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Sharon Randall: Questions for Nana

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Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 416, Pacific Grove, CA 93950 or on her website, www.sharonrandall.com.

What do your children and grandchildren know about your childhood and what your life was like before they were born? If you don’t tell them, who will?

Recently I had a note from my 8-year-old grandson that lit me up brighter than the candles on my last cake. I’m hoping it will inspire you to share your history with someone you love.

“Dear Nana,” Randy wrote, “I’m learning about ancestors in my second-grade class. We are curious about what life was like long ago. I have some questions for you. What did you play with? Was there electricity? Who was your teacher? Please write back! Love, Randy.”

The note also included a few questions from his teacher. Here, more or less, is my reply:

Dear Randy,

You are wise to want to learn about your ancestors. There’s so much to be learned from them! I’ll begin with your questions, then answer your teacher’s.

What did I play with? When I was your age, I spent most days (if I wasn’t in school and it wasn’t raining or freezing cold!) climbing trees in the orchard, chasing cows in the pasture or catching tadpoles in the creek. I also loved playing games with my cousins and my brothers — tag, or hide’n’seek, jumping over barbed wire fences or building forts in the woods.

Sometimes I’d sit in an apple tree throwing apples at cows and waiting for the train to come chugging by my house. The engineer watched for me. When I waved, he’d blow the train whistle just for me.

Did we have electricity? Yes. We also had a black and white TV with three channels. But we had no computers or cell phones or iPads or video games or electronic toys of any kind.

Some people didn’t have an indoor bathroom. They bathed in tin washtubs in water they heated on a stove. A few still used an “outhouse” (like a port-a-john) that sat behind their house. When they needed to use the bathroom, they’d walk down a path to a wooden shed that had a seat inside, but no toilet, just a hole that dropped down into a pit! It was disgusting and creepy, especially in the dark!

Who was my teacher? You’re in second grade, so I’ll tell you about my second-grade teacher. Mrs. Harrison was a kind and gracious lady, very patient with all of us, even with the boys who were always squirming like they had fire ants in their pants. I loved being in her class. She made me feel smart and happy and good. And she made school a fine and safe place to learn.

OK, Randy, now for the other questions: My name is Sharon, but I liked to be called “Mom” and “Nana.” I’m pretty old, but still working (as a newspaper columnist.) I still have most of my teeth. I grew up in the mountains of North and South Carolina and raised your dad and your aunt and uncle on the coast of California, a few blocks from where you live now.

The biggest difference between  now and when I grew up is that life back then seemed simpler and slower, especially for a child. We spent less time with electronics and more time watching clouds and chasing lizards and catching lightning bugs and making magic.

It was a good time to grow up. And it’s a great time for you to grow up now. You and your friends will see and learn and make more magic than my friends and I dreamed possible.

Do I have any advice for you and your classmates? I’m so glad you asked! Be as kind as you can be. Learn as much as you can learn. Have as much fun as you possibly can. Never stop asking questions. Remember that you are smart and you are good and you are loved. Be especially nice to your teacher.

Finally, spend time with the people who love you, especially your nana, who was your age once long ago and likes to think, on her best days, she still is.

Love, your Nana

Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 416, Pacific Grove, CA 93950, or on her website: www.sharonrandall.com.

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