A Grandmother’s Wisdom

Today’s story came as the result of an exercise in It’s Never Too Late To Begin Again. I’m working in chapter three, on connections. This question popped up during the Memoir Task, for ages 10-15.

Describe a time you felt supported during this period.

The first person who came to mind was Grandma Mildred.

A Grandmother’s Wisdom

This time period was full of big changes for me. My parents had divorced when I was nine. Instead of being estranged after the divorce, my mom and dad remained friendly and did a remarkable job of creating a supportive environment for me and my two younger sisters. I didn’t fully appreciate how amazing their joint parenting was until later.

However, immediately after I completed 6th grade, my mom made the difficult decision to move from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Noel, Missouri with her daughters. From my adult perspective I can understand why she made that choice. Her parents lived in that tiny town, right across the street from the elementary/junior high school. They were available to help with childcare. It was probably cheaper to live in Noel. And my mom had secured a job on Main Street in a clothing store.

Adult me understands. Twelve year old me was not happy about the move. I felt torn away from friends I had known all my short life. My classmates were moving on to Nathan Hale Junior High in Tulsa, without me. My dad now lived 113 miles away instead of a couple of miles. I would no longer be spending weekends with him. I didn’t like our rental house. And to go from a big city, full of places to visit and activities to do, to a tiny, sleepy town where nothing much seemed to happen was a culture shock. There is a great deal of charm to be found in small towns, but at the time I felt like I had been plopped down in Mayberry, and I didn’t see that as a favorable thing. Saying I was unhappy is an understatement. I was devastated.

As a result of the move, for the first time in my life, I experienced depression. I withdrew from everything and everyone. While my mom worked, my sisters and I stayed at our grandparents’ house during those long summer days. I sat day after day in my grandmother’s big old rocking chair, slowly rocking, staring at the wall, listening to Pop’s country and western albums on the record player. I could identify with those life has done me wrong songs.

A Grandmother’s Wisdom My grandmother with my pony Ginger. This photo was taken the summer I was 13.

I honestly can’t remember what my sisters were doing after the move, or how they were doing. My focus narrowed down so much that I was only aware of my own dark little corner of the world and my misery. I might have stayed in that rocking chair all summer but after a suitable amount of time had passed, my grandmother intervened.

Her first plan of action was to gather together a group of girls who would be my classmates in my new school. It can be awkward and difficult meeting strangers, especially when one doesn’t want to. But after all the trouble she went to making arrangements, I couldn’t say no to her request. I finally got out of that chair and her house to interact with others. Surprisingly, I enjoyed the arranged meeting and some of those girls became good friends.

Inactivity was giving my mind too much time to dwell on Tulsa. Grandma remedied that. She invited me to help her bake goodies and snap green beans we picked from Pop’s garden and turn the crank on the manual ice cream maker. I began doing more and rocking in the chair less, thanks to her gentle encouragement.

And finally, one week before the fall semester started, my grandmother escorted me over to the junior high end of the school. She didn’t want me to walk into a strange place on the first day of school. The school was open as teachers prepared classrooms. We walked from room to room together. In the science/math room I met Mr. Stiles, a young teacher fresh out of college. He was new to teaching, although Noel was his hometown. He paused in his work to greet us and made me feel welcomed. When school started, I knew a few of the girls, and I knew the science/math teacher.

Writing about these memories today, I realized how incredibly wise and loving my grandmother was, and how supportive. She didn’t shame me or scold me for the way I felt. And, she didn’t allow me to wallow in my sorrow for long either. After letting me experience my feelings for a time, she got me up and engaging with life again. Grandma introduced me to my first friends in Noel, made sure my transition to a different school went smoothly, and got me busy with tasks to shift my thoughts, all while offering me her presence.

Kids and young teens can and do experience depression. I suspect it’s more common now than when I was a child. Withdrawal, lack of interest in things once enjoyed, anger, tears, fear, silence, acting out, poor school work and being disagreeable are all signs that a child may be struggling. How grateful I am for my grandmother, who recognized my depression and took steps to help me. If her actions had not succeeded I have no doubt she would have sought additional help for me.

Everything turned out fine. I made lots of new friends. I did well in school. I spent summers with my dad. We moved out of that rental and into a brand new house. And although I never became a big fan of small town living, I did come to recognize the benefits of a close knit community. As an adult I moved to a medium sized city. I love Joplin.

Thank you, Grandma Mildred, for bringing a sad mopey 12 year old back into the light of happiness. I love you. And I hope, as a grandmother myself now, I can be as wise.

