LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Besides the six blood-related grandkids, Loretta and I have four other little girls and a grown up who call us Grandma and Grandma.
In 1986, I started an after-school and weekend recreation and counseling program in Mount Vernon. Called the Rockcastle Teen Center, it was operated by the Christian Appalachian Project (CAP) which had a relatively long history of providing summer camp opportunities and weekend excursions at no cost to a few thousand teenagers.
The belief at that time was that kids who had access to supervised recreation were more apt to stay out of trouble than those who didn’t. So the Teen Center catered to kids whose families simply could not afford the costs associated with extra-curricular activities at school and to those on the verge of academic failure because they couldn’t afford tutors.
The first two kids I met during the course of renovating and readying a building to house the center, were twin boys, Jack and John Edwards, and for a bunch of reasons, they stuck to me like ticks. They were getting ready to enter their sophomore years of high school.
First one and then the other and then both of them started coming home with me on Saturday nights. Loretta and I had just moved into an old house that came with a host of maintenance problems.
We also had lawnmowers, weed eaters, a tiller and a chain saw that needed frequent fixing. To this day I have no idea where they learned the skill but the Edwards boys knew the workings of small engines better than anyone I’ve ever met. They were both enrolled in vocational electrical and carpentry classes at school and they could fix anything.
They both loved running anything that had a motor and fixing it if was broken or not running as well as they thought it should. Nintendo had just made the scene and my kids had to have the very first one to hit the market. Neither of the Edwards boys had the slightest interest in Zelda but they might pause to play Nintendo golf or baseball if there was absolutely nothing else to do.
We heated with wood at the time but I never cut a stick. Jack and John would fight over who got to run the chainsaw. They’d take a lawnmower engine apart, put it back together, mow the lawn and try to convince you that they had the mower running better than it was before they dismantled and cleaned every single spring and needle jet in its carburetor.
After two years of working with teenagers, I moved into a management position at CAP’s central office in Lancaster. But, if anything, that only served to intensify our family relationship with the Edwards boys. They became our biological son Christopher’s big brothers. They fell naturally into the habit of calling me “Old Man” and Loretta, “ Mom.”
And so it follows that their kids naturally call us Gramma and Grampa and we feel natural in those roles.
Jack married almost straight out of high school so his first two, Chelsea and Cody, are grown and gone. We stay in touch with them on Facebook. Now in a second marriage, Jack and Nancy have 5 year old Ginger, who I call Ginger Tea or Ginger Bread or Ginger Snap, and she pretends to be terribly upset about it but she grins when she scolds me.
John and Celeste have three girls who call us grandparent names and we sure believe we are just that. Eleven year old Johnna, who I call Johnica June, is stoic and studious. Alyssa, 8, (Sissy Lou to me) has more energy than a football team and she can have an anvil in three pieces in less than a minute. The baby, 5 year old Shyanne, does not yet have a Grampa nickname because I’m having trouble coming up with something that is quite the opposite of shy.
While we don’t see Jack, Nancy and Ginger Tea nearly as much as we’d like to, we do get to spend a weekend afternoon and evening with John’s crew about once a month and the bond is tight. The grandkids simply keep us grounded and grinning, and I truly believe that they keep us younger than we’d be without them.