Our granddaughter has been visiting for a couple of weeks, and now that she’s back home, I miss her. She’ll soon be eleven – smart, clever, and equipped with one of the most vivid imaginations I’ve seen in a person of any age. She’s into Star Wars and Indiana Jones, and she makes up stories in those genres herself. When we go to the swimming pool, we act them out. She will one day be a movie director.
I look out for her, as grandfathers should. When we cross a street or a parking lot, I say, “I feel so much safer when you hold my hand.” And she does. And we pass safely. I’m reassured, and I believe she is too.
Both of my grandfathers were gone by the time I came along, but I had a grandmother who held my hand. Nell Cooper was the family matriarch of our large, rowdy small town southern family. I was the oldest of twelve grandchildren. I could do no wrong. That feeling has been a great comfort to me all of my life, knowing that I was extra-special in the eyes of one very special person. It’s something worth living up to.
My grandmother and I took summer vacations together – nothing exotic, like Acapulco or the Canadian Rockies. Instead, we got in her old Chevrolet and drove about forty miles out in the country to the crossroads home of my great-aunt, Mama Cooper’s sister. And there we stayed for a week, sometimes two. Just this one little snotty-nosed kid and two older women who doted on him. Aunt Mayme, our hostess, told great smutty jokes, which had mostly to do with bathroom stuff. The kid laughed his butt off. When we returned home, I was rife with rottenness.
Sometimes, other sisters showed up (there was, at one time, nine of them) and they would visit as women do and tell stories and I would just sit there and listen and soak it all in. They were daughters of a Methodist minister, and they had grown up in times of camp meetings and revivals and moving from one parsonage to another. They were full of life (and sometimes mischief) and the tales they told to and about one another were better than any Star Wars or Indiana Jones.
I truly believe those women made me a storyteller. Every person who wants to write stories should have such a storehouse of material, delivered in person by people who represent their past, their legacy, their baggage. That kind of material goes into a special place in the mind and heart to be doled out later as the need arises.
If I had one wish, it would be for every grandchild to have a grandparent who thinks the kid is extra special, who isn’t afraid to act silly and have adventures large and small, who feels safer when the kid is holding his or her hand. I’m sure glad I had mine.