I don’t remember ever making a Christmas list as a child. I’m sure I did, but I don’t remember. I remember the Sears Wish Book. I mostly looked at dolls. I don’t remember wanting anything in particular or having an aversion to anything. I’m sure I did, but I don’t remember.
Christmas morning, there were always all kinds of gifts under the tree from Santa—things I don’t remember wanting or asking for or that I even knew existed. A deluxe chemistry set. A pogo stick. Monopoly. Game of the States. A bike when I was seven or eight—a turquoise bike with tan trimmings (beautiful!), the only bike I ever had. Pop beads. A white jewelry box with red satin interior. I still have it. Dolls—the Bannister Baby, a Madame Alexander I named Sidney, the big baby Angela. Never Barbie. She came at the end of my doll era. I got dolls every Christmas until I was maybe eleven.
Whatever I got, I was pleased. Except maybe for the pop beads. I remember all those years ago being surprised at the jewelry-making kit. I mostly got educational toys and toys that stimulated my imagination. The bike, for example. It could easily become a horse and I was on a tan leather saddle on some narrow western dirt trail instead of the sidewalk on Fifth Avenue. I clothes-pinned a few playing cards to the spokes, and the sound was that of a horse clomping on bedrock.
And the dolls. I didn’t dress and bathe and feed them. I didn’t play mother. I made up stories with them. They were always crossing the prairie, migrating west, running into danger. Stagecoaches, long dresses, and campfires under a starry sky mingled into the tales.
Because I had so much fun (and I didn’t have daughters), I tried to pass this doll adventure on to my granddaughter. But. She hates dolls. Always has. I bought them anyway. American Girls with books, a Madame Alexander, a lookalike Cabbage Patch I had birthed and named Lucille Deering (after my mother and my growing-up street), a multitude of Barbies—at least three a year. And then there was Anne of Green Gables that I bought in Prince Edward Island, gave to her, and ended up bringing back home with me.
Jillian doesn’t like dolls. “They creep me out,” she says.
I guess I can see that. Big and hard plastic heads with manufactured-molded hair and wide eyes that never close and a red-painted mouth. I never saw as a child that their expressions were creepy or scary. I saw them as real people. With feelings and thoughts and interesting lives. I lived in fantasy. Jillian lives in reality.
So this year, along with a precious, personal handwritten scroll letter she wrote to me and a canvas oil painting she created, she bought me a doll to make her point. “It’s just a joke, Grandmomma,” she said. But I think this is how she sees all dolls.
This Christmas, I gave her purple low top and black hightop Converse shoes, a string of penguin lights, headphones, and books—from a list she texted me from her Apple phone to mine. I’d already learned my lesson on the dolls.
One week out of the summer, the grandtwins come to visit. Just me and them. I put all work aside and devote all time to them. This year they are seven, out of first grade, going into second—boy and girl. Therein lies kind of a problem, because it’s hard to be with each one as an individual, hard to play LEGOs and Barbies at the same time. But as I observed last week, they are two children, but they are not two children. They are one child. They are always hanging on to each other, moving like the Blob, playing together, telling each other what to do, looking out for each other.
Especially Jillian. She rides Hardy like a hard-working mule in the field. I picked them up at the Natchez Trace headquarters in Tupelo, and as she and I headed for the ladies’ restroom, she looked at Hardy and in front of all the visitors indoors, she said loudly, “Go to the bathroom, Hardy.” I remembered last summer when she said, “Hardy, I am not putting that commode seat down after you one more time. You’ve got to learn to do it!” At one point during this week, she strode through the living room with her long legs and a boy’s shirt in her hand. “What are you doing” I asked. “I’m laying out Hardy’s clothes for tomorrow.” She even packed his suitcase for him. At another point during the week, I heard him ask her where his new socks were, and I told him, “Hardy, if you and all the other men cannot take care of yourselves, you’ve just got to take what comes to you.” And then he could absolutely not find his new flip flops one day. “They’re in your bedroom, on the floor. Look under the starlight stuffed animal.” He answered, “I didn’t see them anywhere.” And I just had to say it: “That’s because you are a boy, and men and boys never look under anything for their stuff. If it’s not on top, y’all can’t find it. And that goes for ALL men.”
Hardy, in all his brother sweetness, when he is not poking, slapping, and putting his feet on Jillie and making her squeal, can be protective. We were stopped at a Shell station to use the restroom, and while Jillie was inside the bathroom, I walked an aisle or two away to remotely lock my car because I had forgotten to, and Hardy started to follow, but then said, “No, I’ve got to stay with Jillie,” and went back to stand beside her door.
