Growing up, one could often find me, my brother and our cousins at Nana and Papa’s house. A weekend with them was always a new and fun experience. If I could ever pin point the most fun I had as a kid, it would probably have occurred on one of those many trips to see our grandparents. Our parents helped us pack our backpacks and reminded us to be good in their absence. They dropped us off as we were ushered in with a warm welcome, oftentimes with a fun activity ready and waiting for us. Looking back, I don’t know if our parents were trying to take a break from keeping us or what, but we never had a reason to wonder; for all we knew, they were rewarding us for good behavior.
We slept on pallets in the living room floor, on sleeping bags in the sewing room, and where else, I can’t recall, though it was rarely ever on a bed. Either way, it was all part of the adventure. I recall one remarkable night of examining some of Papa’s new fascinating technology- a spherical object with some sort of electric light in the center that, upon placing your hand on the glass, would send out spidering streaks of light to touch the glass, and then chase your fingers as you ran them across the sphere. That night, we stayed up in the living room as Papa brought out a strobe light for our entertainment and we watched in awe. On another occasion, we (all six of us) went out to the Slab, that is the large expanse of concrete often used for basketball, bicycles, and volleyball. We had blankets and pillows and flashlights as we lay out on the Slab to gaze up at the stars. I can still hear Nana’s voice from that night, speaking into the sky with a calm and assuring voice about the sky and stars and God’s creation.
If there is one thing I’ve learned from Nana (and still learning from her every time I visit), then it is probably how to be a lady. I remember sitting on her bed as she showed me her collection of favorite poems. We would read them together aloud and talk about them. It took me about eight years to realize that her influence introduced me to the value of poetry, something that has become such a rich part of my life. There was other reading as well. I don’t think anyone could ever read a story out loud like Nana. You might say that those classic stories of trolls and Hansel and Gretel have merit of their own, but I must contend that Nana’s reading of them completely made the stories for me; there is simply no separating them in my mind. In addition to these, Nana taught me to sew, to mend, to cook her Thanksgiving Stuffing (no doubt, the best stuffing in the world, but don’t ask for the recipe because it is top secret), to refrain from using vulgar words, to play chords on the piano, to shop at garage sales, to sing Polka Dots and Moon Beams, to read your Bible every morning, and to not cry over a broken jar of salsa.
Papa was (and is) always full of new games, encouraging us to make up our own as we went along, and had an impressive variety of exercise equipment filling their garage, with the ping-pong table in the center. They have kept chickens, sheep, dogs, a pond of fish, a garden, and a plethora of other amenities to keep any sane children more than occupied. Perhaps you are never really a kid until you spend an afternoon with Papa. You will never find yourself laughing so often, nor so utterly immersed in fun as when you are chasing ping-pong balls, using the golf putter, hitting the badminton birdie, or very possibly doing all three at once. Of course, there were always neighbor children coming over to join; as much as we tried, we could not keep Papa all to ourselves.
And then there were quieter times, too. If there was ever a symbol of nobility, I have no doubt that it was and is my Papa. Among other things, I certainly learned the meaning of a gentleman. It’s been said that Humphrey Bogart owned the description “tough without a gun”, but it is necessary to apply the same phrase here. I have always seen a remarkable balance of kindness and intolerance of unkindness. That is, if a young man was caught using filthy language in the presence of a lady, Papa would remind him of his duty as a man to protect her from such filth. My mother and I agree that Papa has a certain air of dignity, so that when you are in his presence, you cannot help but admire and respect him. So when he tells you to wash your mouth out with soap, you start looking for the nearest bar of Ivory. And while he is certainly tough without a gun, I can never promise you at any given moment that he is not packing heat. That’s just the way he is.
Now days, when I get the pleasure of meeting Nana and Papa for garage sales or a cup of coffee or a birthday party, it is as much a pleasure for me as an adult as it was as a child. We still play games together, cook, and share our love for poetry. And when I am there, I am still learning. I am still learning all these things about them and about myself, too. Although, in the end, I suppose that more than anything else I’ve learned from Nana and Papa, it is that I would like to be more like them.