Monday, July 09, 2007

Writing to the Grandparents

My dad turns seventy-five next week. My mom already turned seventy-five this past spring. If I stop to think about that for very long, I get a decidedly odd feeling. After all, aren't they perpetually forty-five in my memory? (Never mind that my husband is now forty-six, and all three of my siblings are forty-five and above! There's a stubborn little slice of me that's still nine, and still pictures my parents at that same age!)

For a long time now, I've been wishing rather wistfully for two things: more time to spend with my parents (who live several hundred miles from us and don't travel) and for the opportunity to get my parents to share more of their stories with us -- stories from their childhoods and family history especially. We've always been good about sharing such things in our family, with the result that I have a lot of it already in my mind and heart. But rarely have we written things down. As my parents age, I find myself wanting, more and more, to capture their stories -- in audio, on video, on paper. I want to be able to share these stories with my own daughter as she gets older. And even more, I long for her to get to know them now, in her own childhood, as much as she possibly can, despite distance.

My Mom loves to e-mail, so that's a plus. And though Dad doesn't email often, I know he's usually right there, in the background, reading what we send, sharing his thoughts with Mom. Sometimes I have the sweet girl write to them too, not just thank you notes and birthday cards, but little notes via e-mail.

Today I had a fun idea: why not involve them in some of what we're reading? I thought of this because this afternoon we were finishing up Carolyn Haywood's book Betsy and the Boys. This is the fourth in a series of books written in the 1930s and 1940s. Although they are not of the same artistic caliber and therefore have not worn as timelessly or classically as Wilder's Little House books or Lovelace's Betsy-Tacy stories, they are still enjoyable stories that make fine family read-alouds when you have young children. The sweet girl has thoroughly enjoyed them so far, as I did too in my childhood.

But some of the references in these books, which made fine sense in their day, are becoming a bit obscure when read aloud to a five year old today. As we wrapped up the final couple of chapters this afternoon, Betsy made a penwiper. And she also saw milk bottles on her porch, delivered by a milkman.

"What's a penwiper?" S. wanted to know, and you know, I couldn't help her out very much there. I told her I thought it was something you could use to blot ink in fountain pens or ink pens, the kinds of pens people used to write with, pens that could get kind of messy. (Is that right? Am I mixing them up with the even more old-fashioned item called a blotter, which I learned about as a kid reading Little Women?)

At least I could help her out with the milk bottles. And with great enthusiasm too, as I was able to relay to her that her great-grandfather, my mother's daddy, used to be a milkman.

After we finished reading, we went to the computer. She sat on my lap and helped me type (she has utter fascination with the backspace key at present, so likes to hold down letter keys for a long time on purpose so too many letters get printed and she has to delete some). We wrote an e-mail to my parents, telling them what we were reading, asking them whether or not they ever used penwipers, and asking Grandma to tell us about when her Daddy was a milkman.

I come honestly by my love of history, stories, and family. So I am looking forward to reading my parents' answer! And looking forward to finding other ways I can connect them to the things that S. and I read and study and talk about in the coming year.


Erin said...

You know, I couldn't tell you what a penwiper is... Have you heard back yet? It's wonderful to hear and preserve family stories. And I love the way the Internet has allowed me to communicate much more regularly with my mom's mom, who took to the computer immediately when she received one seven years ago. I usually talk to her online several times a week and know what's going on in York before my mom does!

Beth said...

I know what you mean! I think technology is a mixed blessing at times, but blessing it can be. I'm glad you're able to be in touch with your grandmother so regularly!

I love being able to be so readily in touch with my parents. And when my sister was in China, what a Godsend to be able to communicate with her so easily and inexpensively!

My folks weren't entirely sure what penwipers were either. They used blotters with pens and inkwells on their desks at school. I've been doing a bit more research into this and may actually post about it again, as I find the subject somewhat fascinating. :-) Does enjoying the history of pens make me a geek?

You don't have to answer that if you don't want to! ;-)