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Celebrating the joys of grandparenthood

In a new collection of stories, Willard Scott and his friends share the delights and surprises of this special job in life. Read an excerpt.

Willard Scott's latest book is a collection of stories that he and his famous and not-so-famous friends share about the unique and special joys of being a grandparent. It's called, "If I Knew It Was Going to Be This Much Fun, I Would Have Become a Grandparent First." Scott discusses the book on “Today.” Read an excerpt:

Why do we love our grandparents so much? Part of the reason I think has to do with the tremendous natural affection and affinity that kids have for older people, whether they are their actual grandparents or not. I know that when I was a kid in Sunday school I used to look forward to the end of church because there was a lady, Mrs. Earl Brinkle, who was probably about seventy-five years old and always wore a little nine-dollar JCPenney dress. I remember her well: I just loved and adored her because she was so full of love. You know that feeling you get when somebody older holds you in their arms-she was that way with all the kids- a true grandmother in spirit. I wish everyone could have a grandmother like her.

I had the privilege of having two sets of loving grandparents. My mother’s father was named George Phillips; my grandmother was Emma Phillips. On my father’s side, my grandmother was Nely Scott and my grandfather’s name was Thomas Preston Scott. They died in their late sixties, and they were in North Carolina so I didn’t see them as often as my Phillips grandparents. But I loved them!

My paternal grandfather, Thomas Preston Scott, who lived in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, worked in a grain and feed store. They sold everything for the farm. I remember how much fun it was to go with him to the store. He was a sweet man, a tall man, thin as a rail, who chewed tobacco. He had old, gnarly hands, and he used to hold my hand and take me to the feed store. To this day I still love to walk through a feed store or a farm cooperative — the images and smell of my grandfather’s place always come to mind. The wheat seed, oats, molasses always smelled so good you wanted to eat ‘em.

Those images, smells, and memories are an important part of me. When I’m depressed or tired I’ll walk into a feed store just to experience that smell and bring back sharp memories of my Scott grandparents.

My grandfather on my mother’s side, George Phillips, also from western North Carolina, moved to Maryland — near Baltimore — in 1950. He had a farm, which offered me something that I will always treasure: a link to the pioneer past of America. Even though they had one electric line in the house and electric lights and an old Frigidaire refrigerator with the compressor on top, the rest of the house was just like the 1790s. They used kerosene lamps, since the electric line had only one socket; they had a hand pump to pump water into the house; and the kitchen had a wood-stove that stayed hot 365 days of the year.

Everything my grandmother cooked was made on that woodstove. My grandmother was a typical farm-family mother. She would regularly prepare dinner for thirty people, and that meant something was always cooking in the kitchen. All of my grandmother’s recipes went back to her grandmother.

My grandfather worked as a dairy farmer, and he milked cows by hand until 1946, when they got an electric milker. They bought coffee and sugar and that was about all — everything else they made themselves. This was during World War II when things were rationed, but we grandkids didn’t feel the effect of rations because my grandparents made their own food. They farmed enough food to last the winter: It was incredible how self sufficient they were. We had chickens and eggs, and my grandfather grew his own wheat and had a threshing machine. They had a springhouse where they kept butter and seed. All of theses things allowed me to see what life was like years ago — the way things were when their grandparents lived.

Going out to the hayfield with my grandfather is one of my strongest recollections. My grandfather had horses not a tractor, on that farm, and the horses pulled everything. The rake, the sidebar — the horses pulled those. My job was to mash the hay down in the wagon. They’d take a pitchfork full of hay, throw it up into the wagon, and I’d have to march around on it mashing it down so that they could get more hay into the wagon. Oh yes, and we always went to church on Sunday — in four cars.

It was at my grandparents’ farm that I learned to drive a 1929 Ford. It didn’t have any brakes, so to stop it, you had to throw it in reverse or second gear.

I remember one Halloween my grandfather kept saying, “Look out the window.” It was dark, but I looked out the window and didn’t see anything. Then, all of a sudden I saw this ghost go by. It was my grandmother in a sheet! Of course I knew it, but I was happy to play along.

Just thinking about the times like that makes me long for those days. The memories are so sweet.

I spent almost all my summers up on that farm — I swam in the creek, and there were rope swings, or you could swing like Tarzan from vines in the trees — and it shaped my life more than anything else, even more than the house in which I was born and raised. That’s why I live on a farm now, because I loved that farm so much and it was such a wonderful part of my life.

My grandparents were born somewhere around the 1870s and lived to the 1950s. Through my grandparents, I got to delve back even further into my family’s past. My grandparents told me about their parents — and listening to them was like looking through a window into the 1860s.

In many ways, my grandparents were as much a part of my life as my parents. I’m happy to be able to say that my parents and my wife’s parents were much the same for our children.

