My Aunt Lily — my father’s sister — was a formidable woman. Sturdy and big-boned, like most of my father’s side of the family, she had a crown of thick, snow-white hair — and a discernable mustache. Her loud, brusque manner masked a kind and generous heart. During my mother’s hospital stay, and at-home bed rest following the birth of one of my younger brothers, she moved right into our house and ran the operation with no-nonsense efficiency. And though she fed and otherwise cared for us, she always intimidated my brothers and me.
Our parents were always urging us to “Go give your Aunt Lily a big hug.” We did so with reluctance and hesitation — probably not very subtly — as she wrapped her muscular arms around us and pulled us into her ample bosom. She smelled vaguely of one of the Rawleigh products that she sold as a sideline.
I don’t think this reaction is unusual for many children. Looking up from near-floor level on a towering, unfamiliar figure, perhaps with odd clothes, smells, manners, etc., can be a daunting experience for a small child. It can be made even scarier by mom or dad’s strong insistence that grandpa, grandma, Uncle Billy or an old and treasured family friend be allowed to embrace and kiss you.
And it is understandable from the older person’s standpoint. Surely there are not many things sweeter in the world than a child’s tiny hug or peck on the cheek. Did Aunt Lily also yearn for these expressions from us, and sense our reluctance? Was this painful to her? It would sadden me even after all these years if I knew this was so.
And yet — I’ve concluded that it’s best not to push things very hard and to let children come around on their own. In time, they will reward a sincere and kindly heart.
I passed a young mother in the supermarket aisle one day while grocery shopping. As our carts passed, a toddler in her buggy looked at me, and our eyes met. The child hollered “Paw-Paw! The mother — obviously embarrassed — spoke crossly to the little boy, “That’s not your Paw-Paw!” I felt I had to ease her discomfort a bit, so I smiled at her and said, “They know a grandpa when they see one!”
Indeed they do. I’d be willing to bet that little boy has a somewhat scrawny, mustached, ball-cap wearing grandpa — not unlike me — and they are buddies.
A few years ago, I was trying, with not much success, to convince my youngest granddaughter that I would love to exchange an occasional little hug and to plant a kiss on her cheek. She continuously shied away, so I didn’t push things very hard.
One afternoon as I sat reading in my easy chair, the front of the newspaper was suddenly pulled down and I was looking straight into the solemn face of a four year old. With no preliminaries, she announced, “I like you,” then turned on her heel and walked away. Just like that. I was dumbfounded. What in the world…?
Later, as my son and his family prepared to leave, we were all out in the driveway saying our goodbyes with kisses, hugs and promises to get together again soon. I looked at my granddaughter, unsure how to play this one out, but she solved the problem for me. She walked up to me, put a finger to her cheek and said, “Grandpa, you forgot to plant one there!” I knelt down and happily complied.
In her own good time.
“In Their Own Good Time” first appeared in Chuck Thurston’s first collection of his columns, Senior Scribbles Unearthed, 2012. The illustration is by Curt Thurston.