I’m pretty lucky, because there are a LOT more things I’d like to do the same than things I want to do different. I just had that great of a childhood. And the funny thing about the stuff I vowed to do differently is…now that I’m actually a parent, the way my parents handled things when I was a kid seems a lot less extreme and unbending and strict than it did when I was 13, or 15, or 17.
But I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about the things that make me smile, the things that I have long said “I will do that with my kids someday” about.
When I was growing up, my dad worked puzzles with us. BIG puzzles. One thousand piece puzzles. My mom would let us totally take over the dining room table and no matter how many evenings after work it took, Daddy would keep working it with us until we finished it. A lot of times he would hide one piece until the very end so that he could be the one to put in the last piece, but we never minded. We actually came to expect it. I can remember searching for one specific piece for a really long time, and finally deciding, “That’s probably the one Daddy hid, so I should quit looking for it.” When we finally put in the last pieces, and the giant puzzle was complete, you would think we would immediately tear it apart and put it away. (If I was my mom that’s what I would want to happen.) But that’s not what Daddy did. Instead, he would call in the little girls, Sarah and Rachel, and have them sit down at the table. Then he would take apart one corner of the puzzle, probably 20 pieces or so, and he would help them put that part back together, showing them how to line up the colors and edges and pictures, until the puzzle had been completed for a second time that evening. He taught us all how to work big puzzles that way. And to this day I LOVE a good puzzle. It brings back very fond childhood memories.
My mom always read to us out loud, usually during lunch, and usually from a book pertaining to whatever subject we were studying in school. She would make sandwiches, cut up fruit, and pour juice, and then, when we were all sitting down at the table, she would pick up “King of the Wind” or “Ben Hur” or “The Hiding Place” and she would read while we ate. I remember crying, my mouth full of peanut butter and jelly, when the horse died, and when Corrie and Betsy got shipped to the concentration camp, and when Judah Ben Hur met Jesus in the desert. I remember once when I was a teenager and she had laryngitis I got to read aloud in her place. I can’t remember another time I felt so grown up.
My dad told the best stories. They were all about him as a kid, and OH MY GOSH were they great. He’s had stitches a million times. I can’t even remember how many, but I have heard the story of each and every scar on his face and head at least a dozen times. There was one incident with a bathtub and his chin, another with the back of his head a giant pipe that was being used as a bazooka, and several more that all run together somehow. There was also the story about him running naked in the snow when he was three or four, and getting pneumonia as a result. I don’t remember all the details of that story either, but I DO remember I have never laughed so hard as I did the first time, and all the following times, I heard him tell it. The most memorable story, though, is probably the one where his parents told him not to go in the basement, because there was a pile of wood down there with nails in it, and it was dangerous, but his football fell down the stairs, and he went to get it, and it was dark…you can guess the rest. He stepped right on a nail, barefooted, and when he jumped back off of it, his other foot landed on a nail as well. And, the story goes, he had to sit on a blanket all during his 6th birthday party (which was the day after the puncturing of both feet) while all his friends played games and had fun. Man, if that story doesn’t set up parents for a “this is why it’s important for you to obey what your mom and dad tell you” speech, nothing will. My feet hurt just thinking about those nails.
When Rachel was a baby (so in 1988) we were living in Amarillo, TX, and we went camping at Paulo Duero Canyon. It was so cool. My grandmother came with us to help, since there were 5 kids ages 8 (me) 6, 4, 2, and a 6 week old baby, and we were TENT camping in a canyon with no electricity. It’s one of my favorite camping memories, and we went camping a LOT, because it’s a relatively cheap family getaway. We had two tents. One slept 3 people and one slept 6. My mom, grandma, and baby sister shared the small tent, and Daddy shared a tent with the other four of us kids. At night when we were all tucked in listening to the crickets and the wind, he retold us all our favorite stories from his childhood. And we laughed as if we’d never heard them before, and our toes curled up just thinking about those nails, and our chins ached just a little imagining how it must have hurt to have stitches, and the image of him running naked through the snow became funnier still…and I am smiling now, thinking about it.
I remember as a kid thinking “I have the coolest, funniest, toughest dad in the world.” And I decided that someday I would tell my kids stories from my childhood, because I wanted them to feel about me the way I felt about my dad on those long, cold camping trip nights in TX. And I decided I would read out loud to my kids, because some of my favorite book memories happened at our kitchen table during lunch when I was a kid.
A shocking realization occurred to me a wile back. When we went camping in 1988, my dad was 30 years old. He was younger than I am now!!!! How is it that I am suddenly an adult? The momentary panic that followed this realization was quickly replaced by another thought: I have been saying “someday I want to do that with my kids” about stuff I should already be doing!!! CRAP!
