A boy and his loves.

Liam was with me for a couple of days last week. He is almost six and suddenly reads with astonishing fluency. Reading is downright fun for him, I guess that’s why, and the more you do something you love, the better you get at it. I was pleased to realize that he would be just the person at just the stage to appreciate The Disappearing Alphabet by Richard Wilbur, so I searched through my bookshelves to find it. We read it together with many giggles.

The artwork, by David Diaz, is much more pleasing to me than that in The Pig in the Spigot, another of Wilbur’s books for children which I wrote about here once. Each page is devoted to a letter of the alphabet, with a short verse musing on what would happen to our beloved world if that letter were no more.

After reading the book, then eating dinner, we went on one of my creek walk loops. Immediately we began to practice our mutual love of plants and their names. My grandson is starting to understand that I don’t know every plant, and our nature study is more of a joint effort now, with him not saying, “What is this?” so much, and saying, “Grandma, look!” more.

But he brought up the subject of the alphabet also, as we walked along, saying, out of the blue, “If there were no letter N, we wouldn’t have pain! or lanes! — or extensions!”

Our walk took longer than I planned, because I had forgotten about how it’s our habit to meander and pick things, as I had started out with Liam in Flowery Town years ago.

FT P1090307

We ate quite a few new-green wild fennel fronds on this walk, and even some slightly older ones, comparing the flavor. And several times he reminded me that we must take the route home that passes by the pineapple guava hedge, because he was eager to taste the flowers I’d mentioned.

We ate flower petals, and got to bed late, and the next morning the boy picked more right next to my garden dining spot, which he added to our breakfast feast. Rarely is it truly the right weather to eat breakfast outdoors here in my city, and this may have been my first time to do it with company so agreeable.

The middle of this second day was spent at my church, where the end of the children’s week-long summer program featured a long session of water play, and Liam was delighted to get all wet and to eat a popsicle.

Even here, he drew my attention to a tree blooming right above, which I’m sure I’d never noticed before. Our rector said he planted it himself “way back.”

Australian Silver Oak or silky oak, Grevillea robusta

While children were settling down for the Bible lesson that morning, another boy showed me this fly that he was admiring on his hand. I think Liam was already waiting patiently on the other side of the circle so he didn’t see it.

Later that afternoon I had planned to have him help me clean the greenhouse, but then realized he’d like better to pick sweet peas to take home to his mother. I have only a little patch that I didn’t pull out yet. He was diligent about that task for nearly an hour, and collected a large jarful. I made headway on the greenhouse, and we took breaks to study the bumblebees that only recently decided to mob those flowers.

One day we had read Monarch and Milkweed, and the other, I showed him my milkweed plants; the Showy Milkweed is in a jungle behind the fig tree, where I hope, if Monarch caterpillars hatch out, the birds might not notice them…?

Liam helped me to see my flowers without a magnifying glass. As we were looking at some tiny succulent flowers, and I was trying to get a good picture of them, I began to notice little black dots on them. “Are those holes in the petals, can you see?” I asked him. He squatted down and looked hard, and told me that they were things on the ends of hairs coming out of the middle of the flower. Ah, stamens! When I enlarged the photo, I could see, too:

We washed rocks! Liam had been examining and organizing one of my collections of pebbles and cones and such in the house, and out here I had him put these larger stones from the Sierras and from the Sacramento River through some sudsy water and a rinse, so they could wait presentably until I find a use for them.

What other things did we both like to do while he was visiting? Eat ice cream cones, and judge matchbox car races, and read Winnie-the-Pooh. Many times during his last hours with me, lines from Pooh or The Disappearing Alphabet would come to his mind and he would say them again, looking at me with a twinkle in his eye, knowing I liked them, too. He especially liked these from the page about the letter L:

“Any self-respecting duck
would rather be extinct
than be an uck.”

I was so grateful to Liam’s parents for making this intimate visit work out. Next time I see him, he will be more grown up, and a different boy. But probably not all that different. I hope we can always find a way to share our love for words and plants and many more details and gifts of this vast world in which our loving Father has placed the two of us as grandma and grandson.

14 thoughts on “A boy and his loves.

  1. Gretchen, this is so delightful! I feel as if you allowed us a window into a very special time with your precious grandson. What fun! You two clearly have lots in common and enjoy the same things: nature in its finest detail, and literature πŸ™‚ I do think he will remember — if not every detail of every thing you did, he will remember as a pattern all the things he likes to do with you, and he will require you to do them each time he comes. You have years of delight ahead with him πŸ™‚

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  2. Grandsons are precious. My first is getting married in July. We have the same special relationship between us that you’re experiencing. It doesn’t change, just gets better. You graduate from buddy in things special and outings to lifelong friends. And they listen to you! You aren’t the parent, but uphold their standards and assist in a healthy bond by “rephrasing” things in an acceptable manner! Bless you both!

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  3. How I identify with everything you’ve written about the bond that can exist between a grandmother and grandson ( or granddaughter but in both our cases it’s grandsons). My almost 9 year old GS loves rocks and books and Superheroes. He helps me in the garden and I cherish the time we spend together. Having him daily in my life is such a blessing and I am so thankful.
    It’s so true that as adults we miss so many details that little ones notice.
    Have a blessed week.

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  4. Your time together with Liam melts my heart. You two are “birds of a feather.” What a special visit you were so blessed to have. That one-on-one time is precious. I’m going to look for The Disappearing Alphabet. Thanks for sharing about it.

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  5. Sterling! What a grand visit.

    So if you identify that tree that was pointed out to you, please let me know. We see one that may be the same, but we see it at a distance and it has been stumping us. It is part of our daily visit and yet when SB asked me to tell her what it was it brought the tree into our awareness in new way. We got our neighbor to come look and he is stumped and curious now too. But we can’t see details up close as you have photographed, just brilliant color.

    I sent this post to R. in G. because the insight into age and reading capacity may help with a story project and she is likely to enjoy all the garden beauty and primal sharing as well.

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  6. I loved reading this post. Your love for your grandchildren is beautiful…a blessing not only to each one of them but to us all!

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  7. I was completely entranced by the book — The Disappearing Alphabet. I’m going to find it, and read it. I think you might be interested in the resources listed in this post, as well: especially the book she mentions called The Lost Words. I’ve become more and more concerned about the trends I see around me, like the Oxford people taking nature-related words out of their dictionaries, in favor of things like “emoji.” Of course new words emerge, and it’s fine to include them, but there are choices being made that will make an appreciation of nature harder to communicate. What good is a dictionary that doesn’t include “acorn”?

    I would love to spend an afternoon with you. I just spent two weeks with someone who has little to no appreciation for nature, is impatient with the time needed for photography, and would prefer always to go directly from point A to point B. Suffice it to say, two weeks was long enough.

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    1. I have just ordered The Lost Words! Thank you for telling me about it… I think you may have before? My library doesn’t have it to preview, even, but it sounds like something that I need to have. πŸ˜‰

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