Just Like That…

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We spent some time with my grandmother this past week.  Our 9-year old also spent some time writing her first book.  It is a creative and very mysterious story she has titled “The Unplayed Piano.”

For the past couple of years, there are really just two types of books that our daughter loves to read most – poetry and mysteries.  As she completes a chapter of this story she is writing right now, she reads it to her mother and sister and me after dinner and makes changes here and there as she reads it.  There are elements of humor and anxiety and excitement, but they all revolve around the sound of this mysterious piano music that only certain people in this family’s house are able to hear.  We don’t yet know how it will end, but the suspense is killing us!

Here is what I wanted to share with you about my grandmother and my 9-year old and this story.  I was in the kitchen working on a puzzle with my grandfather last evening when I heard the following conversation in the other room.  It went like this:

Grandmother:  “Honey, I have been meaning to ask you all week…how is your book coming along?  I was just thinking that when we finish dinner, you and I should sit together so you can read more of it to me.   I want to hear what happens with that piano.”

Julia:  “Really?”

Grandmother:  “Yes, I can’t wait.”

Julia:  “Then I can’t wait to read it to you.”

Just like that, no more than a 30 second conversation and a little girl is so encouraged, so surprised, and so happy.  And just like that, a little girl becomes an author.

The Family That Scrabbles Together…

Family

I had one of those snapshot-style, great moment-in-time experiences last night with our 14-year old and my 83-year old grandparents. Our teenager had convinced the three of us to play a board game, Scrabble, with her and we were gathered around the table for the big event.

Scrabble was the idea of an architect, Alfred Mosher Butts, and was trademarked in 1948.  Today, one hundred million sets have been sold worldwide (between one and two million are sold each year in North America alone); it is estimated that one in every three American homes owns the game in some form; and there are more than 120,000 words “that may be used in their scoring arsenal.”

The funny thing about it, however, is that my grandparents, in all their 83 years, had never, ever played it! This was to be their very first run at such a venerable old game of wordplay…and boy was I lucky to be there for it. It was beyond hilarious. Here are just a few things that were said during the game:

- (said my grandfather to no one in particular) This game will eat your lunch.

- (said my grandmother to my grandfather) Do you want to do that one? (said my grandfather to my grandmother) Yes ma’am!

- (said by my grandfather about my grandmother) She took so long I can’t remember the great word I was going to play!

- (said to my grandmother and teenager) If you’d let me choose 7 letters, I could whip this game.

- (said to all of us, several times) Whose turn is it?

- (said to my grandmother, several times) You are taking entirely too long.

- (said to no one in particular) Wish I could win.

- (said to himself) Let’s make the rules up as we go.

- (said to all of us, just once) I threw the blank ones back because I thought they were duds.

- (said to me nearly every time) Is it my turn already?

- (said to my teenager several times about the letter m) You can’t see it, but that’s a w!

Tears of laughter reigned through most of the game, which lasted just about an hour.  The memory, however?  That will last much longer.  Therefore, thank you Scrabble.

Super Bowl 20

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I know, I know.  This year’s Super Bowl is number 48, not 20, but it is the number 20 that I am celebrating here in 2014.  It is where the official count stands of consecutive years that I have been watching this major American football event with my now 83 year-old grandparents.

They live just across the street from us, so I see them every week but there has always been something magnetic for us about Super Bowl night.  My grandmother, who prepares a smorgasbord of snacks that would rival the buffets of Golden Corral, is also the house statistician and virtual encyclopedia of certain players – she knows numbers and histories and stories of their faith and families.  She even saves certain newspaper articles about the event for us to read at commercial breaks!

My wife and daughters are also there for the entire event and have been for most all of these 20 years.  The tradition actually began in a funny way – my grandparents were always fond of buying magazines through the Publishers Clearinghouse campaign.  This allowed them to be entered into the Publishers Clearinghouse Giveway, which was normally an enormous some of money and a large bouquet of balloons that would be delivered to some unsuspecting family at home on live television during halftime of the Super Bowl.  For some reason, that was our pull – not really football or sports or teams or halftime superstars, but that one in a zillion chance that the balloon guy would show up outside their door.

Though there is no such event during the Super Bowl these days, we still relish the chance to get together and talk about our favorite commercials and holler over missed calls or bad calls or awesome interceptions – and turn the channel during halftime.

But somewhere, in the back of our minds, we can still imagine hearing the rush of balloons as some guy in a yellow sportcoat holding an oversize check makes his way to our front door.

Veterans as Grandfathers

“The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.”  - G. Nelson

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Ber and CB Day before he left for Army September 28 1942015                     1950

I have two grandfathers who are veterans. Two men. Two husbands and fathers and sons and friends.  L.J., age 82, and C.B., who died more than 40 years ago.

My grandfather, L.J. (we call him Joe), stood at the end of our pew at church yesterday morning and I took the moment in. My wife and I and our children have sat beside my grandparents in this church pew nearly every weekend for the past 23 years.  My grandfather stood because it was our church’s annual opportunity to recognize and thank military veterans like him for their service and sacrifice on our behalf – as Americans, as a community, as a family, and as a free people.