Then I calmed down a little, and reminded myself that I’m not dead yet, and my kids aren’t grown yet, and I do some of those things already. I often hide the last piece of the puzzle we are working. I help the 5 year old and 2 year old re-work one corner after we’ve finished the rest. I read out loud to the kids, though it’s not during lunch time, it’s usually in the afternoon. But I haven’t told them any stories!!!!
So, a month or so ago, I started doing just that. We climb into my bed, and I say “You want to hear a story?” and they all say “YES!” and then I have to rack my brain for something from my childhood to entertain them. There is the one about our chicken coop, and the hens that weren’t producing eggs, and we thought it might be that a black snake was eating them, and so we went searching, and sure enough we found a big black snake, and my cousin Andrew killed is by swinging it over his head and smacking it against our big oak tree. Then we cut open its stomach to see if there were chicken eggs inside, but all we found were some Blue Jay feathers.
And there’s the one about my brother getting lost at the fair when he was 3, and how he saw an angel, and the angel told him to go the other way, and when he turned around my dad was there, and then some nice people gave us a bunch of tickets so we could ride some rides, which was a blessing because we were too poor to afford tickets ourselves.
And the one where we decided to take a hike through the swamp on the back corner of our property, and we killed 4 water moccasins, and one of them was as big around as my wrist, and it chased my cousin Andrew (all of our snake stories seem to include him…remind me not to let me kids hang out with his kids) and then my brother hit it with his stick, and we cut off its head…and we brought all 4 snakes back to the house and for some reason my dad DIDN’T kill us, and he stopped my mom from killing us too. My husband listened to me telling the kids that one, and promptly informed me that he didn’t think it happened, or that at the very least the story had been “Bausumized.” (which is his way of saying REALLY exaggerated) So last week when my brother and his family came to visit, and my parents were there too, I asked them to retell the story…and what do you know, I was not making it up! J My husband kept shaking his head, horrified (he is not a big fan of snakes…even little green ones) and I reminded him that he LIKES that I’m a country girl with cool snake stories. He looked skeptical.
The other night, in a pinch, I told them the story about my dad running naked in the snow when he was three. Except I couldn’t remember all the details, so I improvised a little, and suddenly my daughter said “I thought he was…” and filled in some parts I hadn’t said. “How do you know that story?” I asked. “Papa told it to us,” she responded.
Oh, how full my heart suddenly became. I almost cried. Because the best things about my childhood had seeped into my own children’s lives. My mom reads books to them. My dad tells them his crazy stories.
And last night when there was ice but no snow, and they were super bummed that we couldn’t try out the new sleds we bought…I got a bright idea. So we bundled up, and we went out into the street in front of our house, which is on a moderate hill…and we went ice sledding. I gave them a push, and my hubby stood at the other end to stop them from crashing into mailboxes, and we laughed and screamed and grinned until our body parts were frozen. Then we came inside and my daughter heated water and scooped hot chocolate mix into mugs, and the boys said “that was the greatest thing ever!” and when they sipped their hot chocolate, one of them said “I’m glad we made this hot chocolate mix this year. Homemade hot chocolate is the best!!” And as I stood peeling potatoes for soup, my fingers barely thawed, I could almost see into the future, when my children are grown, and how this story will get retold over and over as a childhood memory. Clay will remember that his snow pants were too big and kept falling down when he was walking, and Faith will remember how she hit the mailbox and spun around backwards and kept going, and Nate will remember that when he and I went down together we couldn’t stay facing forward because I was terrible at steering, and Gabe will tell parts of the story he’s heard from the other kids because he was too young to remember it, but it’s part of his childhood too.
And I almost cried again. Because even though I still feel 17 sometimes, I’m not. I’m living a life I love, filled with memories that I retell and memories we are making every day. And my heart is filled to bursting with family, and laughter, and crazy, crazy, crazy moments. I am not doing everything perfect. God knows I’m not. But hopefully someday my kids will have more things they want to do the same than things they want to do different. And all of it will make a great bedtime story that they tell my grandchildren. I bet, in a pinch, they will even retell the water moccasin story, and their spouses will be amazed, or disbelieving, and their kids will correct them on some detail, because their grandma (me) had already told them that story.
And when that happens, I will smile, and I will remember that camping trip to Paulo Duero Canyon, and how I laughed till I cried over a story I’d heard a million times before, and how it still makes me smile even though I’m a grandmother…and my parents will have stepped into their great-grandchildren’s lives in the form of wonderful traditions, and perfect memories, and full-to-bursting stories of love.
I’m 32 years old, and I still think my dad tells the best stories. I still like listening to my mom read more than anyone else in the world. I will feel that way forever. And I want my kids to say that about me someday.