Thursday, August 14, 2014


Words Count As Much As Pictures

            I didn’t expect a note like that—even from a granddaughter who’s good with words. Her handwritten card started with: “Happy Birthday,” and after a few thoughts about my apparent youthfulness, ended with, “We love you to the moon and back.”

She’s a grown woman, now, and married. But for me she sets a new standard in declarations of love.

As an author, perhaps even more as a parent, I’ve cherished my kids’ words as much as their pictures . . . possibly because I’ve carried some of their best quips in my head, ready to share at the drop of an Appropriate Moment.   

Saving Words began with my younger brother, who at age six, stood in our front hall with his trousers gone and his young legs an awful display of shredded skin and dripping fluids. “Oh, Hilary,” I cried, “What happened?”  I was sixteen.

“My legs are burned,” he said. And then he looked at me with understanding beyond his years. “I’m pretty badly hurt for a little boy, aren’t I?”

I was too shocked to answer--that he’d so perfectly grasped the situation . . . also that he’d managed to couch it in such perfect English. He survived, but I’ll never forget his words.  

Later came my own kids: Chris, barely walking, who took my hand as we went trick-or-treating. At the first house, a lady handed him a wrapped hard candy. He stood for a second staring at the yellow treat. Then he reached out, handed it back, and said, “Open.”

From babyhood, my kids knew I had a thing about choking. So when our oldest, Bobby, went with me to the park, he noticed a big, friendly dog with a tennis ball in its mouth. Leaning into the dog’s face, Bobby said earnestly, “You might choke yourself, honey.”

I wish back then somebody had given me the advice I give my kids and grandkids. When it comes to your children, don’t just take pictures. Write down what they say. You’ll soon cherish their words as much as their images.

So there’s our grandson, Dane, about four, who watched Rob’s ninety-year-old mother, Ruth, lean on her cane as she hobbled out our front door. After she was well gone, Dane leaned over an imaginary stick and slowly tottered across the family room. “I can do the old thing,” he said.

Only a year later, Ruth died. On hearing this, Dane asked innocently, “Is she dead as a doornail?”

On a daily basis, I’m reminded that my grandkids feel free to make up their own family labels. One of the boys calls me “Babe.”  Another addresses me as “Grandmama.” And then there’s the one who occasionally whispers close to my ear,  “Graham Crackers.”  

Now, with the next generation, I’ve been writing down what the young ones are saying. One day my little relative, Nora, then threeish, went to Irvine Park with her older brother, Oliver, five.  All the way out there, Oliver regaled the adults by reciting Capitols of States. Once at the park, without telling anyone, Nora rushed off to find a bathroom. The adult who caught up with her scolded her gently about dashing off without adult supervision. Nora took it only so long. Finally she broke in and turned to her brother. “Oliver, talk to her about the states.” 

As if I didn’t know it before, I realize our grandkids’ written words are just as precious as things they’ve said. And I have it here on paper, expressed better than any words of mine. For the first time, someone loves me to the moon and back.

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