Simple Pleasures

© 2006 Ginger Manley


The cardboard box—particularly one large enough to create a “home” for a child whose imagination can be unleashed with some scissors and markers—has recently been honored by induction into the National Toy Hall of Fame. A summer visit from Alexander, our six-year-old grandson, suggests that there may be some other nominees.

While earlier generations of grandchildren received rattles and teddy bears, Alexander’s first toy had been a cell phone and later, with better eye-hand coordination, he played with joysticks. Before he could talk in sentences, he could reprogram his parents’ video system and play interactive computer games.

Therefore, it was with some trepidation that his grandfather and I anticipated entertaining Alexander for a week in our electronically challenged home. It is not that we still play 78’s on turntables and listen to 8-track cassettes—although we do still have these around—but we are not the most “techie” of grandparents.

It was only a few months earlier that I had seen a friend walking with a small white rectangular device hanging on a lanyard around her neck. I inquired if she had a new piece of medical equipment and was chastened to be told, “No, it’s an I-pod.” It took a few more weeks before I got the courage to ask someone “What is an I-pod?”

Grandpa and I thought it best to forewarn Alexander’s parents so they could pack all the necessary equipment to prevent their son from a serious case of “electronic gadget withdrawal.” Obligingly, he arrived for his visit with his own portable DVD player and discs, his Game-Boy, and his personal night-light in tow. Unfortunately, the battery recharger and back-up battery pack for the DVD player did not arrive with him. The Game-Boy broke in a couple of days. Luckily, the night-light only required a wall source of 110-volt electric current and we could supply that amenity.

Despite these potential pitfalls, the week sped by—staying up late after catching lightning bugs, sleeping in in the mornings, listening to the snap-crackle-pop of our Rice Krispies, and eating grilled cheese sandwiches with chocolate milk for lunch and maybe also for supper. Dusty boxes of Chutes and Ladders and Candyland games from the attic competed with innumerable rounds of Uno and Old Maid.

With lots of brush piles to be disposed of from ongoing yard work, Alexander and Grandpa stayed busy loading the pickup truck and driving together the mile or so to the landfill where they could deposit the limbs and twigs in the designated dumpsters.

On one of these daily excursions to the dump, Grandpa’s cell phone—not the latest attached-to-the-hip model, but a bulky 90’s version that had to be carried in the chest pocket of his shirt—inadvertently was dumped into the bin with the yard debris when he bent to give it the last heave-ho. This created an eye-popping experience for Alexander to watch his granddad get completely inside the bin to retrieve the phone, which he located by ringing it twenty-six times from my cell phone.

When the boys arrived back home, Grandpa was literally black from head to foot, covered with some of the soot he had dumped. I met him at the door to the kitchen and ordered him to take off his filthy clothes in the garage before he entered the house. Seeing that his underwear was no cleaner than the outerwear, I furthermore instructed him to strip completely and go outside so I could wash him off with the hose.

“You’re going to make Grandpa get naked and hose him off, Grandma?” the startled Alexander asked me.

We found another solution to this situation before the neighbors were exposed to a new form of geriatric recreation, but the whole event created an opportunity for Alexander’s fertile mind. At bedtime, he asked if, instead of getting in the bathtub that night, he could just get naked and have me hose him off.

Grandpa and I thought the county fair would be a great opportunity to continue to imbue this little California boy with our rural Tennessee culture. Our initial visit to the mule barn seemed to be less impressive for him than we had hoped, but he did like the Ferris Wheel and the Pirates’ Ship ride. For all three of us, seeing the Human Cannonball soar out of his rocket launcher and land in a net over our heads was a pretty cool first-ever-in-our-lifetime experience! Cotton candy and corn dogs completed the cultural immersion—not exactly Legoland or Sea World, but pretty good in our book.

We rounded out the week with running through the sprinklers, cutting zinnias for the dinner table, eating corn on the cob—or in Alexander’s case, corn off the cob since it is pretty much impossible to make a dent in an ear of Silver Queen if you are missing four of your front teeth. And with all this, not a single symptom of gadget withdrawal.

On the last night of vacation, our family custom is to ask each other “What did you like best about our time together?” Grandpa said he liked the Human Cannonball best, and I said I liked lying in the hammock with Alexander and the lightning bugs just before he released them to their homes.

“What was your favorite thing we did in Tennessee, Alexander?”

Thinking hard, he eventually answered, “Well, my third favorite thing we did was when me and Grandpa washed out the pickup truck and then rolled it out in the driveway and you put the mattress from the camping stuff in the garage in it and we all laid down and watched the stars come out.”


We had done well, and Grandpa and I winked at each other and he reached for my hand.

“So what was your second favorite thing?”

“My second favorite thing was watching Grandpa dive the dumpster.”


We did not mean for that one to stay with him.

“And your most favorite thing that you did on your Tennessee vacation?”

Long silence, then a smile that can only be described as a “miraculous epiphany.”

“My most favorite thing of all was when I was running through the sprinklers and I had to go potty and you didn’t want me to track the wet grass into the house, so I got to pee in the yard!”

Why was I not surprised to hear that upon starting first grade at Our Immaculate Lady Grammar School the week after he returned home, Alexander’s story on “what I did on my summer vacation” began with “I visited my grandparents in Tennessee, where my grandpa dives dumpsters, and I peed in the yard and got hosed off every night before we all laid down to sleep together on the old mattress that Grandma drug out of the garage and put in the bed of the pickup truck.”

If only I had saved for him the cardboard box that my new refrigerator was delivered in a few days before his arrival, then he could have also told the nuns in detail about the corrugated architecture of his room at his grandparents. 


A slightly different version of "Simple Pleasures" was published in the ezine Muscadine Lines, NA, 146-154, 2006 and since it was also published in Muscadine Lines: A Southern Anthology,it is not available to read in the Muscadine Lines ezine.