A Grandmother’s Wisdom Me with Ginger, just before she got a good brushing.

Aubrey’s Memory Walk Through Toys R Us

A couple of weeks ago, I received a text message from my granddaughter, Aubrey. It read:

Aubrey’s Memory Walk Through Toys R Us

My heart ached a little. Although my grandchildren are at the ages where Toys R Us is no longer their primary destination when we shop, that huge toy store holds many precious memories that represent hours of fun.

At that time, the company was still struggling to survive. The Joplin store was not on the close list. I shared that fact with Aubrey. But I knew and she knew that the future was uncertain for the toy store.

When the news broke that final attempts to save the company had failed, I felt like I needed to let this bright girl know. Her response was immediate:

Aubrey’s Memory Walk Through Toys R Us

When Aubrey needed a pick up from school today, I knew how we would spend our time together. My granddaughter wanted to say good bye to Toys R Us.

Aubrey’s Memory Walk Through Toys R Us

As we arrived in the parking lot, Aubrey commented, “This store is my childhood!” Right she is. She has been visiting Toys R Us since babyhood. As a toddler, I couldn’t drive anywhere near the store without her begging to go in and “just look”.

She knew she didn’t get a toy every time we visited. That didn’t diminish her joy. Aubrey truly did enjoy walking up and down the aisles, examining toys that drew her attention, holding them and studying them. It was in Toys R Us that I first noticed this sensitive child using a technique that author Marie Kondo describes in her bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Marie suggests holding an item and asking, “Does this bring me joy?” If it does, the item is kept.

I would watch as Aubrey held a toy. “This doesn’t ring my bell” she would declare as she set the toy back on the shelf. If the item did ring her bell, I took a photo of it, for future possible purchase for a special event such as her birthday.

Aubrey’s Memory Walk Through Toys R Us

Today we did as we have always done. I let her take the lead and I followed her, watching as she wandered slowly through this familiar place, listening to her chatter. Aubrey was a bit sad, which made me sad for her. She’s reached an age, as have all my grandchildren, where impermanence is realized. Things can change. What once was fades away or closes its doors.

She talked about memories and her mood lightened as we laughed about past experiences. Aubrey loved to get a head-start on her birthday, picking out toys months before the big day. She shopped here for her brothers and her cousins, and picked out Star Wars collectibles for Christmases past, for her dad.

Aubrey’s Memory Walk Through Toys R Us

We ended up at the back of the store. Although she is almost too tall to fit now, Aubrey likes to sit in the battery operated cars located on the back wall. She was thoughtful as she walked along the row of pint sized cars, remembering. She selected a firetruck to climb into and sat for a short time, lost in thought.

I allowed her to pick out a toy, for old times sake. With most of the items marked down 30%, there were plenty of bargains. In her typical fashion she went through a selection process. She no longer comments on each toy by saying whether or not it rings her bell. Nevertheless she is still looking for the joy it gives her…or doesn’t give her. Aubrey made her choice based on how the toy made her feel.

Suddenly, she was ready to go. I had not put any time limits on our visit. I left that up to her. We took our purchase to the front registers. Aubrey engaged our check out person in conversation, telling the young man that this was her childhood store and she was sad to see it close. He sympathized and remarked that he was sad too. He shared with us that there is the tiniest of chances that the chain will be bought. I don’t think Aubrey put much hope in his statements but she was polite as she listened to him.

Aubrey’s Memory Walk Through Toys R Us

As we left the store, we carried out one final Toys R Us tradition. I dug quarters out of my purse so Aubrey could buy a trinket from one of the vending machines. It’s something I’ve always done with the grandkids. We had to stop on our way out today too.

Over a quick dinner before I took her home, Aubrey and I talked…about the store closing and anything else that came to her mind. She’s a wise child, an old soul, knowledgeable beyond her years with strong intuitive and empathetic abilities. She may get to visit Toys R Us again before the doors close for the last time. But if she doesn’t, she is satisfied with today’s memory walk. She is sad, and yet she knows life goes on and that change is part of the journey.

This girl has been a Toys R Us kid. The store has been a constant in her life, and an important part of her childhood. There is sadness in her, mixed with nostalgia. And yet, at age nine, she doesn’t really consider herself a child anymore. In her mind, she’s almost ten, and that’s almost a teenager. Her reasoning makes me smile, and brings a tear to my eye.

Aubrey’s Memory Walk Through Toys R Us