going back home with the kids

Childhood memories dictate my daughter’s summer visits.

They had barely cleared the doorway when she began planning a hot dog roast in the back yard with her children. We still use the same spot where she burnt plenty of dogs. I realized the torch had passed to the next generation when her seven-year-old son proudly announced, “I lit the match for the fire.” This year he paid attention as we again explained how to roast a hot dog on a stick until it bubbles and browns. While he practiced the fine art of roasting a hot dog, the little princesses (5 and 3 years old) perched on their canvas thrones accepting toasted meats and other dainties just as their mother had 30 years ago.

Decades ago we began picking blueberries for summer pies and winter treats. We always included the children in the fun of gathering this easy-to-pick fruit with no briars. Last week my daughter came to visit. The first day she and her dad went to pick blueberries with her children. The two littlest wandered around plucking berries from branches, ate a few and dropped a couple into their bucket. Between them they filled about half a bucket. Their mom filled the rest of their bucket and her own. Big brother, for the first time this year, stood in one place and filled a bucket all by himself.

I came home from work in time to sit at the counter and watch her rinse the berries, roll them down a towel and fill freezer bags for the winter.

The backyard plum tree my daughter climbed through her childhood died several years ago. No problem. The grandchildren discovered they could climb both the catalpa and the shorter oak tree in the front yard. Most afternoons, they circled under its branches on their compact bikes – smaller than any she rode – she was much older before her training wheels disappeared.

During the afternoon lulls, she handed her son a fat math workbook telling him he had to complete five pages each day.

“Do you think I am expecting too much?” she asked me.

“No, I planned some kind of math or reading project every summer,” I said. Every child going through my house during summer vacation receives the same expectation. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

One summer her brother created his own summer project and built a series of forts as he studied structure and tools. For our grandson, I found a wooden birdfeeder he could build with Grandpa. Meanwhile, his little sisters went to the front porch and painted a plain wooden doll house and plain furniture with a rainbow of water colors. The paint shop did not close until the bird feeder received a coat of red paint with white markings like a barn.

For years, older visiting granddaughters spent long summer afternoons playing one game of UNO after another. This year, Grandpa found a vintage version of “Old Maid” and insisted we all play a game with him. We gathered around the table, matched what we could and began pulling cards from our neighbor’s hand in search of another match.

Sister and brother tried to hide their cards, but gave plenty of hints as they laughed and giggled, “I have the pretty lady. Do not take my pretty lady. You took my drummer.”

They laughed so much through the simple game that no one worried about being the Old Maid.“I do not know how I missed playing this game,” my daughter said.

This summer my daughter fulfilled a childhood promise to return to the Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources with their children. They tried clothes and sat in the canoe in the temporary pioneer exhibit, played in the tinker room and rode the elevator through time.

I began taking my daughter to yard sales in her booster seat. Saturday we slipped out of the house early in search unknown treasures.

“See that house?” she said, “that is where I bought that unopened video of my favorite movie.”

“I know what you mean,” I said. “Remember the time I found that huge box of Legos? I still see that house as a great place for yard sales.”

“We had those Legos for years,” she recalled.

We found our bargains, spent more than we anticipated, and celebrated a summer Christmas.

“What did you find? What did you get for me?” The children’s words tumbled out as we placed comic books, doll house and birdfeeder kit in front of them. The girls quickly sorted through the clothes and found their favorites. The summer sandals with velcro fit and the summer visit to the old home place in the suburbs closed with memories recalled, replayed and remade for yet another generation.

(Joan Hershberger is a staff writer at the News-Times and author of “Twenty Gallons of Milk and Other Columns from the El Dorado News-Times.” Email her at jhershberger@eldoradonews.com)

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