“Grandchildren are the crown of old men….” (Proverbs 17:6 KJV)
A friend asked that I write a blog about grandchildren.
As one who needs no prompting to talk about these eight wonderful humans who have so enriched my life, that’s all it took.
So, let’s see how this goes.
Margaret and I have two sons, Joe Neil, Jr., called “Neil” and John Marshall, called “Marty.” When they were11 and 8, we adopted Carla Jinoke from Korea. She was 5. Her Korean name was Kim Jin Ok. We named her “Carla” for my father Carl, and kept the “Jinoke” (pronounced “jin-OH-kee”) because that first day, she pronounced her name for us in that way.
All three are children of the 1960s.
Back then, when someone asked if we had children, I would answer, “We have three–two domestic and one imported.”
In May of 1974 when we received our daughter at the Kansas City airport, I stood at the window that Tuesday afternoon watching the United plane pull up to the gate with a surprising thought filling my mind: “There is a child on this plane who will someday give me grandchildren.” I was 34 years old and Margaret was 32. Grandchildren were the farthest thing from our minds. At that moment, I teared up at that wonderful thought.
Before they were born, they were in my heart.
She gave us grandchildren all right, three girls. Leah Carla Peters is her first-born and our oldest, at 23. Her sister Jessica Mae is 21, and their baby sis JoAnne Lauren has just turned 15. A few weeks ago, their little family moved from New Hampshire to Springfield, Missouri. I’m glad, because I can drive it in a day. And so can they, incidentally! Leah has already done so more than once.
Neil married Julie Gatwood and they are parents of Grant Waller, 18, and twins Abigail Rebecca and Erin Elizabeth, who just turned 16. They live nearby in Metairie, LA. We have been a part of each other’s lives almost every day they have been on earth. It may have saved our sanity.
Marty married Misha Bynum and they are parents of Darilyn Samantha, 15, and John Marshall, Jr., called Jack, almost 11. They’re right where we left them, in Charlotte, NC, when we moved away to New Orleans in 1990.
If I could, I’d have them all living in my house. Margaret loves them, but is not quite so sure about that.
Six girls and two boys. A great return on raising three young ‘uns, I’d say.
(I like the idea that grandchildren are your reward for not killing your children when they were teenagers. That would be funnier if some parents didn’t actually do that. This is one crazy world.)
You noticed, perhaps, that I did not mention the father of Carla’s girls. They divorced some years back and he’s now incarcerated. We pray for him. We’ve found that most families have their sadnesses, and this is one of ours.
The thing about grandchildren is that you have nothing to do with anything. Your child phones to say they’re expecting and you stand around helplessly at the hospital waiting until they are born and then you learn what you have.
The only productive thing you did was to buy a silly ball cap that says “Proud grandfather.”
That day you found out what you have; in time you find out who they are.
Discovering that is more fun than anything.
When Leah was born–the first grandchild always carves a spot in your heart all her own–we lived in Charlotte, North Carolina, and her mama and dad were living in the middle of the state. I had a speaking engagement that night and couldn’t leave until the next morning, so Margaret drove two hours to be with them. That evening, I traveled up the interstate to Salisbury, addressed some church group or other, and returned home. Around 2:30 am, the phone by the bed rang. It was Carla. “Dad, I had a little girl.”
I said, “When?” She said, “About thirty minutes ago.”
I was stunned. This little daughter of ours–she’s 4 ft 11 inches and weighs 90 pounds–had not only given birth that night, but here she was calling her dad with the news.
Leah is a prize, a treasure in my heart. She’s strong and capable, intelligent and highly motivated. She loves the Lord and adores her grandparents. She is a wonderful big sister for Jessica and JoAnne.
My biggest sadness about them is that a few years after we moved from North Carolina to pastor in suburban New Orleans, their daddy abruptly moved them to New England. So, we did not get to watch the girls grow up the way we did Neil’s three who live one mile from us.
Grant was our first grandson. There may have been a sweeter child born on this planet, but we have yet to meet him. Margaret kept him for the first two-and-a-half years while Julie worked for a federal judge downtown (Neil was teaching school). She was so enchanted by this amazing child, she would said, “I was born to be his grandmother.”
A little over two years later, Grant’s sisters Abby and Erin arrived.
