Saturday, February 6, 2016

"Honey, why are you so old?"

Precious Harris cups my face between his little 3 year old hands. His question is so earnest, so empathetic as he tries to smooth out the wrinkles of my face with his sweet fingers. He frequently feels the need to ask me this question concerning my age, perhaps looking for a more appeasing answer.

"Honey, why are you so old?"

His question gives me pause, wondering if its time for a total make-over. I smile and try to find a satisfying answer for my tenderhearted grandson. I tell him I’m old because I’m 61 and he’s 3…not good enough. I tell him because I am his mommy’s mommy…hmmm. I explain that I was born a long, long time ago…Harry gets bored and runs outside to kick some balls. 

 That same afternoon, I took Lucy on our daily walk. By now we are on auto pilot, never needing to think to turn right or left…we just walk. On these walks, I find, that my mind drifts, from one thought to another, to another, maybe this is a sign I am “so old.” On this particular day, Lucy and I walk past a home that is being remodeled, with a large dumpster in the driveway.  Peeking from the top of the dumpster is a discarded dead Christmas tree. 

Okay, here we go…my mind sails back to the Valley Forge Gang. It’s 1962, several days after Christmas and our little gang starts knocking on doors, gathering unwanted, discarded Christmas trees. Our tribe of 8 year old girls drags these Christmas trees down the street, leaving a trail of dried, yellowed pine needles down Valley Forge Drive. Each parent has reluctantly agreed to host the annual Christmas tree fort in their backyard, at least once, and The All Girls Valley Forge Christmas Tree Fort becomes the greatest of our neighborhood.

We have our secret meetings within the circle of those evergreens. We rush home from Briargrove Elementary School, grab snacks, and head to The Fort. There we become Laura Ingalls in “Little Christmas Tree Fort on the Prairie.” The next day, we might be Nancy Drew in “The Missing Clue Found in the Mysterious Christmas Tree.” Sundays, we restlessly wiggle our way through church and Sunday pot roast lunch, eager to run to our fort where today, we are the Swiss Family Robinson. We spend most of January amidst the branches of those pines, always sad when its time to dismantle, and forced to wait until next year. 

Thinking of our Valley Forge Gang, my thoughts drift to the summer months. We spend much of our days outside, running through the “clouds” made by the DDT fogging truck, playing Freeze Tag in the sprinklers, making very extravagant snail-like hopscotch boards, jumping rope, we chant…

Three, six, nine, the goose drank wine, 
The monkey chewed tobacco on the street car line. 
The line broke, the monkey got choked, 
And they all went to heaven in a little row boat, 
Clap-Clap! Clap-Clap!

We have our little handmade bags full of metal jacks and old golf balls and we spread them out on the driveway and play…

No bouncies 
Double bouncies 
Cherries in a basket 
Over the fence 
Pigs in a Blanket 
Around the world

We wait nightly for the ice-cream truck. I wince as I remember Margie, the youngest of our troop, sitting beside me. Each evening, prior to the truck’s arrival, I earnestly tell Margie that there is a village of tiny people that live in the storm sewers beneath the street. I tell her these little people are poor, hungry and in need of clothes. I convince her, nightly, that she needs to drop her ice cream money down the drain so the little people can survive. Margie falls for it every time. Her money goes down the hole in the curb and when the ice cream truck comes into view we all run to meet it and Margie cries because her money is in a drainage ditch. Yep, I was a mean girl, and being punished for teasing Margie never seemed to stop me. Yes, I’m embarrassed, but truthful.

Thinking of Margie reminds me of her little brother, Fred, who was the only boy on our block and the youngest of all the children. Out of our gang of seven girls (minus Margie), none of us had brothers. We were six households of all girls and we were dying to know, first hand, what little boys had that we didn’t. One day, we felt the need to be educated in the male anatomy. I was the only one brave and stupid enough to tell Fred he had to pull down his pants. We circled around 4 year old Fred, waiting with great curiosity. Suddenly, he burst into tears, ducked through the forest of legs that surrounded him and ran straight to his mother. Okay, so I was also a bully, but it didn’t take this bully long before my father called me into the house, and asked me if I was the culprit. Of course, I lied. “No way Jose!” I was promptly spanked, not due to my curiosity, but my dishonesty.

Whoa! On this brief, one hour walk, I have sailed through years of my childhood, only to discover I was a mean girl, bully and a liar. Lots of redeeming qualities, right?

Mean Girl, Bully, & Fibber

Lucy and I are almost home. What a journey my memory has provided me, all due to that one dead Christmas tree sticking out of a dumpster.

How, in such a short span of time, was I able to hopscotch through such a myriad of memories? Arriving home, I realize I have the answer to Harry’s question.

“Honey, why are you so old?” 

If I weren't so old, I couldn't tell you all the stories about when I was a little girl. I couldn't tell you what life was like without cell phones, or Nickelodeon, or DVD’s in the backseat of your car. I couldn't tell you how we could play outside until bedtime, with no parent in sight. I couldn't tell you how we ran through the streets of our neighborhood Halloween night, dressed as hobos, with a pillowcase full of candy. 

If I weren’t so old, I couldn’t explain “the good old days” taught me life lessons that I want to pass on to you. Experiences that I can still so vividly remember, and many that I no longer can correct. I would tell you that I wished for the chance to tell Margie, and her brother Fred, how sorry I was for being so terrible. I would do anything to tell my father I still remember the day I lied to him and how 55 years later, I wish I would have told him the truth instead. 

“Why am I so old?” Being old makes me your grandmother, and being your grandmother means I love you enough to try to teach you the importance of being kind, honest and respectful of everyone. 

Given the opportunity, I will slowly, bit by bit, tell my grandchildren not only of Christmas tree forts and ice-cream trucks, but of Margie, Fred, my father and so many other mistakes I have made throughout my lifetime.

Perhaps that’s why old minds wander aimlessly through time. Perhaps by capturing vivid past memories, and bringing them to the forefront of my mind, I can give purpose and meaning to being “so old.” After all, isn’t that what grandparents do best?

For what it’s worth,

Deuteronomy 6:6-7 “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”


  1. Dear M.G., B & F,
    You need to add another letter or two! How about M.G., B, F & GH??? Mean Girl, Bully, Fibber and GREAT HONEY!!!!! Love you bunches!!!