Making memories with Grandchildren – Part 2 – Master the Geography of the World Before You are 13

BLOG #42, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
MAKING MEMORIES WITH GRANDCHILDREN
PART TWO
MASTER THE GEOGRAPHY OF THE WORLD
BEFORE YOU ARE THIRTEEN

October 15, 2014

The years flowed swiftly by, as years have a way of doing. I married Connie, the golden-haired love of my life; over time, we were blessed with two children: Greg and Michelle. Michelle grew up and married Duane Culmore. Two sons were born to them: Taylor and Seth (three years apart).

In today’s society, all too few intergenerational families live close to each other. Sadly, the same is true with us: our grandchildren are half a continent away from us. So we see them all too seldom. But there are no easy answers for what to do about it. In our case, Connie’s folks moved half way across the country to live near us, in Texas. Some years later, we moved away and left them there. One has to go where the jobs are.

So how could we spend quality time alone with our grandsons? Some years ago an idea came to me, born of Grandpa Leininger’s love of National Geographic maps and from my own fascination with geography and travel. We shared it with Michelle and Duane first, then with Taylor and Seth while they were still young.

Here is how we phrased it: “If you master the geography of the world before your thirteenth birthday, Poppy and Grammy will take you anywhere in the world you’d like to go.”

Well, the years rolled along and Taylor reached eleven. No apparent interest in the challenge. We began to breathe easier: there would not be big-time draining of our bank account after all. About a year later, just before Taylor’s twelfth birthday, our daughter Michelle phoned us with the news that Taylor was seriously interested in holding us to our promise. “So, Dad, how will it work? What are the requirements? We’ve only twelve months left, and Taylor will have to fit it in against school, sports, music, etc.”

I told her he’d have to know all the countries of the world, capital cities, major cities, mountain ranges, major rivers and lakes, deserts, and islands; also oceans, seas, bays, gulfs—and any unusual geographic features. She would have to be the hands-on instructor and pre-tester; only when he was ready with a country or region would Taylor phone me and the three of us would test him on it together.

And so it began. At first we waited until he’d mastered entire regions; but that proved too difficult to retain in his head, so gradually we reduced the testing areas to a more humane level. Because of his many other involvements, and Michelle’s and mine, it proved to be a long, slow process. Michelle became the taskmaster on that end. The U.S. and Canada (states and provinces too) proved relatively easy since Taylor already knew a lot about them. But after that, it got harder. Harder yet when we tackled European, Asian, and African areas of the world.

Once in a while Taylor would pleasantly surprise me: learning more about a country or region than I required of him. Michelle and Duane reported in to us that Taylor had already experienced a serendipity: when his history teacher referred to a certain Latin American country, Taylor was the only one who knew where it was. More and more, during class discussions, Taylor’s would be the lone-hand raised.

Another problem now surfaced: If Taylor didn’t master the geography of the entire world before his thirteenth birthday, he’d forfeit the promised reward. However, in order to get good booking rates, we couldn’t afford to wait. Yet another problem came in tandem: If he didn’t yet know the world, how could he then choose where he most wanted to go? We finally concluded that we’d need to rephrase the original question so it now read: “Where are three places in the world you’d like to see?” and we would select one of them and book it. Which resulted in yet another problem: Because of Taylor’s busy summer sports program, the available time-frame before school re-started provided us with only a small window of time.

One of his possible choices had to do with the South Pacific, but the time frame and distance to get there and back precluded our booking a destination there. Another two choices: central Italy and Venice worked better. So we booked a 12-day Mediterranean cruise that would feature both locales. But we didn’t tell Taylor because until and if he completed the challenge, we could still cancel the booking. To take him on the cruise without his completing the task would be a travesty and set a terrible life-precedent for him.

Meanwhile the remaining time interval was shrinking alarmingly and his progress towards his goal proved erratic. Our daughter knew she could push him only so far and so fast.

And something totally unexpected had come up: our son Greg had decided he wanted to go along! Many years earlier, when he was about Taylor’s age, I had mandated that he master the world’s geography, promising only to give him a nice reward when he finished. Well, he did complete it, and his munificent reward was only a train trip from Fort Worth to Cleburne, Texas—all of forty miles! Unbeknownst to us, Greg had been sulking about this ever since—and to add insult to injury, here we were promising a European cruise to his nephew for the same task! So, we now added Greg to our already full room in our cruise booking. But we didn’t tell Taylor for Greg wanted it to be a surprise. Naturally, we had to keep Michelle and Duane up to date—and that was tough given all the secrets involved.

The last month came, then three weeks, two weeks, and then there was only one week left—and still Taylor was not done. Needless to say, there was a lot of tension for all of us. Finally, only hours away from his birthday—Taylor tested out on the last piece in the jigsaw-puzzle of the world.

At last, we could send him a journal for him to write in during the cruise which we could now detail for him.

* * * * *

Next week: Taylor’s reward.

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Making Memories with Grandchildren – Part 1 – A Grandfather Who Never Got Old

BLOG #41, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
MAKING MEMORIES WITH GRANDCHILDREN
PART ONE
A GRANDFATHER WHO NEVER GOT OLD

October 8, 2014

Many years ago, I was privileged to spend my eighth-grade year with my maternal grandparents in Arcata, California. That one year proved to be pivotal in my own life journey. Pivotal because my grandfather, Herbert Norton Leininger, was a Renaissance man whose passion was truly global: encompassing everything that was going on in the world. Tacked to the walls of the entire second-floor living areas were National Geographic maps, so that Grandpa could keep track of everything that was happening in the world, and the people who made them happen.

