Pearl Cleage

Pearl Makes A List: 5 Things You Liked a Lot When You Were Their Age: No Lessons Allowed

This past Friday, my grandson, a newly minted high school graduate and recently licensed driver, pulled up in front of my house and climbed out for a visit. We wore our masks to greet each other, but then established a six-foot social distancing barrier and removed them for some safe catch-up. He’s starting college this fall, either virtual or human, and he indulged my gushing about how proud I am of him and smiled through a few anecdotes about when he started pre-school in New Orleans at St. James Major and was still fond of strawberry milk. And then we said our safe good-byes, he replaced his mask, waved, and drove away.

I watched him turn onto Cascade Road, went inside, poured myself a glass of wine and sat down on my side porch to give thanks for my grandchildren. I’ve got five. I try not to write about them too much because it’s not their fault their granny is a writer. They’re entitled to some privacy. So, all I will say is that they are one amazing, smart, funny, loving bunch and one of the hardest things about the ongoing need for quarantine is not being able to spend time with them the way I could before the virus. I miss the conversation and the connection that comes with it, so I’m always looking for ways to stay connected to them, which brings us to this week’s list:

5 Things You Liked a Lot When You Were Their Age: No Lessons Allowed

This isn’t about imparting wisdom as much as it’s about discovery just for the fun of it. To even the playing field, grandparents should respond as they would have at the age of the grandchild, not as their current chronological age. In the case of multiple grands, find an age in the middle that appeals to you. I decided I’d pick 10 as my sharing age. I’ve got grands on both sides of that number. So you and your grandchild both answer the same five questions and share your answers. 

  1. What’s your favorite inside game? At age 10, my favorite game was Monopoly. I loved it and always wanted to be the banker. My sister and I would play marathon games with our cousins, our friends, or just the two of us. I still love the little silver pieces from which each player gets to pick a token. I’m always partial to the little dog, followed by the thimble since there are a lot of seamstresses in my family tree. One of my cousins who shall remain nameless, was known to cheat. He was never excluded but we always kept an eye on him.
  2. What’s your favorite song? My favorite song at 10 was probably “Sweet Little Sixteen,” by Chuck Berry. The song tells the story of a young woman who “all the cats want to dance with.” Berry describes her fashion choices for an evening out: “Tight dress and lipstick/she’s sportin’ high heeled shoes.” Such attire struck me as impossibly glamourous and a little daring. I couldn’t wait to be sixteen.
  3. What’s your favorite book? I loved to read and often shared books with my sister, who at two years older, usually found the best stuff first. She gave me The Borrowers by Mary Norton, a fantasy novel about a community of tiny people who live unseen in the home of a British family and borrow what they need to set up their living quarters. I loved it, and the sequel The Borrowers Afield. I spent years hoping I’d find evidence of such tiny inhabitants living at our house, but I never did. Truth is, I don’t think my mother would have been nearly as enthusiastic about the idea as I was. 
  4. What is your favorite food? I always loved my mother’s traditional soul food Thanksgiving meal, with turkey and her delicious corn bread dressing, mac and cheese, of course, and all the fixings. But my favorite meal at 10 was the fried shrimp my dad would buy on Friday nights up on 12th Street at Jag’s Shrimp Pad, a tiny take out place with the best fried shrimp in Detroit, where we know from fried shrimp. When it was accidentally burned to the ground in one of the several riots I lived through, that ended our Friday night treat. Like we used to say, we’d had the best so later for the rest.
  5. What is your favorite trip? My family did not travel much outside of Detroit. Actually, we didn’t travel much outside of the West Side of Detroit, except for weekly trips to Nanny and Poppy’s house or an outing to Belle Isle park with a bag of White Tower hamburgers and the promise of my mom’s undivided attention. But those are too close to qualify. So, my favorite trip would have to be the one we’d make every summer to Idlewild, Michigan, a thriving African American resort town where my grandfather and my uncle had cottages where we would all stay together. It was beautiful, safe and full of kids our age. The trip itself was only 4 hours, but around halfway, we always stopped at a roadside picnic table for lunch. My mother would bring sandwiches and boiled eggs and pineapple punch. If Poppy was with us, he’d let us have a sip of some very sweet coffee from his thermos cup. The last two hours took us through small towns and open fields and sometimes we would all sing together. We’d go through Baldwin, turn left and take the road into Idlewild. When we turned up into my grandfather’s sandy backyard, we could see the lake, blue as we remembered it and the first of the cousins already headed in our direction.


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