When my cousin Sue and I played dress-up in the old clothes from our Grandma Crump’s trunk, we might have been practicing for our first prom. We put on the too-big dresses, the “clip-clop” shoes (Sue’s words for the high heels), the bright red lipstick, and the outdated hats. We thought we looked like princesses, or maybe like the unidentified Civil War era relative in this photo.
Instead, we looked like this – waif-like, but so cheerful with our illusions of glamour.
My grandparents rarely involved themselves in our play, but they kept a few toys and books around and they themselves seemed to be always nearby.
At my Crump grandparents’ house the toys and books were on a shelf in the living room below the staircase along with the movie projector and their travel souvenirs. I remember the “Higgly Piggly” board game, a blue plastic ball with bells inside, and books like “The Fly-Away Hat” and “Fluffy and Tuffy.”
Most of the play on the farm happened outside. Both my grandparents were busy all day with farm and housework, but they were a constant and comforting presence. My grandmother could often be persuaded to play a hand of setback or a round of croquet, but on rainy days we resorted to our imaginations. We played games of hide and seek, hide the button, and “school.” I remember only one toy in the house, and that was a set of lead battleships and soldiers that we spread out on the living room floor. Another rainy day activity was looking at the World War I photos that came with the 1920 stereoscope. When looked at through the viewer, the two pictures on the card became a vivid three-dimensional image. It felt like we were right there, in the midst of the destruction.
These days I try to keep my grandchildren away from violent images. But my brother and cousins and I looked with fascination at these scary pictures. I even hesitate to post the sights we stared at – the dead soldiers, the skeletons hanging over barbed wire, the decomposing horses, the devastated landscape. This picture of a bombed cathedral is mild compared to most of the one hundred depictions that we looked at on a regular basis.
My own grandsons like me to play games WITH them – to get down on the floor and make Lego sheep, play Dino Checkers, and move Fisher-Price people around.
But one day recently, when they were visiting on a rainy afternoon, my daughter’s two boys had a long adventure using four of my old shoulder bags, a handful of coins, some painted Styrofoam balls that we duct-taped onto the straps of the purses, and various treasures they “bought” from me to take on their journey. They played on their own, but checked in every so often to tell me about what they were doing. I wasn’t being a playmate, or a teacher, or really even a babysitter, but, as my own grandparents had been for me, a reliable and comforting presence – a touchstone of reality in the world of make-believe. It’s one of the best jobs I know.
On Wednesday: Easter Cards for Agnes