I’ll never forget the evening in the Spring of 1996 when Neil phoned with the results of the sonogram. “Are you sitting down, dad?” I said, “No. Why?” “Well, sit down.” I was so clueless, I said, “Why do I want to sit down?” He said, “We’re having twins.”
Wowee kazowee. That was a new thought. A cousin in our family has twins, but no one in our immediate circle.
The first thing out of my mouth was, “The great thing about twins is the parents and grandparents have a secret. They know which is which.”
Last week at Thanksgiving dinner, the other grandpa–Ray Gatwood of Slidell–admitted he still has trouble telling them apart. Their being so identical just adds to the fun. They are such a joy.
I wish–oh man, how I wish–that I could have done with all eight of the grands what we did with Neil’s three. When Grant was a baby, Neil erected a swing in the front yard as grandpa’s place with him. For the next several years, almost daily, I drove over–I told you it’s only a mile–for my daily “grandchild fix.” At first, it was only Grant, then later, the girls. They would burst out of the house, sometimes arguing over who would go first.
Often, I’d not even go into the house to see Neil or Julie. They knew I loved them, but this was about grandchildren and their grandpa.
I would push the child in the swing, we’d laugh and tell stories and make up songs and be silly. They wanted to know everything about my childhood, life in “the old days.” And, since it was a one-person swing, as the next child took her seat, we would go over the same songs and stories. Then we would do it all over again for the third child.
It never got boring or tiresome. I was old enough to know these moments were fleeting and unless seized, would never present themselves again.
I’m nearly 73 now, and those three are closer to adulthood than childhood. I would give a thousand dollars for one more hour with them in the swing.
This was the high point of my day. (During part of those years, my pastorate was stressing me out. These late afternoon respites may have saved my life.)
When Grant was little, he liked me to make up stories on the spot. Somehow we fell into a pattern. The stories all involved the same two little boys–always about his age–who lived in the tree above his swing. One day he asked, “Grandpa, what are their names?” I said, “Whatever you want them to be.” He thought a minute, then said, “Joe and Jason.” (He has a cousin named Jason.)
Thereafter, the opening of the story was the same every time. To this day, he can recite it for you. Once upon a time there were two boys who lived in the tree above Grant’s swing. Their names were Joe and Jason. Their job was to keep North Howard Street safe, stop people from driving too fast, and watch out for old people, little people, mamas and daddys, and the pets. (We did stories about every facet of that introduction.)
I worked his street address into the stories and songs just in case he ever got lost–he never did–and someone asked where he lived. One of our rhymes went: “605 North Howard Street–that’s where mommy and daddy meet. 605 North Howard Street–that’s where Grant goes to sleep.”
Some of the stories had Joe and Jason calling 911. In the story, one of the boys would run to the phone, dial the number, and the operator would say, “911. Where’s the emergency?” and he would tell her. Without his realizing what was happening, I was teaching Grant–and later the girls–how the emergency calling system worked. Just in case.
Marty’s daughter Darilyn and son Jack are very bright and gifted, and out of the eight grands, the only two with grandpa’s blue eyes. The fact that they live in Charlotte, some 750 miles away, limits our visits, and no one grieves over that more than I do. They are pure sweetness and the joy of my heart.
When Darilyn began taking piano lessons, soon she was amazing everyone with her talent. When she began taking art, she was soon in the gifted class. At 15 now, she shows great aptitude and could well become a professional artist of some kind (but has dropped piano to concentrate on her drawing). When friends ask if any of our children inherited my art ability (such as it is), I tell them about Darilyn.
Over the years, during our trips to Charlotte, I always feared Darilyn and Jack might be shy and withdrawn at the start of the visit since we see each other so infrequently. Well, not to worry. They would charge out of the house, wrap Grandma and me in bear hugs and make us feel we’re the most important people in the world to them. When Darilyn was 8 and made her profession of faith in Christ, their pastor invited me to baptize her.
Each of the eight children is a prize, a real treasure. I am so honored to be their grandfather.
This fall, we all prayed Jessica through a crisis when she was hit by a car while riding her bike in New Hampshire. (When her mom and sisters moved to Missouri, she had stayed behind, living with friends.) After a month in the hospital and another month staying with an uncle while recovering, she and Leah flew down to see us. Jessica looked beautiful, and we are so grateful for the prayers. Then, the day before JoAnne turned 15, they arrived home in Springfield and surprised her. That was one happy family.
