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One of Ours

By Joan Shaddox Isom

My niece told me it's a good thing I don't have grandchildren. "You would keep them overnight and feed them peanut butter and pickle sandwiches, watch scary movies with them until dawn, and then take them to Braum's for an ice cream breakfast," she said. Sounds good to me.

I don't think about grandchildren much unless I'm at a party and grandparents start passing around photos. Once, I slipped a picture of Ebony, my black Chow Chow, into the deluge of fat, naked baby pictures that were circling the room . My dog had an amazing likeness to a black bear cub when she was small, and she reads minds and knows when we are getting ready to drive somewhere, facts I find more intriguing than Heather's new tooth or Mikey's vocal prowess. But I usually restrain myself, limiting my comments to one penciled caption at the bottom of Ebony's photo: "She can already go like a bow-wow."

What sort of grandparent would I be? Would I feel compelled to follow my darling to school and lurk in the shrubbery outside his room, making sure he got his turn to clean the hamster cage? And when it came time for the PTA performances, would he get a part with at least two lines, and not be assigned the non-speaking role of a willow tree or corn shock? And if he didn't get a starring role, I like to think I'd be supportive and comforting. Imaginary conversations with my fictitious grandson run through my head. "Well," I'd console him, "you may not have any lines, but you can sway, can't you? Be the best dang willow tree that school has ever seen!"

In all fairness, I admit I might be an overprotective grandparent. If this same mythical grandson wanted to spend the night with a pal, I'd have to find a reason to drop by his friend's house prior to the visit and scrutinize the situation. Do they fail to sterilize the cutting board after preparing raw chicken? Checking the smoke alarm batteries would only take a moment, and if I wore a cap, pulled low, and white coveralls with a big official-looking emblem of some sort, I figure I could gain admittance into just about any home. My stepladder would help too.

Looking at the positive side of not having grandchildren, never will I be blamed because a granddaughter inherited the dreaded family nose. Passing on to a grandchild my total vacuum in the part of the brain that governs mathematical ability will never lie heavily on my conscience.

And never will I overhear, "What do you expect? His grandmother has a standing account at The Chocolate Box. Look at her if you wonder why he's such a chubby!"

But this grandkid business is a moot point since our one surviving child, a daughter who married at age thirty-nine, has no children. Early on, she talked to her husband and they made that decision together. She lives in a large city eighty miles away and chooses to focus on the battered women whom she counsels. As their therapist, Lyn fights fiercely for her clients. With their permission, she scours the docket of attorneys in her city who will take battered women's cases pro bono. She grieves with these women when the courts send their children back to the abusers. She rejoices with them when they save enough money to rent their own small apartment. She tells them they are beautiful, and I know they are, despite the black eyes, bruises and missing teeth that some have from relationships turned violent. Our daughter's time is devoted, not to her own children, but to her ever-expanding group of young women who are trying to make better lives for themselves and their children.

It's fun to play grandma now and then. The two boys who live in the house behind ours, just beyond a patch of woods, come by every summer. They ask if they can ride their mountain bikes inside our fence. I say yes, and watch as they launch themselves from the pile of top soil or jolt down the bumpy slope. Sometimes they fish in the pond. I sit on the deck, close my eyes and listen to their bell-like voices as they pull out tiny perch. I smile, knowing their grandparents, not I, will have to clean and cook their catch. They go home from these fishing expeditions about dark, giving me a wave as they disappear up the trail, holding aloft a couple of minnows with all the pride of Jason fetching home the golden fleece.

And I'm left in the silence of a childless domain. But somehow it seems right. There's my husband sitting in his chair reading the paper, waiting for me to come in and we'll make a simple supper and eat it on trays in the living room where we can watch the sky change colors as evening comes on.

Later, we'll call our daughter and she will fill us in on the progress of the young women we privately refer to as "Lyn's girls." Never telling us their names, for that would be a breach of confidence, she reports on their accomplishments as a mother would do. "I was able to talk a dentist into donating dentures for one woman, and she found a job the next day." Or, "Another is holding her head up more and looking people in the eye. And one even landed an acting job in some TV commercials!"

She's turned to us a few times for help. "Mom, Dad, there's this woman who has been court-ordered to attend therapy group. Problem is, she doesn't have any money for gas." We'll never have the opportunity to slip a grandkid some gas money when she's going out with her friends, but we're glad to send a few dollars to fill some of these empty tanks now and then. It's mandatory that these surrogate granddaughters remain faceless and nameless to my husband and me in order to protect their privacy.

Yet sometimes when we're watching television and see a commercial for some product or another, and a vigorous young woman is hiking up a mountain trail, looking confident enough to conquer the world or at least any grizzly bear she might encounter, l know we're both thinking the same thing: Could that be one of ours?


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