I don’t remember who had the bright idea for the “Share That Wisdom While You Can” weekend. It just kind of grew out of an all night bonfire and beer drinking conversation at our last family reunion. The seed was planted when little Cody Dakota Hunter Trapper Cowboy singed off all his hair, even his eyebrows and lashes, while doing an Evel Knievel impersonation on his junior ninja dirt bike. His grandmother, “MawNana,” was awakened by all the screaming and laughing. MawNana barged her way into the circle of gawking nitwits, lit an unfiltered Camel, snorted, and said, “Put some mayonnaise on it!” No one in their right mind (which by no means excludes anyone in this bunch) would bring a jar of mayonnaise to an outdoor picnic, so Uncle Cooter, revered throughout the family for his ability to think on his feet, even when he could not stand on them, unwrapped a tuna sandwich and rubbed it all over the injured boy’s head and face. Next thing I knew, we were making plans.
The plan was to gather the fifty wisest grandmothers and their granddaughters at a retreat place out in the woods. The grand dames would hold forth in response to their granddaughters’ questions, and I would record it for posterity and a small profit...just covering expenses, you understand. Two glorious days of life lessons and words to live by. Instead of making their own mistakes, these lucky granddaughters—and our lucky readers—could simply learn from the experiences of their elders. Hell of a deal. The “Dueling Banjos” of wisdom sharing. A geezer geyser of good sense would rain down upon us, refreshing our hearts and minds; sapience and sagacity would flow like a mighty river, right down the mountain, through my pen, onto these pages, and into your soul.
Great, but how do you go about picking the fifty wisest grandmas?
Someone suggested an essay contest. We announced it in Parade magazine and AARP.
Reading essays gets real old, real quick. We all have a new respect for English teachers. There were hundreds of them.
Someone else on the selection committee said, “Hey, we’re Americans. We don’t do research! Just have them send in pictures and we’ll pick the fifty who look the wisest.” Playing devil’s advocate, I pointed out that that seemed a tad shallow. The committee member said, “Okay, I can’t define wisdom, but I know it when I see it.” Good enough. All those in favor? They ayes have it.
Long story short, we settled for twelve grandmothers and twelve granddaughters. We spent a Friday afternoon and all day Saturday at a Boy Scout camp in the Arkansas Ozarks. It was the off season and we got the place pretty cheap. In the main lodge, we put a dozen rocking chairs in a semicircle. The rest of us sat facing them on wooden benches. We’d intended to hold the Saturday session up on Council Bluff, but the wind was howling like Judgment Day. There were a few complaints from some of the granddaughters—“Guess that blows the weenie roast all to Hell!” “If I wanted to sleep on an Army cot, I’d join the &%$#@ Army!”—but most took it with good humor. I left with a better appreciation of why this was the off season. Remind me to tell you later about the dead bat we found in the meatloaf. That was hilarious. That, along with the outdoor community showers, is what took us from fifty down to twelve.
It wasn’t quite the “Dueling Banjos” of wisdom we’d envisioned. It was more like Fogy Mountain Breakdown, but we came away with some pretty good ideas. We definitely heard stuff we’d never thought about before. The cornbread recipes alone were worth the trouble. What follows is a faithful transcript of the group gathering. If you are easily inspired, then grab a mug of hot cocoa, wrap yourself in an heirloom quilt—not the one where your toes get all caught up in the strings—and take a semi-mental journey to Wiseville with us.
A granddaughter named LaMegan said, “Grandmother, speak to us of marriage.”
Apple-cheeked MeeMaw wiggled her fingers, indicating that she’d like to field this one.
“Dear, you do not have to love a man to stay married to him for fifty years.”
There was groaning and rolling of eyes from the granddaughters.
MeeMaw cleared her throat, both as an attention getter and as a phlegm remover.
“Buh...whuh! Kaa-HUM! Uh-HYEA! Hwick-Hah!” (She had our attention.) Mee-Maw continued. “Pardon me. Whew! But you must respect him, especially at those times, those many times, when he doesn’t deserve it. It’s like two trees in the forest: If they’re too close, you can’t sling a decent hammock.”
We waited for her to go on, but she never did. Most of us sat there nodding like we knew what the hell she was talking about.
Two granddaughters found themselves on their feet at the same time. Each hastily offered to sit back down. “Go ahead.” “No, it’s okay. You go.” One of them did sit down, leaving a self-conscious, nervous woman to address the sage assembly.