When friends say they are about to become grandparents for the first time, I tell them what they have in store: “You are about to be more in love than you have ever been in your life.”
You think you love your child. But when she comes home with her child–when he comes in with his–something inside you explodes and you are overcome by the most powerful force in the world, love for a child. The child of your child. There’s no one else like this one in all the world.
My children love me; my grandchildren think I hung the moon.
Don’t tell them different.
These youngsters gave me stories–I’m the preacher, remember–which have dressed up sermons and connected me with audiences for all these many years.
From 1990 into the early 2000s, I kept a daily journal. Every night–I mean, every night!–I would write for a half hour or so, recounting what had gone on that day, recording notes for sermons, etc. Eventually, the journals filled 46 hardbound books. They fill a complete shelf in the bookcase. Since most of our grands were born during that decade, we have here the record of their births, at least as seen through Grandpa’s eyes. How good is that?
We also have story after story of what these children said or did that charmed us.
Watch this now.
I’m going now to pull one of the books at random and write a typical account….
From Thursday, April 6, 2000–
“Grant (he was almost 6 years old) and I bought day-old bread and went to LaFreniere Park to feed the ducks. He ran and ran and shooshed the gulls into the air. (There are a hundred seagulls for every duck in our parks. Ha.)
We played hide ‘n seek at the gazebo. We played at the playground. Lots of small kids there and boys his age. All were nice and all wanted me to do what Grant had me doing–(chase them).”Try to get me.” I played until tired. On the way home (to his house), he was hungry. At the bread store, I had bought a honey bun for him. When I told him it was almost time for supper and we would not be going to McDonald’s, the tears flowed. I was stern and told him to cut it out. Earlier in the car, he had wanted to hear “What a Lovely Name” (a Gaither gospel song by Vestal Goodman). I dug it out and cued it up. (It) was like an old friend to him. (A couple of years earlier, he fell in love with that song and would have me play it in the car over and over again.) When we got home, the family had not arrived yet, so I pushed him in the swing…. (Later) After I walked on the levee this evening, Margaret said Grant had called. Julie said he was in tears. “I want to talk to my grandpa.” I called him. He just needed to touch me and be touched (emotionally). So I reminisced about our day and what a good time we had. And what a good job he’d done knowing the words I had spelled for him as we rode in the car. T-r-u-c-k. S-t-r-e-e-t. The word “window” had stumped him. This is a precious child whom I love with all my heart. Just as I do Abby and Erin and Darilyn and Leah and Jess and JoAnne. (Jack was born in 2002.) It is a great pain that I cannot be involved in the other four’s lives as I am in the three here.”
That was lengthy, but I couldn’t find a stopping place.
And, as you can see, I can’t find a stopping place for this article. But, I’ll stop with this, my favorite story from all my grandchildren.
Abby was 8 years old.
Julie had been teaching the twins about childbirth. I was pushing Abby in the swing and we were laughing and doing our usual stuff. Suddenly, from nowhere, she said, “Grandpa, I’m not going to have any children. It hurts too bad.”
My first thought was to say that if her mom had felt that way, she wouldn’t be here. And if our great-grandmothers had felt that way, none of us would be here.
What I said was, “Yes, it does hurt. But the pain goes away and you’re left with this beautiful child, and you decide that it was worth it.”
She was quiet a moment, then looked me in the eye and said, “You’re a man. What do you know?”
I fell on the grass, I was laughing so hard. What a great question. What do I know, indeed?
I know I do love these children. Do I ever!
When this life is over, I will look back and see them and know that it was all so worthwhile. They are my heritage, my pride, my joy. The best thing to happen to me in this brief sojourn. God’s finest gift.
I do funerals sometime where the eulogies are delivered by the grandchildren. That always feels so right.
Let it be known that when I depart for glory, it is my wish that these eight wonderful young people line the front of the sanctuary and pass the microphone around and speak their piece about this old white-haired man who so adored them. And if any are shy and hesitate to say, they are automatically disinherited.
They know I’m teasing.
When she was 6 and we were doing our usual thing at the swing, Abby said, “We’re being silly, aren’t we, grandpa?”
I said, “Yes, we are. Why do we like to be so silly?”
She said, “It’s a family tradition.”
So it is.