Besides the six blood-related grandkids, Loretta and I have four other little girls and a grown-up who call us grandma and grandpa.
In 1986, I started up an afterschool 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 extracurricular activities at school and to those on the verge of academic failure because they couldn’t afford tutors.
During the course of renovating and readying a building to house the center, the first two I met were twin boys, Jack and John Edwards. 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 the 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, Weedeaters, a tiller and a chainsaw 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. they could fix anything.
They 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. They cleaned every single spring and needle jet in its carburetor.
After two years of working with teens, 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 and Christopher’s big brothers. They fell naturally into the habit of calling me “old man” and Loretta, “mom.”
Their kids call us gramma and grampa. We feel natural in those roles.
Jack married almost straight out of high school. 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 Gingerbread or Ginger Snap. 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. We sure believe we are just that. Eleven-year-old Johnna, who I call Johnica June is stoic and studious. Eight-year-old Alyssa (Sissy Lou to me) has more energy than a football team. 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. The bond is tight. The grandkids simply keep us grounded and grinning. I truly believe they keep us younger than we’d be without them.
Reader, Mattie Jane, of Nicholls, Ga., asked me to send a very special thank you to the Harlan Daily Enterprise reader, Rose, on Wallins Creek, for becoming her best friend forever on Sept. 7, 1954.