my mind traveled to the iconic Lake Wobegon, home of writer Garrison Keillor and his elementary teacher, who demonstrated this same anatomical anomaly when writing on the chalkboard. Who could forget that scene where a classroom of little north country smart-alecks in the '50s immortalized the arm flaps of their teacher by naming them "Bob" and "Hoppy"?

Shuddering, I changed the subject before the creative side of Zoomie's brain kicked in and he began to contemplate names of his own. Knowing him as I do, and aware of the preoccupations of four-year-old boys, I figured any names he would come up with would reflect rather crude body parts or functions.

"Just think," I said. "It's only a few more days until your birthday." I was thankful for the direction our conversation took from there as he tried to guess what Pa-pa and I had gotten him for a present.

Today is the birthday of the sweet little guy who entered the world five years ago today looking like this:

Now, like his cousin Beenie, he is ready to enter kindergarten in the fall. It is hard to believe how he has grown and changed:

Happy birthday to you, Zoomie. What a joy to have spent with you the last glorious week you were four. It will be fun to hear your take on the new worlds that kindergarten will open for you. I know you will love it, and your natural curiosity and desire to learn will take you far.

One suggestion, though. Should your teacher turn her back and write on the board, it might be prudent not to ask her questions that involve flaps or jiggles. Just keep your focus on those letters and numbers, and you will sail through your first school year like a rock star.

Good night now, sweet boy. Bob, Hoppy, and I have had a busy week, thanks to you, and we are ready to call it a day. May your dreams be filled with cakes, candles, and presents, and may these first days of being five years old be your best ever!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Game Boy!

The writer of a blog titled "I Can Teach My Child," on April 4, 2012, explored several good reasons for playing board games with preschoolers. At the top of that list is the direct human interaction that electronic gaming negates as well as the undivided attention the two of you commit to a shared project. In addition, board games teach kids "how to take turns and be graceful losers." Finally, they offer a fun context for teaching strategy and age-appropriate cognitive skills.

I noticed these things myself a couple weeks ago, when Beenie pulled my Hi Ho Cherry-O game off the shelf and asked to play it rather than Temple Run or some of the other iPad games he likes. That was the first of several days filled with counting and fruit-picking and groaning when the spinner landed on the bird, the dog, or, worst of all, the upset fruit basket. In fact, he loved the game so much that he asked me to give him his own Hi Ho Cherry-O for his birthday.

When I showed him some You Tube videos of kids playing other vintage children's games, he was enthralled with another Hasbro product--Hungry, Hungry Hippos--and asked for that one as well. So last Monday, on Beenie's birthday, we spent a delightful afternoon whooping and hollering and watching Bottomless Potamus, Veggie Potamus, and their hippo friends make a quick lunch out of a batch of marbles.

As Beenie's birthday celebration reached into this past weekend to include a small party of friends and cousins, the focus on games continued. Another addition to his toy shelf, contributed by his aunt and uncle, was "Cavity Sam" and the popular game Operation. Here, in extracting the likes of Sam's Adam's Apple, Funny Bone, and Charley Horse, was the chance for not only whole new rounds of laughter but a honing of the hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills begun with Hi Ho Cherry-O.

I look forward to more game-playing with this cute, smart kid as spring unfolds and his preschool season gives way to kindergarten. Like most kids, he prefers to win, but I will try to discourage those sneaky little attempts to fudge ("Did that spinner really land on the line, Beenie?") and offer sympathy when he lands on that upset fruit basket. When he beats me fair and square (which is actually quite often), I always try to say, "I know I didn't win this time, but I still had fun playing."

Happy fifth birthday to you, my little game boy. I hope our games together help prepare you for school and for life. You can't win every time, but that doesn't mean you can't have a whole heck of a lot of fun in the process.