My wife, Mary, and I were the first from both our families to give our parents grandchildren. Both sets of grandparents lived nearby and fought over who go to take the grandchildren on weekends: When they got wind that Mary and I were going to go away, they raced to make phone calls to see who would get to babysit. Having built-in babysitters is one of the greatest gifts you get from your parents. Who are you going to leave your kids with who’s better and safer than their grandparents?

And the grandchildren loved having them, absolutely. Our children remember all the things they did with their grandparents, even so many years later, just as I do. Their grandparents, both sets, would love to take them for weeks at a time.

My father-in-law, Bob Dwyer — I remember how he loved to come over and pick up little Mary, the first of his grandchildren, and take her out for strolls. All of our children had a wonderful, wonderful relationship with all their grandparents, who loved them and adored them to pieces.

Now that I’m a grandfather myself, I realize that the best thing about having grandkids is that you get the kid for the best part of the ride — kind of like owning a car for only the first 10,000 miles. You can have your grandchildren for a couple of days and then turn them back over to the parents. I’m sure my grandparents felt the same way, even though they had seventeen grandchildren (pretty typical for a farm family back then).

In reality, I don’t get to see my grandchildren as much as I would like to, and I think that’s probably true for most grandparents today. It used to be that everyone in the same family lived in the same community and saw each other every day. So if somebody got sick, there was always someone to take care of them. Your grandparents were there to help you out, and when they needed taking care of, you were there to help them.

Today, for better or worse, families are more spread out. Grandma is in an assisted living facility in Bangor, Maine, and the kids are in Hawaii. Maybe they can manage to see each other once a year. Well, you do the best you can. Maybe it makes you sad that you can’t see your grandchildren quite as much as you’d like, but then you cherish the times that you are together all the more.

Grandparents sometimes don’t realize all the good things their grandchildren can learn by being with them. Through your grandparents you create the memories that become a part of the foundation for your adult life, even in those families that are spread out and don’t see each other as often as they used to.

Grandparents are truly the best way to teach history to children, because they are living historians and your connection to the past. On our old family farm in North Carolina all my great-grandparents are buried on a hill. My grandparents used to take me to visit that hill and when they did, they would tell me all sorts of stories about my relatives and our family’s past. As a result, I have always felt it’s very beneficial to visit the graves of your ancestors with your grandparents if you can.

Knowing your grandparents gives you insight and tells you so much about yourself. Who your parents and your grandparents are has a lot to do with who you become. You can trace your own physical characteristics from your parents and grandparents, but more than that, knowing them also can tell you where you came from, spiritually and emotionally. When you can recall how your grandparents handled the tough things in their lives, you can recall the stories and their wisdom and strength to help you when you’re in trouble or having a problem.

Grandparents are probably the greatest support system you can have. You know your mother and father are there for you, but behind them are the grandparents they have the experience, which if you recognize it and use it, can be a tremendous shield as you go out and do battle in life. And you know that if you have a strong relationship with them, when something goes wrong in your life, you can go back to them and call on them, and they’ll help you. We all need the help we can get in life. Even if they’re no longer with us, you can rely on your knowledge of or experiences with them to imagine how they would have handled the problem.

But of course the greatest benefit of having grandparents — and also of being a grandparent — is the love grandparents and grandchildren naturally have for each other. The love that grandparents have for their grandchildren is plain in everything they do.

You know, you can’t love your grandchildren too much, and there’s no such thing as spending too much time with them. Grandparents can have an incredible influence on their grandchildren. Grandchildren watch what you do, they store it away in their memories, and pick up on your good traits…and your bad. Always remember that. They’ll emulate you, so you want to be worthy of their emulation.

But you know what? Even if you’re not the best grandparent you could possibly be, even if you can’t visit as often as you’d like, even if you’d like the grandchildren to be a little less messy or a little more respectful, it’s still great being family. That’s the theme here-the love we have for each other. That’s the most important thing you can have.

I love being a grandparent so much that I wanted to share the joys I found by being one. In my last book, The Older the Fiddle, the Better the Tune, I shared my reflections on getting older but staying young at heart. And I got such wonderful friends to share their experiences, wisdom, and insight too. So I thought I would ask some more of my friends about the joys they experience by either being a grandparent or spending time with one. What you’ll read are many fond memories, touching stories, and very funny encounters. I was so happy to learn that there are so many people that not only adore their grandparents, but also love being one. I hope you enjoy reading this collection as much as I did.

Excerpted from "If I Knew It Was Going to Be This Much Fun, I Would Have Become a Grandparent First," by Willard Scott. Copyright © 2004 by Willard Scott. All Rights Reserved. Published by Hyperion. Available Wherever Books are Sold. For more information you can visit the Hyperion Web site: www.hyperionbooks.com