On Being a Grandparent

Lots of fun ... and Little Responsibility!

I like to take some time over the holidays to reflect on my life – and how lucky I’ve been. I take some quiet time to travel down memory lane, spending time thinking about loved ones who have passed on, including my 2 grandfathers who were very special to me.

Henry reading to  Grandkids

Grampy Homeyer died when I was in the second grade, but I remember him well. He owned a wholesale sheet music business in Boston. But what I remember best is his love of mischief and his ability to tell outlandish stories.

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Grampy would sneak us out of his house in Winthrop, Massachusetts when my sister, Ruth Anne, and I were supposed to be taking naps. Sometimes we’d take the trolley to his office in downtown Boston.

One time (or more?) he used his key to open up the elevator door when the elevator was up above us. We peered over the edge and he let me drop spent lightbulbs down the shaft, claiming they’d deliver needed salt to the old man who lived at the bottom of the shaft. And although I have no memory of it, I assume he held me firmly by my leather belt to keep me from falling down the abyss. Being scared was fun!

Or he’d buy us ice cream right before dinner, knowing full well it would ruin our appetites. And he’d regale us with wonderful stories. I inherited his ability to make up stories and his love of mischief.

My gardening grandfather, Grampy Lenat, passed away on my 21st birthday. He taught me to love the garden, how to build a good compost pile, and to love eating vegetables fresh, uncooked, and right in the garden. For him, dirt was not a bad thing to be scrubbed off. And yes, he called it dirt, not soil.

Grampy loved his soil – just as I do mine. He told my sister about transplanting flowers, “Always move a flower with plenty of dirt so it will remember where if came from.” What he was doing, in fact, was inoculating the new planting hole with the microbes that the plant needs for success.

Grampy Lenat was not an educated man – he probably only had a grade school education – but he understood plants, soils and spoke at least 5 languages that he learned in his native Germany. He was a tailor by trade, and could make a man’s 3-piece suit from measure on a treadle Singer.

Those two are a hard act to follow, but I have tried to have fun with my own grandchildren in both educational and rambunctious ways. I think the main thing about having grandchildren, and all of you grandparents know this, is to have fun and to accept your grandkids no matter what. And for me, as a gardener, I have made an effort to have fun in the garden with them.

Early on I created a unique gardening space for each of my grandchildren. A good rule of thumb for little kids is prepare a spot that is the length of the child’s body by their “wing span”. I asked them to lie in the grass and spread their arms so I could measure them for a garden “just their size”.

A younger George getting a garden just his size

George and Casey are bigger now, but each still has a garden roughly 4-feet by 3-feet at my house. And each year they get to choose what to plant. They like tomatoes, and usually plant a Sun Gold cherry tomato in one corner of the garden. Carrots and potatoes are also popular with them, and I always offer a flowering plant to brighten their spaces.

But we goof around, too. When they were little I pushed them around the property in a wheelbarrow, just as Grampy Lenat did for me. And we play in my big hammock, trying to tip each other out. They still –at ages 9 and 13- love my “nut wizard”, a tool that they roll around while it picks up fallen apples.

Nut Wizard available from Elmore Roots Nursery in Vermont

Being a grandparent is not hard. We get to have all the fun, and return the kids when they are exhausted and full of sugar!

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Henry is the author of 4 gardening books.  Visit his personal website by clicking here.  


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