I always plan a bustle of activity when they come, and this year was no exception. We went to Glow Galaxy, the pool, Sky Zone, Adventure Science Center where we saw the featured exhibit Wolf to Wolf and watched Stars in the planetarium, Homestead Manor and Farmer’s Market, where we bought bread and peach jam for toast, picked blackberries, made cookies, had a tea party, watched Lady and the Tramp, watched 19 episodes of the Hardy Boys’ Applegate treasure show on DVD, read from Hardy Boys book #1 on which the movie was based, read from Ivy and Bean, saw Finding Dory at Carmike Cinema, watched E.T., played ball and bubbles with the puppy, did street chalk art, drew designs on flat, smooth pebbles, and played LEGOs and Barbies.
One thing I didn’t think through when naming the puppy—Heidi—was the difficulty of calling out names when the kids are here, and so Hardy was Heidi and Heidi was Hardy. And sometimes, though, Heidi was Chaeli, her predecessor. And sometimes I went through all four names before I got the right one!
Hey! He’s double-jointed like me!
For the first time, I don’t think I called Jillie JillieBean the whole week.
And so, JillieBean, Hardy, and Heidi—what a week! Come back, and we’ll go canoeing!
Some people think I’m a negative type of person. I say I’m a realist. I see the whole picture. I see the bad and the good. It’s just that when I talk or write, I tend to go for the bad. Because the good is the good and we don’t need to do anything about that, but the bad could use a little thought and work.
C’mon, people, give me a break here. If a person is a writer, there has to be bad (conflict) spoken of or there’s no story or fullness of life. There’s nothing to work with…without the bad.
I also see the good in the bad and the potential for positive to come from it. When you think about it, that’s what life is made of. Bad things happen to us all, eventually. And we learn to shoulder into them and grow and become stronger and better people.
As a part of my growing and becoming a stronger and better person, even though I’m old as dirt now, I’ve decided to focus on the good for a while. ‘Bout time, huh? Last week on Easter I vowed to find something good and positive every single day and write and speak of it on Facebook.
These are the things I’m thankful for. These are the things that bring me joy and happiness and smiles. As I used to say as a teenager, “I’m so excited!” Here is my first week:
April 6, 2015
“I LOVE IT WHEN…” (after a grateful Easter holiday, I hope to make this a daily activity!) my kindergarten grandson opens a thick hardback Dick, Jane, and Sally first-grade book I took to him and starts to read to me, sounding out the words as I taught him to do when he was two, and when he gets to the word “shoes” he pronounces it “shows.” Good job, Hardy. You’re right.
April 7, 2015
I LOVE IT WHEN I note that my son’s car tag number is the same as the house number of my growing-up home.
April 8, 2015
Six years ago today, my twin grandchildren were born. I LOVE IT WHEN I visit and they still fight over sitting in my lap. And when two minutes after I walk in the door, Hardy pulls out the three-inch thick Chronicles of Narnia book and reads to me. And then reads from an age-appropriate book. And when Jillian sits close to me and works the activity numbers, letters, and patterns book I took her. I love it that they have a hand in every chore in the household and are happy workers. I love it that they have learned to pick up after themselves and organize their toys in their closets in bins. I love it that they use big words and ask thoughty questions. I am so blessed to have these growing, beautiful children in my life. (I just wish I lived closer!)
April 9, 2015
I LOVE IT WHEN I am unrushed and can take my morning walk and think deeply and do significant planning for my writing project or that of a client. I love it when the sun warms my skin and the breeze brushes against my face. I love it when I can breathe fresh air and feel good. And I love it when my new dogwood comes into bloom for the first time.
April 10, 2015
I LOVE IT WHEN after a snowy, cold, icy winter, I finally get to Authors Circle at Merridees on a Thursday evening. It was good to see, chat with, and plan with Patty, Tom, and Bill.
April 11, 2015
I LOVE IT WHEN my “William Faulkner Iris” blooms for the first time! I’ve had it at my front steps for three years, after a friend acquired it and nurtured it in her yard. (Thank you, Friend!) It originally came from Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s home on 29 acres south of the Square in Oxford, Mississippi. My heart leaps with joy! I grew up one hundred miles from William’s home at Rowan Oak.
Okay, now, so really, without conflict, is this boring, or what?
Hard to believe these babies will be six years old next week! Happy birthday, Jillie Bean and Mr. Hardy.
Everybody takes away something different from a Thanksgiving Day gathering. I’ve found that most of my memories come from the times we went to my grandparents’ farm. Grandma’s dinners were always huge, so it wasn’t the meal. It was the night before—sleeping in the front bedroom that had no heat and piling on the homemade quilts, smelling bacon and coffee with sunrise the next morning, walking in the woods on the family land with my dad and grandfather. Thanksgiving afternoon—my dad and uncle climbing up and shaking the limbs of pecan trees to make the nuts fall.
