Saturday, May 01, 2010


When I stopped by to visit my parents today, I mentioned that Tom and I were going to Minneapolis on Monday to help chaperone a field trip at the school where my daughter is an elementary school social worker. Each spring, she helps plan an outing for all the third graders to a nearby environmental camp for a day of learning and fun.

Me: Last year when I helped chaperone Shannon’s camp, I was really proud of her. She was so organized and efficient. And the kids just loved her.

Grandpa: We couldn’t say we were proud of you kids. We would have been criticized.

Me: Why would you have been criticized?

Grandma: People just didn’t brag about their kids back then. It wasn’t right.

Grandpa: We knew you were all above average, but we had to say that you had trouble with this or that in school. It was expected.

Me: That doesn’t seem fair. Why did you have to say we had trouble?

Grandma: You didn’t want people to be jealous—in case their kids were having trouble in school. So we just didn’t brag about our kids.

Me: Maybe there just wasn’t that much to brag about. I seem to remember that we got into trouble a lot.

Grandma: No, you all behaved very well in public. You were very good children.

Grandpa: It was the paddle, you know, the one without the ball. (He made some up and down motions with his hand.)

Me: Ping pong?

Grandpa: Without the ball. And no rubber string. The paddle.

Me: Ah! The paddle! So did you learn that trick from your own parents? Did they scare you into behaving with a paddle?

Grandpa: No, my father was soft-hearted. Once my mother was mad at me for teasing the girls [his sisters]. She made Pa take me out to the woodshed. But after we got to the woodshed, Pa and I just stood there. He didn’t paddle me. He couldn’t do it. We never mentioned it to Ma.

Me: Did your pa warn you not to tell?

Grandpa: No, Pa didn’t say anything. I just knew I shouldn’t mention it to Ma.

Me: Maybe your dad could afford to be tender-hearted because your Grandpa Martin and Uncle Carl [my dad’s grandfather and bachelor uncle who lived with the family] were so tough on you kids.

Grandpa: Sometimes when Grandpa and Uncle would get after us children, Ma’s face would be bright red, she’d be so mad at them. But she never said a word. I think that’s why Pa joked and laughed with us so much—to make up for Grandpa and Uncle.

Grandma: Your father was cheerful. My father was stern.

Me: Did he ever take you kids out to the woodshed?

Grandma: He didn’t have to. He just looked at us and we knew we’d better behave. If he was reading the newspaper and we were acting up, he just laid that newspaper down and gave us that look. [She shivered.] That was all it took. We behaved.

Me: What about your mother? Was she tough on you?

Grandma: She just nagged. We behaved so she wouldn’t nag.

Grandpa: [thinking] Ma had a buggy whip laying on the top of the window frame in the pantry.

Me: Did she use it?

Grandpa (looking thoughtful): I don’t remember that she ever used it. But we knew it was there. When you have six kids, you have to have some way of keeping them in line.

Me: I suppose if parents used ping pong paddles and buggy whips today, they would be in big trouble.

Grandpa: I suppose they would. It must be harder to make kids behave nowadays. Sometimes talking doesn’t get through to them.

Grandma: My father was always in charge, even when my brothers were grown up. When my father got older, my brothers did all the planning and field work on the farm, but Pa kept the checkbook and his billfold locked up in his safe.

Me: I suppose that was the way he could stay in control.

Grandma: He was in charge, all right.

Grandpa: We didn’t go to Europe. Instead, we took you kids with us to a restaurant once in awhile. You always behaved at the restaurant. Some people go to Europe. We took you to a restaurant instead.

Me: [slightly confused, trying to make whatever mental leap my father had just made] Um--that was good of you to spend your money on buying hamburgers and milk shakes for us instead of going to Europe. And I’m glad we behaved at the restaurant. We were probably just scared of the ping pong paddle at home.

Grandpa: No, you were good kids. We just couldn’t brag.

Grandma: No, we would have been criticized.

Full circle. We had come full circle. Time to go home.
My parents in 1941--before they started having children. Not a ping pong paddle in sight.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In 1941,they were probably actually playing ping pong with the paddle instead of using it as a child-rearing device. Cute couple!