By Mwizenge S, Tembo, Ph. D.
Emeritus Professor of Sociology
We rarely see our two grandchildren Jane 7, and Mary 9, (not their real names to protect their privacy). They live with their parents three thousand miles or five thousand kms away from Virginia on the west coast. Once we learned they would be spending Christmas with us, the excited breathless plans, anticipation, preparations, and the countdown started on both sides. Their grandmother was working herself to death just to make sure the house and everything could be as clean as it could. I made sure all my man work was in order as I cleaned the yard one last time, picked up and put away anything dangerous. Except I should have chopped down the two trees in our front yard.
I drove them from the airport carrying the most precious cargo. I did not drive too fast or too slowly on the interstate. If something bad had happened, I did not want to risk it being my fault. Once we arrived at the house, the girls tossed their coats on the living room floor and ran outside. Their parents had to tell them to wear their winter coats. They chased each other in and out of the back porch opening and slamming closing the back porch thin wooden doors. My son warned that the children would wreck the porch doors. Whereupon I told him I would have the doors fixed once they are gone. They could play as much as they wanted.
A few things that I had not seen in over twenty years since my own children were growing. The girls did not walk once in the house. Instead, they either ran, skipped and hopped like bunnies or both as they screamed and giggled continuously. It was the job of the parents to regulate these apparently outrageous indoor behaviors. Meanwhile, I was enjoying the novelty of these spectacles all the time.
Their parents said they did not have a backyard at home and this is why the children were so excited to be outside. Two days later, Jane rushed into the house to report that Mary had fallen from the tree and could not get up and was crying in pain. The parents rushed Mary to the Rockingham Memorial Hospital (RMH) emergency room where they spent hours. X-rays showed she had a hairline fracture in her tailbone. I was surprised when my 34 years old son told me he remembers falling down climbing the same maple tree when he was a child in the early 1990s. The following morning Mary walked with a slight limp. A few days later she and the family were all snow tubing at Massanutten skiing resort. I went tubing and it was thrilling.
As a family, we talked, played board games, watched children’s TV and movies, children had art work drawings, we cooked and ate at home and restaurants, we ate take out, laughed, and visited with older family friends when my grown children were growing up in the area and going to school.
Her grandmother had bought Jane 7, a doll whom Jane promptly named Fefey. Jane and I were sitting alone shoulder to shoulder at the empty dining room table holding spirited conversations. Fefey had 2 long human-like legs, was wearing a fluffy white tutu, and had the face of a cat. Jane is a cat person. I had told Jane that grandpa always sleeps with one eye open. Because he hides cookies in his bedroom so that even when grandma tries to steal one of grandpa’s cookies, grandpa’s one open eye will catch grandma red handed in the act. I told Jane that if Fefey sneaked into the bedroom to steal one of my cookies, I would call the police to come and arrest her.
“If grandpa called the police, grandpa would be lying because Fefey would be asleep with me in my bed,” Jane said. “Fefey would call the police and say “I did not steal the cookies. I am asleep with my friend Jane,” Jane conveyed Fefey’s protest message to the cops with such a tiny whinny high-pitched voice that it melted my heart.
“Fefey is right,” I said. “Grandpa’s one eye made a mistake. I would tell the cops that Fefey was not stealing cookies. She was asleep with Jane in her bed.”
What I really wanted to say was that there are the biggest politicians real liars today in America causing harm and death. But what would I be doing introducing adult vile politics to a 7-year-old? This is when I came to realize why I enjoyed my time with my grandfather 65 years ago in 1959 as a five-year-old exchanging humorous innocence banter with my grandfather. Spending time with grandchildren was the best Christmas gift ever.