My first published essay was about Thanksgiving in the country. My best friend went with me to my grandparents’ house the year we were sixteen. Thanksgiving morning, we rode a horse double down the dirt roads for miles. “I looked at red dirt, green pines, and fields of golden broomstraw swaying in the breeze. Trees hanging on to dried leaves in red and gold. Idle fields, brown and barren. A muddy pond here and there. As we rounded a curve, I saw a small white church with a tall steeple. It had a tidy, fenced-in family cemetery off to one side and a stand of tall trees to shade summer dinners-on-the-ground. We walked through the unlocked front door, past rows of old walnut pews, the wooden floors echoing every footstep. I sat on the wobbly, creaking bench of a musty upright piano and plucked the keys to a favorite song. What a fellowship, what a joy divine, Leaning on the everlasting arms.”
It was postcard picture, and it was stamped in my memory for all time.
I wanted something like this for my own grandchildren, twins, now four. I wanted them to have a memory. I don’t have a house in the country, or horses, or an old church to go to. But the first time I looked at my new house, when I went into the master bedroom closet, I thought, My gosh, this is big enough to sleep kids in.
And so I did. I made pallets on the floor of my closet for the twins. I put neat things on the bottom built-in shelf next to their bedding: a flashlight, my old jewelry box from the early 1960s with old necklaces and bracelets in it, my mother’s old train case from the 1940s with crystal rocks and arrowheads inside, two tiny purses chock full of change, and a Dream Lights pet pal that shines stars on the ceiling and changes colors. I knew they’d explore, and I wanted them to find treasure. I topped their polka-dot sheets with Toy Story and Hello Kitty blankets and pillows. It was a hit, even though Jillie couldn’t open the jewelry box.
The seven-year-old was highly offended that she didn’t get to sleep in the closet. So the second night, I extended the pallet, and I had three kids on my closet floor—shining flashlights and looking up at the stars in red, green, yellow, and blue and making memories.
How do you make a memory?
There’s usually one, the yellow one in the middle, who lives with me and sits at my table and cries for my food and sleeps in my bed and claims my living room as hers, the watchpost from where she does her “job” of keeping me alerted to any potential dangers…or actually anyone walking down the sidewalk.
Here, there are three little ones. I visit with the grandtwins, feed them their apple-cinnamon snack, sing to them while they eat, even entertain them with the “Go Meat!” commercial, and the yellow one puts herself right in the middle of it all. She is entitled, she thinks. She is mine and if I have something available, it should be hers, too. She is important, she counts, she is not dog, she is human. She knows it. The little humans know it, too, and they share.
There’s something secret that I do, and only one or two people in this world are aware of it. I started doing this when I was a child, no telling how young, and kept on through the years, until I was hardly even aware of it. It just felt so natural to do.
It’s something I do when I get into bed at night. I think it’s part of the winding down process, feeling cozy and comfortable, secure, letting myself slip happily into sleep.
I nestle my feet into the sheets. Or into the legs of a husband. I find something soft and warm close to me, rest the sides of my feet against it, and rub softly. It lets me sink into peace.
I never thought much about it until I married Mr. Rhodes and when I naturally put my feet against his legs for the first time, he jerked them away and said, “No, no, don’t put your feet on me.” I was somewhat taken aback because what else is a husband for than to keep your feet warm on a cold night? Or to nestle against.
I don’t tell this to share an innermost secret. I tell it because something happened recently that makes me proud to tell it. It happened a few weeks ago when I stayed with my fifteen-month-old twin grandchildren — alone, in their home. Their daddy was out of town on business, and their mommy needed a get-away, so would spend two days shopping with her mother and resting. We put the babies to bed Friday night, then my daughter-in-law left. The babies didn’t know their mommy was gone and they’d be staying with someone else all night for the first time in their lives.
I was told that Jillian would wake up about 4:30 and that the thing to do was to put her in bed with me. She’d go right back to sleep until 5:30 or so. She woke up at 3:00. I heard her cry out and ran to her room.
I could see in faint moonlight coming through the blinds that Jillie knew the drill. She was standing in her crib with her three tiny baby dolls hugged to her chest, waiting to go to the big bed, where there was security and safety. I picked her up without a word, hoping she’d think I was her mommy. I put my hand on the back of her head, held her close to me, then put her in the bed right next to where I’d be, and climbed in and covered us up. There were four of in that sleigh bed, including two dogs — mine and theirs.
I breathed out, waited for my heart to stop beating hard from the startle of waking abruptly and running through the house with a heavy load in my arms, and let my head sink into the pillow. Then it happened.
I felt two little feet touch my legs. They settled in close against my skin. They began to caress, to nestle, to move softly against me. They stayed, but quietened, and I knew she was asleep.
I smiled because I knew that was one trait my granddaughter got from me. Nobody else can have that one. She got it from me.