“Grandmother, speak to us of children and young kids.” She put a finger gun to her temple and let the hammer/thumb fall as if to say, Am I dopey, or what? She sat down quickly.
After what seemed like forever, Gramma Cracker took the pipe from between her teeth and said, “Most folks don’t know the difference.”
No one was arguing with that.
“Children,” Gramma Cracker croaked, “are God’s gift. To you. Not to me. I’ve got plenty of gifts already, thank you very much. Have all the children you want, but don’t expect me to raise the damn things!”
Hallmark lost a fine greeting card author when Gramma Cracker decided to become a sharecropper.
A thin, attractive woman dressed in a business suit, her hair pulled back into a severe bun—she looked a lot like Bebe Neuwirth —stood and said, “Grandmother, speak to us of money.”
Granny Smucker stopped rocking and held up her hand. “I got this one.” She emptied an ounce of snuff into her lower lip, peered at the woman through the spectacles perched on the end of her nose, and said, “Are you gonna marry Frazier?”
The granddaughter looked confused. “I don’t know anyone named Frazier, so probably not.”
Granny Smucker nodded; the look on her face said Okay, I’ll pretend to believe that. “A lot of people will tell you that the Bible (she crossed herself) says that money is the root of all evil, but that’s bullshit. It was Vince Lombardi said that…and he was quoting Benjamin Franklin. The simple fact is that accumulating money is mostly guesswork. But—and it’s a big but—there are ways to guess correctly.”
She gazed at the granddaughters one by one. “By way of illustration, I’m guessing that probably all of you have with you a bill with George Washington’s picture on it.” They all nodded. "Probably a few of you even possess a bill featuring the likeness of Abe Lincoln.” More nods, but a few less. “Alexander Hamilton?” Two or three nods. “I hope none of you has a bill with Vince Lombardi on it, but I’ll bet nobody has one with Ben Franklin’s picture.”
Kristal jumped up, flapping a piece of green paper. “I do! I do!”
“Well,” said Granny Smucker, “aren’t you something. Bring it here.”
Kristal proudly marched up and handed the money to Granny.
Granny raised an index finger. “Remember what I said: It’s mostly guess work, but there are ways to guess correctly.”
The granddaughters nodded.
Granny Smucker wadded up the bill and dropped it in her spit cup. She looked at Kristal and said, “I’m guessing you don’t want it back.”
She’d guessed correctly.
A grandchild named Becky stood and addressed the matriarchs: “Grandmother, speak to us about religion and politics."
“Put some mayonnaise on it!”
How did MawNana make the cut? She doesn’t look wise. She looks like Popeye on acid.
Gram Gram held up her hand, both to quell the laughter and to chime in on this one. When she had our attention, she said, “The important thing with religion is to live within your miens—that’s m-i-e-n-s. Find something to preach that you’ll be comfortable practicing. For example, if there’s anything you don’t like or aren’t any good at, find an outfit that says those things are wrong. And then don’t do them. There’s something for everyone, no matter what you like or don’t like. Then you label every other group a cult. Remember this statement; make it your motto: ‘My theologians can beat up your theologians.’ Quote Scripture, but choose wisely; only quote—or make them up if you have to—the ones that fit your team.
“Politics? Pretty much the same rules as religion. You can find candidates galore who believe—or at least say they do—the same as you, and there are ‘news’ networks and celebrities to lend them credibility. If you want to be on the winning side of any election, just vote for the candidate who has the most Elvis. Values, issues? Hogwash. Our attention spans are way too short for that nonsense. It’s a popularity contest. Think about it: Obama was elected because he has more Elvis than Newt Romney. Romney has plenty of of Pat Boone—not that there’s anything wrong with that—but it ain’t Elvis.”
If there was a flaw in her logic, no one could find it. She got a great round of applause.
Becky smiled, blushed, and said, “Thank you, Gram Gram for your wisdom.”
Were this a documentary film, our transition scene would be the fountains in front of the Bellagio Hotel & Casino, gushing in time to “Viva Las Vegas.”
Then we would…
Our Grandmothers (in order of appearance)
Our Granddaughters (in alphabetical order)
Ed (these days, it’s best not to ask)
Kristal (7 of them were named Kristal, with various spellings)
Reflections:I came away with this familiar quote—I think Vince Lombardi said it—echoing in my mind: “Wisdom is often the companion of advancing years. Sometimes old age shows up all by itself.”