Playing ping-pong between grandpas


Patches of glistening white appear over the unfolding scene as I look out over the pastures this morning. It is well past time to put away the simple clothing of summer and early fall and reach for the gloves and hats and down-filled coats.

Secret messenger

Something about this quiet morning nudged a memory. It was often this time of year I would find myself, like a dueling banjo, sent from one grandfather to another with a message.

“You be sure you tell your Grandpa Charlie not to take any wooden nickels!” my maternal grandfather would say with a big smile.

I would hold that message like it was top secret code for something, a nod toward all of the mysterious unknown in the adult world.

Often, while my older sisters were in school, I would get the joy of going on a fall car ride, my mother driving, my dad’s grandpa Charlie taking in the lovely scenery of autumn all around us. I would wait until it felt like the right time and I would reveal the message.

“Grandpa Tucker told me to tell you something,” I would say to get his full attention.

I would lean in close to reveal the secret missive.

“He said be sure you don’t take any wooden nickels.”

Grandpa Charlie would throw back his lovely white-haired head in laughter and it struck me with surprise that this cryptic message warranted that particular reaction.

Adults most definitely lived in a very different world. Maybe some day I would understand, but the whole exchange left me mystified.

Green grass of home

On one particular autumn ride, my mother drove through the picturesque land that was once Grandpa Charlie’s homeland, after moving with his widowed mother to Ohio from Pennsylvania.

“Oh, yes, this is home,” he said while taking in the lovely rolling hillsides.

He was only 12 when he buried his father in Pittsburgh and was put on a westbound train that same day. He was told to prepare a place at his Uncle Gust’s farm for his mother and four brothers, the youngest just 10 months old.

Grandpa Charlie pointed out landmarks, including his childhood “holy roller church” where he had once loved to sing loud enough to shake the rafters.

He asked if we could stop by a tiny country crossroad cemetery. His reverence for his only sister, Addie Caroline, was apparent as he fussed over her monument.

I learned later that he and my father returned with proper materials to secure the leaning stone.

The young girl and her father, both buried in Pittsburgh, were exhumed and moved to the Ohio cemetery in the months following the move.

While on our ride that day, we stopped by a dime store, because Grandpa Charlie emphatically said he had some money burning a hole in his pocket, a statement that startled me. He purchased a coin bank for me, a black dog, and gave me a few coins to drop in, something he called “seed money.”

A nickel’s worth

He bought himself a bag of his favorite candy, those big orange circus peanuts, all spun sugar and orange air. At the end of our ride, he grinned as he handed that bag of candy to me.

“This is for you to share with your Grandpa Tucker. Tell him he’s supposed to take out just a nickel’s worth, and leave the rest for you.”

Somehow, a nickel’s worth of candy seemed more tangible than those wooden nickels that were to be avoided at all cost.

My dad often asked for a nickel’s worth of ice cream, or just a nickel’s worth of hot coffee in his empty cup. Maybe, by handing that bag of candy to my grandpa with these instructions, I was about to learn what a nickel’s worth really amounted to.

When I offered the candy to my mom’s father, he grinned sweetly while shaking his head.

“Nah, I don’t need circus peanuts. Take those back and tell Charlie I wouldn’t even give a wooden nickel for peanuts that are orange!”

Dang. It seemed I was doomed to the confusing lot of a carrier pigeon, doing my job but without a lick of understanding.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.



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