Never can I forget Leininger Christmases, when all six daughters and their husbands and families, one by one, arrived and gradually overflowed the big rambling three-story home. Once assigned quarters, everyone gravitated to the second floor where the action was. We kids were tremendously impressed by how little time it took for Grandpa to subjugate these authority figures, our fathers. Grandpa gave hem no time in which to claim any turf for themselves, but instantaneously dominated his second-story stage, vigorously showing his cowed sons-in-law where world events were taking place, lashing out at world leaders who failed to live up to Grandpa’s high and rigid expectations, and occasionally praising the few who passed muster. All the while like a stage actor, he’d vigorously stride back and forth from map to map.

Periodically, Grandpa, with an impish look in his eyes, would glance around to see if those guardians of our morals—his daughters—were listening, then launch into the opening lines of what many in that semi-Victorian Age considered rather “naughty”: Rudyard Kipling’s “And I Learned About Women from Her.” At least that’s what we kids thought it was called, because of that recurring line in each stanza.. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered the poem is simply titled The Ladies.” In it, the persona, obviously—to our mothers at least—a womanizer in then British-run India and Burma. The opening lines run thus:

“I’ve taken my fun where I’ve found it;
I’ve rogued an I’ve ranged in my time;
I’ve ‘ad my pickin’ of sweethearts,
An’ four o’ the lot was prime.
One was an ‘arf-caste widow,
One was a woman at Prome,
One was the wife of a jemadan-sais [head-groom]
An’ one is a girl at ‘ome.”

In essence, in this poem, Grandpa was teaching his grandchildren about the birds and the bees—specifically this fascinating creature we call “woman.” Each stanza having to do with a specific woman the persona in the poem had learned from. But long before Grandpa reached concluding stanzas such as this:

“I’ve taken my fun where I’ve found it,
An’ now I must pay for my fun,
For the more you ‘ave known o’ the others
The less you will settle to one;
An’ the end of it’s sittin’ and thinkin’,
An’ dreamin’ Hell-fires to see;
So be warned by my lot (which I know you will not),
An’ learn about women from me!”

Yes, long before his daughters had vainly attempted to quench the orator, we kids—perhaps because our mothers were so upset with their father—were inwardly enthralled that we’d been permitted to listen to such a wicked poem. Not that we understood why it was supposedly wicked: it was enough that our mothers thought it was.

Grandma Josephine, who’d long ago learned that when the Lord of the Manor was on a roll, he never stopped for breath (for, perish the though, that momentary pause might enable one of his squirming sons-in-law to launch a contrary opinion), consequently, Grandma immediately took the stage in a much quieter manner) with her daughters, discussing family personalities, foibles, idiosyncracies, etc., and the daughters giving as much as they took, there was much laughter.

We kids sat enthralled on the floor taking in both tracks. The experience reminds me of certain contemporary TV interviewers who continually interrupt their interviewees who attempt to answer their hosts’ questions; and when these interviewees interrupt other discussion participants—all these individuals talking at once—, the hubbub is indescribable. In retrospect, I’m convinced that those holiday gatherings were one-of-a-kind. The age of large cohesive families, print-driven education, patriarchal family structure, and children-are-to-be-seen-and-not-heard [we were the last such generation], is no more—and will never come again.

Then, one by one, each car-load would disappear to much hugging, kissing, and waving, each one leaving the house lonelier. And, before long, it would be just us left. Early next morning, religiously at six o’clock, I’d hear the sonorous radio voice of Gabriel Heater (with a fair amount of static) downstairs, and know that Grandpa was once again setting his inner sails for the day.

Only in retrospect do I realize the impact of that one year with my maternal grandparents. How Grandpa’s persona seeped into my own goals and philosophy of life. Nor can I forget Grandpa’s late-life soaring. When he reached the age of 75, he announced that for 50 years he’d pleased the world and his wife—now he was going to please himself. He purchased a snazzy Lincoln hardtop, grew a goatee, and, with the help of a fellow conspirator we knew only as Mr. Smith, he constructed the first camper I ever remember seeing: such a long body grafted on to a Studebaker truck that it was a miracle the front wheels didn’t lift off the ground! Grandpa then found enough bargain paint—the most hideously ugly shade of pea-green I’ve ever seen—to complete the job; loaded it with supplies and grub, and headed north. Only when they reached the last road separating them from the North Pole did they turn around.

When they returned, they didn’t stay long, but headed south into the jungles of Mexico.

But even that wasn’t enough: Grandpa next announced that he was going to explore all of California’s western rivers from their headwaters to the sea. Never can I forget one of those expeditions: the day I joined family members waiting for Grandpa’s outboard-driven rubber raft to round the bend; sometime later that day, here he came; veered in to shore, bequeathed his garbage to us, noblesse obligedly accepted our grocery contributions, restarted the outboard, and he was once again heading down-river. A jaunty last wave—and he disappeared from sight.

Nor can I forget the times he regaled us with Shakespeare—especially Hamlet, which he knew by heart. He was Prince Hamlet when he treaded the attic boards of his house.

His was the only funeral I can remember where all the “mourners” could do was laugh. In my eulogy, I did my best to recreate his unique persona.

* * * * *

Next week I’ll continue this series of blogs about this thing called grandparenting.