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Friday, February 22, 2013

Your Car Is On Fire

There were a lot of benefits to being raised by a woman who was fifty-three years older than me and already a grandmother. Most of us have seen living proof that the youngest child in the family often gets mellower parenting. You know what I mean. With the first child, the parents are more careful and nervous and maybe even more strict. By the time they get to the youngest, they have been fully broken in. They have learned that kids bounce back and that life goes on. So, to the disgust of the oldest child, the youngest child seems to get much cooler parenting.

Imagine getting parented by someone who has not only raised her own four children, but has grandchildren ranging from age ten to college students. By this time, Gram had just about seen it all. She had gone through dance and music lessons, graduations, romances, missed curfews, and numerous illnesses and injuries. And then she did a lot of it with her grandkids. By the time I showed up she had dealt with kids who sat down in the middle of a high-traffic street because they wanted their mom to come home from work. And there was the time that the two oldest teased the third child and then ran and hid under the bed. He retaliated by throwing every egg in the house at them. And when the eggs were gone, he started with leftover spaghetti and meatballs. She also inspired moments of happiness in her grandkids. When the oldest two were at her house and heard the music from The Ice Cream Man, the eldest put his arm around his cousin's shoulder and said, "Johnny, you never have to be afraid when you hear that sound, because Grandma always has a nickel." Praise indeed.

All of this experience made her more relaxed, but she was not a pushover, by any means. Spending all that time around kids gave her the ability to read their faces and expressions. She told me that she could read little boys' and girls' minds and know if they even thought about about doing anything wrong. I behaved well on that one for a number of years, although I was a pretty good kid to start with. But I bet that she never called into the school to excuse an absence for her own kids when they just wanted to take a day off!

With all of the things I have just mentioned, you won't be surprised to hear that she was fairly calm in other kinds of situations as well. Her daughter, A, liked to have a library excursion every few weeks. She'd get her Lincoln Continental with the back doors that opened rearward ("suicide doors" is what they are often called, probably because so many fingers have unwittingly committed suicide by being shut in them) going, and Gram, her daughters, Liz, and I would go to the two libraries she frequented. The first was called the little library, a local library in Westminster, Colorado. Next, we went to a branch of the Denver Public Library. From what I recall, the itinerary and library choices were dictated by one major factor. A did not like making left turns. I can't tell you how many times I heard her say that she liked to go to a certain place because it was "all right turns." A was not as mellow as Gram. Not by a longshot. One day as we were headed to the big library, A was talking away a mile a minute when Gram said, quietly and calmly, "A, I do believe your car is on fire." A started shrieking for us to all get out before we died in flames from the smoking engine. I think we were all out and lined up on the sidewalk while she was still inside the car yelling!

Another memorable moment for me was on a summer afternoon. I imagine it was someone's birthday, because several of the cousins were there. As it often did in the mid-afternoon, the sky turned gray and cloudy. Gram was at the kitchen sink washing some of the dishes, and started casually looking at the sky. "Mama, what are you looking at?" A asked, kind of exasperated that her mom wasn't focusing on the job at hand. "Oh, I was just looking at that funny little cloud up there, it looks like a little funnel." This little funnel was pretty small, and way up in the sky, but A reacted in her normal fashion. "Oh, dear Lord, you're just standing there and watching it? Everybody get in the basement! Right now! There's a tornado!" We all did, with Gram sort of laughing at her daughter's panicked reaction. She had seen tornadoes before, and knew it wasn't one. We all survived, and nobody dropped a house on anyone's sister.

I seem to have inherited Gram's ability to stay calm in emergencies or potentially bad moments. She taught by such great example, after all. At many times I have met emergencies with a clear head and then just had my little nervous meltdown later, when I had the time for it. But I am not sure if I will ever be able to top that calm, clear voice saying, "I do believe your car is on fire." 

Gram, you are thought of often, and truly missed. Thanks for everything you taught me!