The other day my daughter brought her grandson (and my great grandson) Tyler over to the house to “interview” me – as the oldest living person in the family. This was not a totally unexpected happening because as each of my many grandkids came to third grade, he or she was always brought to me to answer questions like what I studied in school, what kinds of games we played on the playground, what kind of clothes we wore, and how we learned without having a computer! Along with this was a chart of some sort they needed to make that showed four generations of their ancestors, which of course was right up my alley.I am usually not surprised at the things that they ask. His first question was “What is your name?” At that very moment Erin and I realized that little Tyler didn’t know my name. He knew me as “Noni”, which is what our family uses to refer to great-grandmothers. Erin, of course, is his Grandma, and I am his “Noni.”
I’m sure that if Tyler lived next door to us and interacted with us on a daily basis that somewhere along the line he would have understood I was called “Bobby” by friends and non-relatives and my real name was Barbara. But Tyler has only known Jerry and me as “Noni” and “Gompers.” My given names have just never come up.Erin has two much older grandchildren, one graduating from high school this year and one graduating from middle school. I am also “Noni” to them, but I suppose by now they know Noni is not my given name. I should ask Erin to find out. I would be really surprised to learn they too don’t know that.
It is funny how we assume children in our family absorb things by osmosis.When Jerry and I married in 1975 we bought a house with a swimming pool. Our children were mostly married and starting their families, and between then and when we sold our house in 1991, our summers were full of swimmers….little ones, medium sized one, big ones. The little ones sat around the pool in shallow pans of water. The medium sized kids went in with water wings on their arms. The biggest ones were the idols that the younger ones aspired to be like – “Look ma, no water wings!” Those 16 summers were glorious, for the kids and for us. I was sure the kids would never forget those days.
And for the most part they haven’t. But they have forgotten some specifics. Some time back I asked our now 30-year-old grandson Chris what he remembered about those summers at our house. He recalled the hours in the pool without batting an eye. I then asked, ‘What do you remember about the house itself?” He thought for a few minutes and then said, “I remember that when you opened the back door to go into the bathroom, you had to be careful not to trip over the cat potty box!”He was right. But that was ALL he remembered about the house. To me it was the most wonderful house in the whole world. For him, it was just a house with a cat potty box in it. So much for how much a child absorbs!
Getting back to Tyler and his questions, he also asked me what we studied in school. I told him we studied the same kinds of things that he is studying – reading, spelling, math. In third grade they are pretty much still in basics. But later I thought that really wasn’t entirely correct. We spent lots of time studying and practicing handwriting. Probably until the time came to start cursive writing, the difference between then and now wasn’t all that much. But if what I observe on my grandkids’ papers today and what I read about the future of cursive writing is any indication, there is a vast difference in the amount of time they spend on this subject. For us back in the 1940s, it was practice, practice, practice. I hear now that good handwriting is on a par with good spelling – not all that necessary any more. Imagine!Another thing that Tyler is yet too young to experience is that beginning in seventh grade we had a lot of memorization required of us. Oh, the poetry that is stored in my brain: “In Flander’s Field,” “Abou Ben Adhem,” “Daffodils” and the like; I still to this day can recite a couple of historical documents: the Preamble to the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address. In our Sunday School classes we learned to recite the Books of the Bible, (a big help to Jerry in his crossword puzzle working), the names of the disciples, The Ten Commandments, The Beatitudes and a bizillion Psalms!
Then somewhere along the way, perhaps even in a high school English class, we had to memorize the helping verbs: is, be, been, am, are, was, were, have, has, had, do, did, does, may, can, might, must, shall, will, could, would, and should. I have the feeling that teaching today isn’t all that keen on memorization, either.In thinking back on what all I told Tyler, it is just possible that the only thing I told him that was actually correct is that my name is Barbara but my nickname is Bobby.