He is a little slower to rise than last year. His hands grasp the back of the pew in front of him and he stands and steadies himself.  Knowing him, he is a bit uncomfortable…not because of age or worn out knees, but because of honor. He and the friends of his generation who stand near him here do not like to draw attention to themselves, especially for their service to the country. He did what was asked of him.  “What more do you need to know?” he says.

My grandfather C.B. would have been 90 this year.  Though I never knew him, I can imagine him standing there at the end of the pew as well.  He is tall and bespectacled with a wide smile.  His hands grip the pew in front of him and he steadies himself…

These are my grandfathers, the patriarchs of our family, the kings of this tribe, the authors of this family’s story.  Though one is here and the other is no longer here…they are here.  Their dreams and their sacrifices and their labors and their legacy are with us still.  They served.  What more do you need to know?

9 Brains are Better than 1

Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr (as he sees all the brains in Dr. Necessiter’s lab): “I’ve never seen so many brains out of their heads before! I feel like a kid in a candy store.”

- The Man with Two Brains (1983)

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I was never much of an invention-minded boy growing up, but that has completely changed now that I have children.  There is rarely a year that goes by in our daughters’ educational journey that doesn’t require that we put our heads together and come up with something creative and/or innovative – whether it be an erupting volcano, a launching rocket, a creative topic for an essay, or a hundred other school-themed ideas that are all set to expand their developing vision and grow their maturing brain…which brings me to the story of our most recent and very own family brain-academy-around-the-kitchen-table experience in which we were determined to build a slick air-powered water bottle with compact discs for wheels.

At our house, the one middle school constant (beyond the normal crowded hallways, remembering of locker combinations, cafeteria dramas, and excessive homework) has been this anxiety-provoking assignment to create a fully air-powered vehicle that will travel straight ahead and go no less than 15 feet.  Sure, the internet makes this assignment much less problematic, but we agreed to refuse to look up anything about it and forge ahead to see what we might create.

As she worked through this process of invention, our daughter decided that it would be interesting to invite as many family members to join her around our kitchen table (grandfathers and grandmothers, great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers, cousins, parents, sisters, you name it)…for a meeting of the minds to tackle this particular project.

We ended up with a house full of brains and a kitchen table full of ideas and crafty objects of all kinds, but all deciding that in the end it would be entirely up to our daughter to choose from the best ideas among them and build the final grade-worthy car.The final result was super and our daughter passed with flying colors, making it nearly 18 feet with her balloon-powered water bottle and straws and chopsticks and cd-for-wheels car.

But the best part – the best part – was that spontaneous meeting of the minds.  Everyone laughed and talked and debated and offered their wisdom in the project, and that made it worth the whole thing.

Have you ever visited a science lab?  There are no one-room offices with one person working away on a project; there are a dozen people in a big room all working together.  So why let your kids do some assignments (especially those that allow for a large measure of creativity and invention) by themselves when you can offer them an extra set of ears and hands and thoughts and…brains?  Why sit idly by when you can be creating a moment with them and then watching them thrill at the victory that might come?

I’ll never forget sitting among these generations of people around this kitchen table tackling such a problem.  The noise and the thinking and the telling and the wondering – they get an A+ in my book. Once again, I am learning that it is the process of the learning that matters far more than the product of the learning.  Who knows?  This kind of cooperation among us just might come in handy for even bigger things someday.

And the dad exclaimed, “I’ve never seen so many brains…”

82 Stories

82 Stories Glasses Photo

We drove to the top of Mount Scott yesterday. It’s about two hours southeast of us and a place I had never visited but often heard about. We took this drive for one reason – my 82-year old grandparents. It is near the epicenter of their 69-year love affair; a beautiful area of the world they visited on teenage dates in the 1940′s. They called us earlier in the week and asked if we would like to visit the place and see it all through their memories. We were glad to – and now more than glad that we did.

As we approached the top of the mountain in our SUV, I asked them what had changed and they looked around for a moment. “Nothing really…except the route up here,” my grandmother admitted. “It was all dirt and gravel roads back then, nothing quite so manicured and perfect and painted as it looks now. But the view, that hasn’t changed a bit. The sky is still blue, the white clouds still roll over us, the rocks and flowers are still the same browns and greens and purples, and those boats there on the lake…right there…they still look like little toys from way up here.” My grandfather, never a fan of heights, added, “Still too high up if you ask me.”

For a bit of an adventure, the kids and I decided to climb down onto the rocks below the scenic viewing path that encircles the top of Mount Scott. These rocks were slippery smooth and the purple flowers that grew between them were enticing to our youngest. The kids took pictures and laughed and poked around, being as safe as three girls in flip-flops standing on the side of a mountain can be.

When I looked back up the path to see from where we had come, I caught a glimpse of my grandparents. They may have been talking, I’m not sure, but they were holding hands and clearly peering out onto the land below, their eyes squinting through the blazing sun that was nearly at its peak in the sky above them. I told the girls to look and to remember what they were seeing. For in that moment, we were transported in time to the teenage chapters of a long-written storybook, to a portion of my grandparent’s lives lived so long ago and yet living now so close to us that all we had to do to read it was drive them up a mountain just off I-44 and Highway 49.

The stories are everywhere my friends. They just keep coming…